When people ask me what I do for a living, and I tell them I teach natural childbirth classes and am a doula, I frequently get a strong reaction that goes something like this: “Oh, I could NEVER do that!!”
This perception could not be further from the truth, in my experience. Most of the time, women who would like to have a natural childbirth will be able to do so. No one has to “go natural” if they do not want to, certainly giving birth with pain medications is the overwhelmingly more common choice in the Dallas area. If women want to use pain medication, I support them in doing so, and in having that option.
However, many women do not try to have a natural birth because they think it is not possible. – Maybe you think only the diehard few “superwomen,” can do it. I understand this misconception, as I was once one of those women myself! I had an epidural with my first birth only because I was under the impression that “going natural” was something that hippies, athletes, or earth mamas did… but not something Jane Average mainstream women like me could do. I did not believe I would be able to survive without an epidural since I do not have any special pain tolerance, nor am I athletic. I did not know almost anyone who had gone natural; most of my friends raved about the epidural. My care provider and hospital staff did not behave as though natural childbirth were a viable option that I could choose if I wanted. So, I didn’t even realize that I could have a natural childbirth- I didn’t even try.
Even If Having a Natural Birth is Possible- Why Might Someone Want To?!
While using an epidural in labor can be an appropriate choice in some births, there are many advantages to choosing to give birth without using an epidural.
Epidural anesthesia carries potential risks to the mother and to the baby, and to the mother’s chances for a vaginal delivery:
Risks to the mother include low blood pressure, severe headache, short-term or chronic pain, or numbness in the back, and the rare possibility of more serious complications. Also, having an epidural can lead to the mother running a fever, which leads to baby being worked up for possible infection since it is impossible to tell if the fever is just from the epidural, or from infection.
Risks to the baby include fetal distress from the medications crossing the placenta to the baby, drowsiness and poor sucking reflex at birth.
Increased risks to the opportunity of having a vaginal birth include a cesarean being required due to the epidural causing fetal distress, prolonging of labor, less effective pushing effort, and/or the increased chance of a malpositioned baby who then will not fit due to positioning.
Sometimes the benefits of an epidural may be determined to outweigh these risks. However, many women would prefer to avoid taking these risks to their babies and to themselves unnecessarily. If, therefore, pain in childbirth could be manageable without needing to use an epidural, many women would be happy to forego taking on the additional risks of using the epidural.
Proactive Steps Women Can Take So An Unmedicated Birth Can Be An Accessible Option:
- Choose your care provider and place of birth carefully. In the DFW area, fewer than 10% of women have an unmedicated birth. Many care providers strongly prefer that their patients have a medically managed birth and do not see any value in natural birth. Many hospitals are rigid in their routines and protocols which are geared towards their “usual consumers” (i.e. women choosing an epidural) and are not willing to be flexible with a laboring mom to help her meet her own individual goals for the birth. For tips on how to give birth naturally in a hospital, take a look at our article.
- Hire a doula. Having a doula substantially increases the chances of a successful natural birth. Usually nurses are taking care of several patients at a time and are not physically with a laboring woman more than a few minutes per hour during active labor. In addition, different nurses usually take care of the mom throughout her labor because of shift changes. Usually the doctor is only present for a few brief visits during the labor, and then the last few minutes of actually pushing the baby out. A doula is with the laboring couple throughout their entire labor and birth, providing continuity of care, comfort measures, ideas to try, questions to ask, and moral support.
- Take an independent childbirth class that is geared towards preparing couples for natural birth. Most hospitals offer a low cost childbirth class, but it is geared towards preparing women for the type of birth that they offer and that most of their patients choose which is a medically managed birth. If you want to have a good chance at a natural birth, taking an independent class may be the best investment you make in your care. I always tell people that just because you are educated in how to avoid getting an epidural, you do not HAVE to go natural – you can still choose to get it. However, if you are not educated in how to avoid an epidural, and then circumstances prevent you from getting the epidural, you may not be equipped to deal with labor. Therefore, it is better to have the coping skills needed for natural birth, whether or not you choose to use them! You can take a look at our natural childbirth classes if you are planning a natural birth.
- Avoid common practices which cause labor to hurt more than it needs to. Many hospital practices were put in place giving consideration only to the patient who has an epidural. Even some labor nurses are uncomfortable with women who wish to go natural. Making slight alterations to the status quo can reduce drastically a woman’s perception of pain. Your doula and childbirth classes will teach in detail about these modifications in detail.
- Eat well and stay active to keep your body healthy. It is not necessary to be in “athletic” shape to have a natural birth. It is, however, helpful to eat nutritiously to keep your energy up, and to have the stamina to periodically walk and change positions.
- Seek out other women who have successfully had natural births. Be encouraged by them. Ask them what helped them the most to achieve their natural birth, and what they wish they had known that would have helped them. Ask about their care providers, doulas and hospitals or birth centers, and what they loved and what they would change if they did it again. Surround yourself with positive stories of natural births rather than watching or listening to horror stories of how unbearable labor pain is and why you should not try. Your mind is powerful! Fill it up with what you want and hope for- not what you want to avoid.
- Be flexible. Being flexible does not mean, “A natural birth probably won’t happen; you probably can’t do it. Do not get your heart set on it or try to go for the impossible dream. Be okay with it not working out.” Being flexible means, set yourself up for success in all the ways over which you have control. Then, having positioned yourself for your best chance at the outcome you hope for, you can relax, let the process unfold, and just let it be what it is, with confidence in your ability to adjust to whatever comes as you welcome your baby.
For those who have ever considered or might consider trying natural childbirth, I will share a quote that I 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
Jonathan Weinstein, MD – www.friscowomenshealth.com 972-668-8300