what’s a natural childbirth?
By Kimberly Weiss-Lewit
The term natural childbirth can mean different things to different people. For some people it simply means a vaginal birth even if they are using pain medication and other interventions. For others it might mean a vaginal birth without pain medication but other medications or augmentation (like pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin) could still be part of their experience. And for some a “natural” birth is a birth without any intervention. There is no one right way for a birthing person to give birth and every person should have options and autonomy in choosing what works best for them and their particular needs and wants. The term natural is inherently complicated, but the term natural birth is so common, we wanted to address this term.
When we think of a more “natural” birth plan, some families are surprised to learn that no-intervention and low-intervention births can happen in a hospital setting as well as in birth centers and at home births. It is important to note that if having an unmedicated birth is a top priority for you, choosing a low-intervention setting like a birth center or home if you are low-risk, will result in the greatest likelihood of achieving this type of birth. When planning a natural birth in any setting, some key considerations can go a long way!
1. Who you hire to provide care to you and your baby during your birth
The care provider you work with will significantly impact the type of birth you have. For parents who desire a natural birth, be sure to interview different care providers to learn their philosophy and practice.
2. Freedom of movement
Freedom to move, breathe and vocalize is paramount during an unmedicated birth. While we often see images in the media of people laboring and birthing on their back, this is often the least comfortable and most unused position for someone who is free to pick their own positions in labor. Making space and feeling supported to move freely (walk, dance, sway, use a birth ball, squat) as you body dictates can not only make your experience less painful but can also help your labor progress. When you couple movement with mindful breath work and vocalization, you can allow yourself to find rhythms in your labor that help you stay focused and calm.
3. Working with a doula
Continuous and trained doula support has been shown to significantly reduce medical intervention during childbirth.. Especially when you are trying to avoid pain medication, a doula can provide a calming and encouraging presence as well as a many hands-on and innovative approaches to helping you cope. Doulas are trained in the process of physiological birth and can also reassure you and your partner along the way. Your doula and partner can work as a team to give you the care and support you need as well as to remind you of your birth preferences and help communicate those to your providers.
4. Access to hydrotherapy
Just because you are choosing to avoid an epidural doesn’t mean that all pain management techniques are off the table. There is a reason water birth is so widely
Championed by families, doulas and care providers in home and birth center births: —water helps your body relax, helps you release endorphins and can refresh you especially during a long labor. You may decide to take a shower at home during early or early active labor before heading to your hospital or birth center and ideally your place of birth will have a shower available to you throughout labor. If you have a tub in your birthing room, it can be an amazing relief especially in active labor and transition and, of course, plenty of birthing people decide to have a water birth and stay in the tub until their little one is born.
5. Comforts of home (even if you aren’t home)
Creating a comfortable and cozy environment can make a world of difference during your birth. Your own pillow,robe, or birth outfit can allow your body to relax and calm your nervous system. Music can give your mind a welcome distraction and inspire you to dance and move. Your favorite aromatherapy or even just some scented lotion can help transform your space. Faux candlelight can shift the mood and reduce negative side effects of bright light. All people crave and deserve a safe space to give birth. For those aiming for a natural birth, your birthing room can become a haven that allows you to fully relax (especially important to do between contractions) and encourages you to freely express yourself.
6. Staying nourished
Childbirth is hard work and your body needs energy and hydration during labor. While some birthing people will choose to get an IV for fluids during labor, you can also choose to keep yourself well hydrated with coconut water, electrolyte drinks, teas and water (which can be easily iced). Being well hydrated is not only healthier for you and your baby, it can lessen the severity of your contraction pain. In addition to plenty of drinks, your body will need energy, too. Especially in early labor, aim to eat simple high protein and carbohydrate foods (scrambled eggs on toast is a popular choice!) and be sure to have simple snacks on hand throughout your labor when you need an energy boost. While most people don’t want a full meal once they are far along into a natural birth, tell your support team what you are craving after your baby is born so they can have it ready—post-birth hunger is real!
6. Eye on the prize
The truth is that even with excellent preparation, you may have doubts during your birth. Especially in transition (moving from 8-10cm), you may wonder or ask if you are really capable of continuing on and birthing your baby. In fact, self-doubt is considered an emotional sign-post of labor and often occurs when you are almost ready to push your baby out. Affirmations, written, spoken or even sung, can profoundly impact your confidence and can get you through the most challenging parts of labor. Reassurance at this time can also be profound. Validation of how hard you are working or how challenging this is can also help. Imagining meeting your baby and speaking their name into your birth space can also help release oxytocin and remind you why you are working so hard. It can be really beautiful for partners to also talk to their babies and bring the focus of your labor back to becoming a family. Think of transition like the last few miles of an incredibly hard hike or the end of the marathon. With support and encouragement or grit and determination people can get through to the other side. It’s also really important that your whole birth team including your doctor or midwife and any staff knows not to offer you pain medications during this time. That’s the same as offering to carry a person who’s a few miles away from the end of the marathon. Yes, that will get them to the finish line, but that’s not what they’re asking for. They want you to cheer them on and encourage them or just be there for them as witnesses. If they need you to carry them or they want pain medication, they can ask for it and then we can honor their wishes.
Centering yourself as the source of all the power during your birth is at the heart of having an empowering experience, no matter how much intervention you ultimately decided to have or refuse. Natural childbirth has unique challenges and joys and you deserve loving and encouraging support through it all.