Why in the World Would Anyone Ever Want a Natural Birth?

Recently I was asked the question, “Why would anyone want a natural, unmedicated birth? What’s the point?” And I have to say, I was caught off guard and couldn’t gather my thoughts quickly enough to give a good reply.

I completely understand the question. I mean if you can bring life into the world in pain and exhaustion OR numb and rested why would anyone choose the pain?

It seems absurd when you put it like that and yet many women are striving for a medication-free delivery. So what’s motivating them? There are lots of great reasons but first, let’s discuss a not-so-good reason for natural birth.

Don’t Do it for the Cookies

Many women who want a natural birth are discouraged by naysayers who tell them there are no special cookies or trophies for women who birth unmedicated. They are told not to try to be a hero and they are reminded that it doesn’t make them a better woman or a better mom.

And they are correct.

Fortunately, most moms who choose to give birth naturally are completely aware that there will not be a special prize waiting for them at the end. They know there’s no badge of courage and that motherhood will still be full of challenges no matter how they give birth.

Trust me, moms who attempt a natural birth are not looking for a reward and they aren’t trying to prove that they are, in any way, better than the mom with the epidural or scheduled cesarean.

Why in the world would anyone ever want a natural birth?

So why do they do it??

Natural birthings mama’s do so mainly because they have done their research. They know that one intervention usually leads to another and each intervention carries risk. Not only that, but they know that the body’s natural process of giving birth includes many benefits of its own and they truly want to experience all of it.

Cascade of Interventions

The Cascade of Interventions is a term used to describe the concept that one intervention often leads to another.

For example, what may start out as a simple membrane sweep to induce labor could quickly turn into prelabor rupture of membranes without contractions, which could turn into heading to the hospital for Pitocin, which could turn into fetal distress, which could ultimately turn into a cesarean section, a major abdominal surgery.

Epidurals specifically can be a huge player in the cascade game. Many first time moms are unaware that getting an epidural often means getting a bladder catheter which increases their risk of bladder infection. Secondly, epidurals often weaken contractions and Pitocin is used to strengthen them. Furthermore, due to the fact that epidurals numb the body from the waist down, laboring women are stuck in bed. Because movement is key to progress, labor is usually longer, often the pushing stage is longer, and episiotomy, forceps, and vacuum extraction are more likely to be used.

While of course, none of those things are guaranteed and often interventions work beautifully, natural minded mamas prefer to stay as far away from this cascade as possible. They would rather not introduce anything into the labor process that may overcomplicate things unnecessarily. By letting their body dictate what and when things happen, they are hoping to experience a relatively smooth and straight forward labor.

Risks of Interventions

Beyond the fact that one intervention leads to another, every pregnant woman needs to know that each intervention carries inherent risk with it. For example, narcotics given to decrease pain often lower the baby’s heart rate and he or she is more likely to have low APGAR scores at birth and slowed breathing [source].

Epidurals carry many risks that are often not fully discussed with a laboring woman who is ready for pain relief.

As mentioned before, epidurals may prolong the pushing phase of labor and forceps or vacuum extraction may be necessary. Severe perineal tearing is more likely because of this.

Secondly, epidurals often lower blood pressure which may make the mother lightheaded and lower the baby’s oxygen level. This event may warrant an emergency cesarean.

Next, women with an epidural are likely to develop a fever. Because it’s unclear if the fever is simply a side effect of the epidural or the result of an infection, both mom and baby will usually need antibiotics after delivery.

Additionally, around 1% of women who receive an epidural will endure spinal headaches after delivery. These are often debilitating and may require another procedure to fix. Because the first few weeks postpartum are already full of challenges, spinal headaches can be an unwelcome hindrance.

Furthermore, the mother may become drowsy, experience slowed breathing, become extremely itchy, or have an achy back. She may get an infection at the injection site and need to be treated with antibiotics.

Between 10-12% of laboring women will not receive adequate pain relief from an epidural. Sometimes they only go numb on one side of the body but continue to feel contractions on the other.

Finally, serious complications from an epidural include nerve damage, paralysis and seizures, but these are extremely rare and death by epidural is almost non-existent.

For a full review of the benefits and risks of epidurals click here.

Of course, these risks are low and many women have no issues with epidurals at all, but because there is always a chance, many women choose to opt out of medical pain relief and aim for a natural birth instead.

Why in the world would anyone ever want a natural birth?

The Beauty of the Natural

Besides the risk of intervention, natural birth is also full of benefits. Because an unmedicated laboring women can feel everything happening, she is often able to be more in tune with her body. This allows her to instinctively know which position she should move into to help baby descend and continue progressing and she has the mobility to get into any position needed. She is able to push in a variety of different ways including standing, squatting and on all fours. She can feel exactly when and how to push so second stage of labor is often shorter and more effective. She is less likely to tear because she can feel the pressure of her baby moving down allowing for a more gentle descent. Putting all of this together, her recovery is often quicker and she is comfortable walking around independently before a women with an epidural has even gotten the feeling back in her legs.

Because natural birth is an uncomplicated process, labor can happen in an environment that is more conducive to progress. Fear, distraction, and mental stimulation all inhibit the body’s ability to labor effectively. Bright lights, beeping monitors, frequent interruptions and hospital intake questions can all contribute to stalled or slowed labor. On the other hand, the absence of interventions means a woman can labor at home or in a birth center where she is more comfortable, uninterrupted, unhindered, and in greater control of who she has in her space. She is more relaxed and less afraid and her body can labor on. Because of this, the natural birth process often works more smoothly than when interventions are added in without medical necessity.

Though we have made it clear that there is no trophy or special cookies for a natural birthing mama, she may receive a “hormone cocktail” after delivery that leaves her feeling energized and exuberant throughout the beginning of the postpartum period. This is because the body makes Endorphins in response to feeling pain that decrease discomfort and increase positive sensations. When women endure labor unmedicated, they will receive endorphins at full force as well. Cheers to the natural birth high!

Finally, many women find the process of giving birth naturally to be very empowering. Labor is an incredible feat and nearly every woman reaches a point in delivery where she thinks she cannot continue. But when she presses on, she finds out that her body was created to do difficult and powerful things and she discovers new determination and courage that she never knew she had. Women who strive for a natural birth see the beauty in the process and they want to experience it fully.

Keeping it in Perspective

In summary, natural birth is something to plan for because it is less complicated, less risky and it often works beautifully. However, it’s important to keep things in perspective and hold a healthy view of any birth plans a woman may have. Labor is unpredictable and try as we may, there are always factors we simply cannot control. Serious complications do arise and women must be prepared to meet medical intervention with gratitude when it is truly needed. While natural birth might be the goal, healthy birth is the ideal and sometimes medicine is the best way to achieve that.

Related: To the Mama Whose Natural Birth Plan Fell Through

As with any decision, every pregnant woman must do her own research, weigh the pros and cons of each option, assess how much risk she is willing to carry and then decide what is best for her. This looks totally different for different women and that’s completely fine. But I hope this gives you a better understanding of why anyone would willingly want to give birth unmedicated. As always, if you have further questions about this concept, feel free to reach out! I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Why in the world would anyone ever want a natural birth?

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35 Things To Do In Early Labor

Many expecting moms are shocked to find out that early labor can take anywhere from several hours to a couple of days. In this phase of childbirth, contractions are random, usually mild, and may start and stop. Most women can be easily distracted in this phase and can continue walking and talking during contractions. If they do pause during the contraction to take a couple breaths, they can usually pick up right where they left off once the contraction passes.

Because early labor can take so long, it can often be a discouraging and confusing time for a pregnant woman who is ready to meet her baby. Additionally, she may wind up going to the hospital too early and either get sent home or be hit with unnecessary interventions.

Therefore, it’s important to have an early labor plan full of things you can do at home or out of the hospital. Start thinking now about some activities you can do when contractions start that will relax you, distract you, and get your body ready for active labor and then write them down. To help you, here’s a list of 35 things to do in early labor, beginning with the most important thing.

1. REST

If you only do one thing in early labor, RESTING should be it. If it’s during the night, lay in your bed, close your eyes and sleep as much as possible. If it’s during the day, nap when you can and at least lay down if you can’t sleep. If you get up to do a different activity that’s fine, but rest again afterward. Conserving energy for active labor is the name of the game so never push your body when it’s telling you it’s tired.

35 things to do in early labor

2. Stretch

There’s nothing I find more relaxing for my body than to do gentle stretches and work out any tension I may have in my muscles. What a great way to start out the laboring process!

3. Spinning Babies

SpinningBabies.com has great information and exercises for optimal baby positioning both in pregnancy and in labor. Particularly if early labor has been going on for quite some time or it has lots of starts and stops, it may be that baby is in a funny position and needs a little adjusting. For early labor I generally recommend the side lying release and the forward leaning inversion. Make sure to thoroughly read the instructions and have a friend help you do them.

4. Pamper Yourself

Early labor is a great time to do a little pampering. Whether it’s your nails, your hair, a sugar scrub, a facial mask or your makeup, it can be a soothing and distracting activity and it may give you a boost of energy as you progress. Of course, no one is going to care how you look in active labor but if it’s a fun way for you to spend early labor, go for it!

5. Listen to a Hypnobirthing track

Hypnobirthing is a method of childbirth that relies on positive imagery and guided relaxation throughout labor. Listening to a track will help you visualize your upcoming birth and mentally prepare for a calm, relaxed labor.

6. See a chiropractor

A chiropractor who is certified in the Webster Technique can help align the pelvis, and adjust the tailbone and pubic bone so that the birth canal is easier to navigate for the baby. This can lead to quicker, easier birth and is certainly worth your while. So if you can, see a chiropractor once a week from 36 weeks on and ask them if it would be ok to pop in when early labor begins if it happens to be during business hours. They are usually more than willing!

7. Pack your bag with last minute things

Whether it’s your phone charger or toiletries, there may be a few things you still need to put in your hospital bag. Early labor is a good time to gather everything and set it by the door so that you’re ready to go once things pick up.

8. Drink red raspberry leaf tea

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea is said to be a uterine tonic which allows contractions to be more effective when labor begins. Drinking it in early labor may give your uterus a boost and help the rest of the process to go more smoothly.

35 Things to do in early labor

9. Look at your Calendar

When contractions begin, you may wish to take a good look at your calendar and take mental note of any appointments or events you have coming up in the next couple days so that you can quickly cancel them if labor picks up.

10. Go for a walk

Walking is so good for baby positioning because it keeps the pelvis moving, allowing baby to find the best fit. It is also one of the best ways to bring on longer, stronger, and more frequent contractions. So whether it’s at the mall, at a favorite park, or just around your home, it’s certainly something that should be included in your early labor plan.

11. Prayer

If you’re a believer, prayer is a great way to spend time in early labor. It will allow you to labor in peace and not in fear, knowing that God has perfectly planned out the birth of your baby and is with you every step of the way. Consider listening to the Childbirth in the Glory CD to guide your prayer time.

12. Watch a movie

If you can’t sleep during early labor, you can at least lay down and distract yourself with a favorite movie to pass some time. Be sure, however, that it’s a light hearted story that will boost your mood and keep you relaxed rather than a drama that may introduce fear or sadness.

13. Go out to eat

Sometimes you just need to have a little fun in early labor and going to your favorite local restaurant is a great way to do that. You can take your mind off the contractions and enjoy being served a meal with nothing to clean up afterwards. It’s a perfect way to pass the time.

14. Yoga

Yoga not only relaxes you, but it also helps open your hips and pelvis and teaches you to breathe through discomfort, a skill you will soon be using! There are so many great options on YouTube for late pregnancy yoga. Find a couple favorites and have them ready for whenever early labor starts!

15. Date night

Early labor just might signal your last chance for a date night for awhile, so take the opportunity while you can. Soak up as much time together as possible and truly enjoy the person you will be parenting with. Your lives are about to change forever after all!

35 things to do in early laborEarly labor started on my due date in my last birth. We were able to sneak in a date with some shopping and dinner! Click the image to read the whole story.

16. Clean

One of the best ways to work out the nervous energy that often comes with early labor is to clean and it can give you peace of mind knowing that your house is ready to bring baby home to. Just remember that golden rule we talked about earlier; conserve your energy and rest when you can!

17. Go shopping

Doing a little shopping in early labor is a win win. You are given a nice distraction from contractions but you also get a good walk in. And maybe you have a few last minute things you want to grab for yourself or your baby before the birth. It will be awhile before you head to the store again.

18. Miles Circuit

The Miles Circuit is another great tool for baby positioning. If contractions don’t seem to be progressing, they stop and start, or they are very close together but mild, try going through this circuit and see if it makes a difference. Once baby is positioned correctly, active labor may begin.

19. Eat!

Even if you don’t go out to a restaurant, it’s still vitally important to eat and drink in early labor. You may not feel like eating a whole lot when you’re in active labor but you will need the calories to undergo the hard work of childbirth so if you’re hungry, eat! Focus on good proteins and carbs and shy away from fatty or processed foods that may upset your stomach later.

20. Do a puzzle

Puzzles are a beautiful way to let your mind run as you process everything you’re going through. Bonus points if you sit backward on a chair while you do the puzzle to keep your hips open which gives room for baby to move down.

21. Finish any last minute projects

Maybe you were really hoping to organize the junk drawer, update your new budget, or learn how to set up the baby’s pack-n-play before the birth. Early labor is a great time to check a few things off your list if they are occupying your mind. Of course it’s not the time for anything too in-depth or physically tiring but small tasks here and there can be wonderful.

22. Stairs

Going up and down the stairs opens the pelvis asymmetrically which can aide in baby positioning and bring on stronger contractions. Take two stairs at a time or go up and down sideways alternating which leg is leading for some variation.

35 things to do in early labor

23. Laugh

There is no better way to naturally reduce stress than laughter and because stress can delay, slow down, or even stop labor altogether, laughter truly can be the best medicine! Be intentional about laughing, tell jokes, or listen to a funny podcast. Active labor may be just around the corner!

24. Bake cookies

Baking cookies can be such a yummy distraction and if you happen to begin active labor before you eat them, your birth team would love for you to bring them along. Trust me 😉

25. Dance party

Dancing is a fun way to exercise, it’s a big stress reliever, and it’s a great way to get baby positioned properly for birth. And if you have toddlers or older children, having a dance party with them can be a sweet memory to make before they meet their new sibling.

26. Lunges

When you have a burst of energy in early labor, doing lunges is a terrific way to use it. Side lunges, forward lunges, reverse lunges, lunges on a chair, whatever kind of lunge you want! They all open the pelvis asymmetrically which you know by now is the key to optimal baby positioning.

27. Intimacy

It’s true. The same thing that got the baby in there can get the baby out. Cuddling, kissing, and sex all help increase the production of oxytocin which is the love hormone AND the labor hormone. So as long as your water hasn’t broken, intimacy is a great idea especially since it may be the last chance you get for a couple months.

28. Take a bath/shower

Hydrotherapy is a brilliant labor tool. It’s relaxing and is a great way to manage pain. You may find getting in the shower allows you to labor at home a bit longer so that when you get to the hospital or birth center, you are further into the birthing process and you’re also nice and clean!

35 things to do in early labor

29. Write a letter to your baby

I can’t think of a sweeter thing to do in early labor than to write a letter to the baby you’re about to meet. Not only will this make an awesome gift for your child one day, but it will also remind you why you’re excited to go into labor in the first place. Yes, childbirth is difficult but it’s also the most worthwhile thing in the world. Giving life to a new baby is such a gift!

30. Bounce on an exercise ball

Anytime you want to sit down for a bit in early labor, sit on an exercise ball instead of a couch or chair. This forces you into an upright, forward-leaning, open pelvis position which, you guessed it, is great for baby positioning! Additionally, it’s often the most comfortable place to sit in late pregnancy and it’s so much easier to get on and off of than a couch.

31. Eat dates

Current research shows that eating six dates a day in the last month of pregnancy can lead to shorter labors, fewer inductions, and a reduced need for pain medication. This may be because dates can have an oxytocin-like effect on the cervix which helps prep for an easier labor. Eat them on their own, include them in a protein ball, or mix them in your smoothie. If nothing else, they’re a yummy, nutritious snack!

32. Talk about your feelings

Many women experience a whole host of emotions in early labor. From anxiety about labor to excitement about the baby to a hesitation about becoming a mom, there’s a lot going on. Particularly, if you are feeling discouraged about how long early labor is taking, it’s important to vocalize those emotions with a trusted member of your birth team who will validate and encourage you. Believe it or not, these difficult feelings can impact labor so it’s essential to process them fully.

33. Play a game

I always carry a deck of cards in my doula bag in case I find myself supporting a client in early labor. For the most part, this is a relaxation and distraction technique but a little healthy competition is always a great way to bond with the people you have invited to be with you in labor.

34. Do a normal day

If contractions are still random and mild, your best option may just be to carry on with your day as normal. Go to work, go get groceries, keep your evening plans, and pretend early labor isn’t happening. This can keep your spirits up and allow you to continue waiting patiently for active labor to begin.

35. Keep it quiet

And last but not least, consider keeping the news that you’re experiencing early labor a secret from people who are not on your birth team. The more people who know that things have begun the more texts you will receive asking for an update. And if things haven’t picked up when they ask how it’s going, you may feel tempted to be disappointed and they may make you wonder if something could be wrong. In reality, early labor is a process and can take awhile, so there’s no reason to add other people’s negative input to your plate.

Early labor can be emotionally taxing but remember, you are doing such a great job mama and your body knows exactly what to do! I hope this list helps you visualize a relaxing and sweet early labor phase and empowers you to wait patiently. When active labor begins, you will have had so much practice and you will feel prepared and ready to meet your sweet baby. You’ve got this mama!

35 things to do in early labor

To The Mama Whose Natural Birth Plan Fell Through

You spent countless hours throughout your pregnancy dreaming about your birth. You researched all your options thoroughly and decided you wanted to labor as naturally as possible. Maybe you picked out a midwife for your care, maybe you hired a doula, maybe you chose a birth center or home birth. You started practicing prenatal yoga to learn how to control your breathing. You drank gallons of red raspberry leaf tea. You saw a chiropractor and did all the right exercises to get your baby in an optimal position for birth. You carefully made your birth plan and you were oddly looking forward to labor. You were prepared.

But then along the way things got a little tricky. Maybe your baby was breach. Maybe your water broke but contractions would not start. Or you were two weeks past your due date. Your blood pressure spiked. Your baby was estimated to be quite large. Maybe contractions came on strong and 2 minutes apart when you were only 3 centimeters dilated and they never slowed down. Or you stopped progressing at 5 centimeters. Maybe you were just not ok with how out-of-control your body felt at 7 centimeters. Maybe your contractions stopped altogether at 9.5 centimeters. Or you pushed for hours and the baby did not descend. Honestly, maybe the pain was just way too much and you simply couldn’t do it anymore.

So you transferred to the hospital, you were given Pitocin, or they broke your water, you took narcotics, or you got an epidural, an episiotomy, or you delivered your baby via cesarean. You experienced first hand the dreaded cascade of interventions and your natural birth plan fell through.

At first, you’re relieved that it’s all over. You made it through, you’re holding your baby, you fall in love and just as they said you would, you forget all the pain. It becomes a distant memory. But then you start to wonder if it was really that bad. You start to think about everything you could have done differently. You question the decisions you made and you start to grieve for the loss of the birth you had been dreaming about. It’s the happiest day of your life and yet you feel sad at the same time.

When you open up to people about these feelings they recite that overquoted line: “All that matters is that you have a healthy baby and a healthy mom.” And then you feel guilty because that’s not all that matters to you. You aren’t content, even as you hold your perfect newborn that you love so much. You had a dream but you didn’t achieve it. And it hurts.

In this picture, I am in a hospital, dressed in a gown, hooked up to continuous fetal monitors, on Pitocin and an IV. The lower half of my body is numb and immobile due to an epidural and I am being coached on how to push while laying flat on my back. None of this was in my plan that I literally spent years dreaming up and yet its all part of my oldest daughter’s birth story. I know those feelings, mama. And I’m here to tell you, it’s ok.

It’s ok that you didn’t birth according to your plan. But it’s also ok that you feel the way you do. A healthy baby may be the most important thing, but it’s not exactly all that matters. Your feelings MATTER. The fact that you’re grieving right now MATTERS. Talk through these emotions with someone who will listen because your well-being MATTERS.

We put so much pressure on ourselves to master a process that we will only actually experience a handful of times in our life and there’s no way to truly practice for it. Be gentle with yourself. Remember that you sacrificed your desires to get your baby in your arms which is really what mothers do day in and day out. Maybe you need to reframe your mind to be grateful for medical interventions that got you through. And while natural childbirth is usually safe and it’s totally valid to continue to desire a natural process, maybe you need to remember that without many of these interventions, there were women and babies who died in childbirth. Interventions have a rightful place. Maybe you need to take this experience and use it to better prepare for a natural labor next time. We live and learn and grow and evolve and there’s nothing wrong with that.

There are women all over who are experiencing the same grief that you have. Reach out to them, let them encourage you, and build them up as well. Help them see that women are not defined by how they give birth. You will move on from this. Remember most of all, you matter and you are not alone.

Did your birth experience go differently then you had planned? Did you have trouble dealing with it? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!