Ten years ago if you would have told me that I would give birth to a baby without the use of an epidural (and in a birth center with a midwife attending, no less), I would have said you were crazy! But indeed, that’s exactly how my son was born and I would do it again in a heartbeat! It was hard – yet easy. I felt amazing shortly after the birth and we went home five hours after our son was born.
Our new family just minutes after birth
I’m not here to convince you to have a natural (unmedicated) childbirth. You deserve to have the birth YOU want; not what anyone else wants and not what I want. But if you have decided to have a natural childbirth (NCB) I hope the information I share will help you accomplish your goal. Once I decided I wanted a natural childbirth, I knew I needed to prepare myself with tools and advice on how to accomplish that goal. In addition to advice of my own, I have come across a lot of advice and suggestions from other moms on how to have a natural childbirth. This advice involves pre-birth preparation as well as tips for coping during labor and birth.
1. Stay Away From Hospitals
This piece of advice is number one for a reason. I know this might seem impossible or just plain crazy but I assure you, if your goal is a natural childbirth, it’s not. Epidural rates are extremely high at hospitals. And since epidurals are not available in a birthcenter or at a home birth, staying away from a hospital for birth is a very good way to have a natural childbirth! No hospital=no epidural. Goal accomplished!
Sure, many laboring moms choose to have an epidural. But what about others who want to have a natural childbirth in a hospital? It’s not impossible to have a natural childbirth in a hospital, but in order to be successful you will probably have to fight for your ‘alternative’ birth choices. I didn’t want to have to fight for my decision, or defend it, so I chose a setting where my decision was normal and natural. If you aren’t surrounded by people who support and encourage your natural childbirth choice (including your doctor and nurses), you can probably expect to be talked into something you don’t want. And in the middle of labor, all your wishes can go out the window if you know that an epidural is in the building.
2. Hire a Doula
If you are having a hospital birth, I would highly suggest hiring a doula (pronounced DOO-luh). A doula is a person who supports a woman during labor, birth, and beyond. Even if you are birthing in a birth center or at home, you may still consider hiring a doula for extra support. Doulas are advocates for birthing moms and offer suggestions for partners. Doulas understand what is going on and even though they cannot tell the doctor or nurses how to care for you, they can let you know what’s going on, remind you of your wishes, and encourage you during difficult moments.
3. Attend Natural Childbirth Classes
Like the boy scout motto, be prepared. If you have decided to have a natural childbirth, you need to prepare yourself by taking a natural childbirth class with your partner. There are several different classes available:
- Bradley method: The Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth is a comprehensive course that not only teaches ways to handle labor pain, but also provides information about nutrition, staying healthy, and relaxation exercises. This class also focuses on providing coach training for your partner.
- Hypnobabies: The Hypnobabies course teaches self-hypnosis techniques for a relaxing and comfortable labor and birth, as well as teaching you to trust in your body and your baby. It is also a comprehensive childbirth course. Many Hypnobabies moms report a birth with no pain; only pressure sensations. There are Hypnobabies classes you can take from an instructor. If there is not an instructor in your area, the Hypnobabies self-study course is a great option. Since I am a very strong believer in the incredible power of the mind, we chose the Hypnobabies self-study course for our childbirth preparation. I particularly loved the affirmations CD, which I listened to every day and is filled with many positive statements about pregnancy and birth to encourage only positive thinking.
- HypnoBirthing: HypnoBirthing is another method of teaching self-hypnosis techniques for relaxation during labor and childbirth. HypnoBirthing courses are offered mainly through a HypnoBirthing practitioner; however, if there is not a practitioner in your area, there is learning material available for purchase (book, CDs, and DVDs).
- HypBirth: HypBirth is yet another hypnosis-for-childbirth program. It features CDs and an instructional DVD.
- Birthing From Within: From the Birthing From Within website, ‘awareness’ is the key message with this class. Being tuned in to your pregnant body can lead to an increased trust in your own body.
- Autonomous classes: Some doulas, or other NCB supporters, may offer their own natural childbirth classes. I know of a doula in my area that offers a NCB class that touches on many of these birthing techniques. Here is her site: cherishbirth.com
4. Believe You Can Do It
“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” -Henry Ford
Anyone can have a natural childbirth if you set your mind to it and believe in yourself. You don’t have to be special, or talented, or athletic, or have a high pain tolerance. You do need to have a belief that you CAN do it. This belief in yourself can start with finding a belief that birth is natural and normal and finding a trust in your body. You were made to do this! Natural childbirth classes, repeating positive birthing affirmations, and hearing positive natural childbirth stories are all other ways to gain this belief in yourself. Your mind is so very powerful!
Here is another quote I just love:
“We have a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong.” -Laura Stavoe Harm
5. Surround Yourself With Positive NCB Stories
To build up confidence in natural childbirth, surround yourself with other women who have had a natural childbirth and hear their stories. Read as many positive natural childbirth stories as you can find. This is how it becomes normal to you in your mind. You will begin to see all the many different ways natural childbirth can unfold and you will see the range of ‘normal’. Hopefully that will help you let go of any fears or concerns you may have.
If you don’t know many people who have had natural births, you can read some stories online on Babycenter.com in the NCB forum and in the Mothering.com forums. To start you off, here is the birth story of my son. (And now adding the birth story of my daughter.)
On a related note, stay away from negative birth stories including those from people who will want to share with you what happened to their friend of a friend. And immediately stop watching those dramatic TV shows about birth. They will not help you prepare for a natural childbirth.
6. Read Good Books
There are many wonderful books that provide technical information and research, as well as inspirational birth stories. Hopefully by reading these books, you can learn to trust your body and do what comes naturally.
- The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, by Henci Goer. This book provides scientific research about many birth choices so the reader can make informed decisions about their maternity care and birth.
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin. Written by a midwife, this book shares many inspirational birth stories from her clients as well as information about how to avoid many standard medical interventions.
- Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife, by Peggy Vincent. This midwife chronicles her life as a baby catcher.
- Gentle Birth Choices, by Barbara Harper. The topic of water birth is discussed as well as the mind-body connection during labor and birth.
- Birthing From Within: An Extra-Ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation, by Pam England and Rob Horowitz. This book contains activities and exercises to help expectant moms analyze their thoughts and face their fears during pregnancy. It also provides tips for coping with labor pain.
- The Birth Book: Everything You Need to Know to Have a Safe and Satisfying Birth, by William Sears and Martha Sears. This book provides information so the reader can take control of their own birth. Topics covered include the best birthing positions, pain management, writing a birth plan, and many more. Also included are several birth stories.
- Journey Into Motherhood: Inspirational Stories of Natural Birth, by Sheri L. Menelli. This book provides many positive stories of unmedicated childbirth, revealing the many birthing options that women have.
7. Get Support from Like-Minded Family and Friends
If you surround yourself with people who believe you can do it and who support your own belief that you can do it, then you can do it.
Once you have made the decision to have an unmedicated childbirth, only surround yourself with people who will either support you – or keep quiet! Make sure your partner understands and is comfortable with the role you want him to play. Also, let your medical staff and your support staff (your partner and doula) know you intend to have a natural childbirth and you do not want pain medication. Let them know how you want to be supported. If you ask for pain medication, tell them to offer alternatives. Doulas are wonderful in this regard; they know many alternatives and many ways to encourage and support laboring women. No matter how wonderful your partner is, there is something special about a woman supporting another woman during this time.
You will want to let your partner and doula know that you especially need to be supported and encouraged during the transition phase, as this is when many people ask for pain medication. Remind your partner that he is your best support. And remember, just when you think you can’t do it anymore, you are probably almost done.
8. Create a Birth Plan
A birth plan is a written list of your preferences for labor, birth, and newborn care that you share with your health care practitioners. Birth plans can include your preferences on the following topics: labor, monitoring, pain medication, episiotomy, cesarean, delivery, postpartum, breastfeeding, circumcision, and people present during the birth. There are several websites that provide information about writing birth plans, and some will help you create one online. Here are a few I found:
- thelaboroflove.com (writing a plan for a gentle birth)
- midwiferytoday.com (I enjoyed the humor in this one!)
It’s a good idea to bring your birth plan to a prenatal appoinment and discuss with your health care practitioner before labor starts. I will just warn you, though, that not all doctors will be accommodating to all of your preferences, and some will even say they are against hospital policy (as crazy as that may seem). I have even heard that a local hospital does not allow doulas, birth balls, taking a shower, or walking around for a woman in labor!
You will want to make several copies of your birth plan; one for your doctor/midwife, several for nurses, and one for your doula.
9. Labor at Home as Long as You Can
At home you are surrounded by comfort: your bed, your sofa, your jammies, your shower, your photos on the wall, your children. You also have the option of laboring how you wish. As I’ve mentioned previously, when you are relaxed and in a calm, comfortable, and familiar environment, your body can relax and labor more efficiently. Hospitals can create tension and their policies may not allow you to labor in your desired way.
10. Don’t Be Afraid
Read about the fear-tension-pain cycle. Fear of what is happening creates tension and resistance. Tension increases pain. And increased pain results in increased fear, and so the cycle continues. Knowing that helped me tremendously. Once I noticed that I was tensing up during a contraction, I really let it go and relaxed and let the contraction happen. My husband’s words during each contraction really helped me to relax as well (“release the energy”, “peace”, “relax”). The birthing muscles work in perfect harmony when your body is relaxed and you trust birth. Labor is faster when you aren’t fighting your body. By breathing through the contractions and letting them happen, I had a fairly quick labor. Our bodies were meant to do this!
11. Stay Hydrated
Labor is hard work, just like running a marathon. It only makes sense to keep yourself hydrated to help you make it through. Birthing in a birth center, I was allowed to eat and drink as I wanted. Eating food that is easy to digest is important, as your body is using resources for labor that may take away from digesting food. I drank water and an electrolyte solution during labor. I didn’t feel like eating much, so had just tiny bites of an apple. If you aren’t allowed to eat or drink during labor, that can often take away a sense of control and can make you want to give up sooner.
12. Pain Relief Techniques
In addition to the techniques taught in a natural childbirth class, here are a few other techniques that can help ease labor pain:
- Hydrotherapy: Sit in a tub of warm water. Take a shower; or sit on a chair in the shower and spray warm water on your belly like I did. It felt wonderful!
- Change positions: Take a walk. Sit on a birth ball. Be on your hands and knees. Squat. Find a position that feels good.
- Breathing patterns: Vocalizing in low tones, instead of high tones, helps release the energy from your body. Low moaning while exhaling is a very common natural expression for coping with pain.
- Acupressure: There are several acupressure points on the body; foot, hands, ankles, buttocks, shoulder. For information about the specific acupressure point, ask your acupuncturist or search online.
- Stay out of bed: Natural childbirth is difficult while laying in bed, especially on your back.
- Visual imagery: Visualize your perfect, easy birth. When it starts, how long it lasts, positions you want to labor in and birth in, who you want supporting you and how, how you feel, how you think, time of day, etc. Everything that you want your birth to be. Then visualize it happening that way.
- Massage or counterpressure
- Hot/cold packs
- Humming or singing
- Listening to favorite music
- Focal points
- Essential oils
- TENS machine
13. Stay in the Moment
Stay in the moment and only deal with the contraction you are working on. If you are anticipating what’s next, you might have a harder time. Don’t look ahead, regardless of how your labor is progressing. Embrace the experience; feel it, live it, enjoy it! I can say that this advice was very helpful for me. Not once was I thinking ahead. I was concentrating on relaxing and breathing down the energy through each contraction.
14. Birth in a Position That You Choose
When it comes time to push and birth your baby, there are several positions that can help make this stage of labor easier:
- Side-lying: This position is good in the latter stages of labor, and for a long labor as it promotes full body rest and relaxation. This is also a good position for first-time moms, as the baby comes out a bit slower which allows the perineum time to stretch and hopefully avoid tearing. I was surprised when this was the position that felt good for me. (I pushed for 30 minutes and I didn’t tear at all!)
- Hands and knees: This position is helpful for turning a posterior baby, back labor, and birthing a large baby.
- Squatting: Squatting opens up the pelvis and helps align baby.
- Sitting: Sitting positions allow gravity to to work, as well as aid in relaxation. My birth center had a birth chair to aid this position.
- Vertical or standing: These are more positions where gravity is used to assist in the birth.
Did you notice that I did not mention the lithotomy (flat-on-back) position? This position is the most commonly used position in hospital births; and it’s strictly for the convenience of the doctors. Many complications (which need interventions) arise from birthing in this position.
15. Breathe Down to Push
A common worry about natural childbirth is the pain related to the pushing phase. For me, labor was painful but pushing didn’t hurt at all. Your contractions do most of the work; you really don’t even need to push too much at all.
I just pushed by breathing down through the contractions. In between contractions I just rested. I didn’t feel like I was really pushing, just purposeful, deep breathing. There is no need to hold your breath and count to ten, and there is no need for your legs to be pinned back. Again, this can cause more issues.
To me, pushing was so cool! It didn’t hurt, and I could feel his head come farther out each time, then retract back in.
Alert baby G at 4.5 hours old
Having a natural childbirth was such a powerful event in my life and I would confidently do it again. In fact, everyone I know who has had a natural childbirth has said the same thing. It’s completely doable and people want to do it again. What does that tell you? Hopefully it tells you that you can do it too!
Wendy – Parenting Tips 365