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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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!