Considering an unmedicated birth? Many do — and it’s increasing in popularity.
The reasons for it are varied, but range from aversions to medical interventions to the desire for a speedier recovery to the longing for a closer connection to your baby at birth, and/or the desire to deliver the baby at home or at a birthing center. Additionally, many don’t like the idea of not being in control or not being able to feel various parts of their body during this important experience.
But the overwhelming reason women go au natural is because they want to feel the complete and uncensored wonder of childbirth – and to discover what their bodies are actually capable of — without medications or other interventions.
Then there’s the middle road: many like the idea of trying it, knowing that pain relief is (hopefully!) there for them if they change their mind.
Speaking of pain, an important factor in the practicality of going au natural is how l-o-n-g your labor and delivery takes. The women in my family, for whatever reason, always had very protracted L&Ds. This also scared me.
When labor and delivery take more than 24 hours, you tend to become physically and emotionally exhausted. This is when an epidural starts sounding really good! Thus, it’s not just the intensity of the pain; rather, it’s also about the duration of that pain, mixed with the physical exhaustion of labor. And pushing. My god, the pushing is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Thank goodness the pushing part doesn’t typically last very long (15-45 minutes). However (again), you hear about some people that actively push for 3+ hours.
There are those whose babies seem to pop right out or, rather, aren’t in labor for 20+ hours. Not gonna lie, those people have it easier simply because they’re at it for a shorter period of time. They are running a 5k as opposed to a marathon.
Had I prepared myself for a marathon – and an unmedicated delivery, I’d like to think I could have done it. I do believe a lot of it is about your expectations – and I did not expect myself to be able to do it, at the time. This is why I wanted to write this article — so we can discuss some of the things we learn the hard way. Or at least, to prompt you to think about something you might not have even considered.
For this article, I brought in my friend and industry expert, Heather Reed, who delivered her two children without pain relief: one in a hospital setting and one at home in a birthing tub.
Well… you’ve heard that your body was meant to do this. And it’s true. Babies have been brought onto this planet without pain medication for thousands of generations.
Being in the right frame of mind reallydoes make all the difference in the world. I’m here to offer you some gentle suggestions and words of wisdom, based on both my own experiences as well as [borrowed] wise words from my mother, an OB/GYN who’s been practicing at a county hospital in Cleveland since 1993 (whose C-section rate just so happens to be [ahem] the lowest in Northeast Ohio).
The best advice I can give to any woman interested in attempting a “natural” birth is to suggest you detach from outcomes all together. Yes, there are a thousand memes on the Internet about God laughing at your plans, etc., so I’ll spare you from that.
There are steps that you can take to help you foster your natural birth experience. Yoga, specifically, doing cat/cow every morning and night can help baby be in the optimal position for birth (head down/face pointing toward your spine), meditation, affirmations; these are all good practices while pregnant.
Acupuncture can be an excellent routine to get into during pregnancy; it can also be an excellent tool for flipping a breech baby*.
During both yoga and childbirth, I recommend setting an intention and letting your body and your baby do the rest. If I’ve lost you here, bear with me: the number one reason things don’t go as planned in the natural birth setting is because baby is in a less than optimal position. These are some of the variables we just cannot control (but we sure can try!).
Think of your yoga practice as homework. Allow yourself the space to visualize your baby’s optimal position and his or her easy transition to earth.
Sharing your plan with others
If you’re a compulsive over-sharer like me, this is going to take some heavy censorship on your part. Use this time to try to carve out this sacred space for yourself and your new baby. Have your partner do the same thing too.
Think about those randōs on the street that are already trying to touch you and tell you you’re having a boy because your belly looks a certain way… then, imagine that person is your aunt/sister or (worse) your mom/MIL. And they don’t agree at. all. with your choice to do this. Your feelings would be hurt. So, now is a good time for boundaries, even if you’re terrible at setting them.
If your family already knows your plans, either because of logistics or because you’ve already shared it with them, ask them to respectfully keep their opinion to themselves (unless it’s encouraging and/or positive). If they cannot do this, you’re well within your right to tell them that they’ll either not be allowed in your space while you’re in labor (depending on your current relationship – moms can be hard!), or that you’ll be forced to withhold info from this point on.
You’re allowed to be selfish here. In fact, I encourage it.
Your Comfort/”Pain” Management
First of all, get the word “pain” out of your vocabulary. Its connotations have no place in your valuable (and tiny) birthing headspace.
You’re going to want your meditation/visualization practice to become second nature so that it comes naturally to you when things really get intense. You may not be able to verbally communicate to your partner/team when you’re in active labor (and that’s a good thing), so make sure they know how to apply comfort measures as well. Counter-pressure to your hips, counting your breaths, telling you when you’re halfway done with each contraction/wave – these are all valuable things your partner can do for you while you’re laboring.
Birthing at Home
Make sure you’ve delegated tasks to [competent] people, prior to going into labor. Using a tub? Who’s going to blow it up and where’s the pump!? Whose job is it to fill this thing? It ain’t gonna fill itself, girl. You may have hired a midwife who will take care of these things, and that’s fine, but these are the last things you want to be thinking about when you’re in active labor.
Again, having a team is important. When everyone knows their role, you’ll have a smoother experience. You’re going to need people for the hard jobs (helping you labor, push, etc.), and for the “easy” jobs (watching your dog/older kid, making sure you have enough food/water)… and then, there’s the clean up.
While most view this as something “cool” to do for baby, the reality is that laboring and birthing in water is one of the best natural comfort measures available to us. The instances of perineal and vaginal tearing, for example, are decreased dramatically when baby is born in the water.
The warmth also provides comfort between the waves/contractions – the time where it’s important to rest and relax. Some people will advise staying out of the water because it can “slow” labor, however, I believe that even if you use the tub periodically as a tool for soothing yourself, it’s still worthwhile.
Personally, I spent a ton of time in and out of the bathtub while I was in labor with both of my children. For the second – who was actually born in the water – I spent the last 45 minutes in an actual birth tub.
Most midwives have pools you can rent directly from them, but since my homebirth was sort of a DIY (physician-attended), I went ahead and purchased everything myself. I suggest considering this route anyway, just so you can rest assured that you’ll have access to what you want. Sometimes, the due dates of multiple midwife clients can overlap and the tub is already rented out, and you don’t need another thing to stress about.
If you buy a personal use tub, it can be stored and used multiple times if you purchase a liner. Great if you want more kids, or if you want to just pass it down to a friend (liner is MANDATORY, guys… must have liner). One more quick note about tubs… I wasn’t sure if we were going to actually have the baby in the water, but I wanted the option. A professional water birth tub is the ONLY thing I can recommend in good conscience. Kiddie pool from Walmart ain’t gonna do the trick, people. Go with the trusted source.
While most midwives and doulas use the commercial-grade “AquaDoula” tub (which has a built-in heater), I personally recommend the “Birth Pool in a Box – Eco” tub for your homebirth. The tubs the pros use are expensive and intended for many, many different users, while the personal tubs are more affordable and intended for 10 or fewer uses. Filling the tub also requires a special, toxin-free hose. These are available at most hardware stores or you can purchase one online here.
For clean up, get a pond pump and pump the water into the toilet when you’re finished. A complete accessory kit is an easy way to make sure you have everything your need.
Even if you don’t plan on using a tub (but especially if you do), line your floors – and your bed – with plastic, Dexter style. You will thank me later. Be sure to put raggedy sheets/towels over said plastic, because this is no time for a slip-n-slide situation. Doggie peepee pads work well too, but that can get expensive. Worth putting a couple on your couch though, just in case.
Recent studies about eating during labor are long overdue. The real reason they don’t want you to eat is because if they have to do emergency surgery, it’s safer that you have an empty stomach.
Try going for 10-48 hours without food, then come tell me how good you feel about life in general, let alone the prospect of pushing out a baby. I recommend staying fed (although you might not have an appetite), and most importantly, HYDRATED. After every wave, your partner should offer you water. Some people perceive IVs as the devil, and if you’re birthing in the hospital and staying hydrated, you don’t actually need one. It’s an easy portal for unwanted interventions, so keep that in mind.
In a hospital setting, they will strongly encourage you to have the hep/saline lock in place (the insertion part of the IV), so discuss this with your OB ahead of time if you don’t want it.
This is important, especially if you want to deliver at home: you must have someone in your corner who’s experienced childbirth, one way or another; if they’ve had a child naturally and know what to expect or they’ve seen a child be born naturally and they know what to expect. Seems obvious, but it’s very important…
Like a friend once said, if you think your house is on fire, you don’t call your coworker so you guys can just figure it out together; you call the fire department. Expertise and experience really matter here.
If you feel like you don’t “trust” yourself to go through with your plan, it’s important to make your wishes known and have a code word that you and one other person know. Get really clear on how much you want that support person to talk you into your original plan once you’ve progressed to the point where you feel like you might be defeated. This is important because sometimes we need other people to help us stay the course. You will thank them later.
I cannot stress enough the importance of adequate preparation. Sure, making a cute nursery is really important and fun but if you’re not prepared for this work of having a baby, it’s going to be a very rude awakening. You need TOOLS in your toolkit, ladies.
Yes, the last five minutes of my homebirth looked super easy, but that required months of preparation. I did the Hypnobirthing meditation every effing night for eight months. I was mentally prepared, I was physically prepared, and I had delegated the important stuff. I still didn’t think I was ready, but when the time finally came, I was able to get into that sacred headspace and that’s what was really important.
Self-doubt is crippling… If you don’t have someone there to help you get back on track, my advice is that you find that person soon. That said, if you just decided to do this and you have two weeks to go, that’s plenty of time too. Your body can do remarkable things when your brain is on board.
Your birth partner can be trained to be your doula. Sometimes people can really shine here. Annnnnd sometimes they fail. And that’s ok. It’s times like these – where they see the woman they love as they’ve never seen her before – they might freeze. Their actions may be less than helpful, but try not to hold it against them. If your partner is a woman, she too can get squeamish. The truth is, you never really know how your birth partner will do until it’s go-time. Have your support team prepare by reading The Birth Partner.
Again, if no one on your “team” has experienced natural birth before, it’s best to hire a doula. You cannot have a first-timer getting frightened and freaked out by your noises (etc.) simply because they’ve never seen this before. It’s loud, it’s messy — and that’s all normal.A person who has experienced this before will know what’s “normal” — and conversely, can intercede if there is truly a need for a medical intervention — and believe me, there might be! FWIW, all doulas are free at the county hospital in Cleveland. Find out if there is a free doula service available in your area before you set out to hire one.
If you’re giving birth in a hospital, it can still be wonderfully natural…
Be collaborative. Do not walk in there adversarially, having just watched the Business of Being Born and assuming everyone is evil and trying to manipulate you. Remember, you are not the first person to ever have a baby.
There is a fine line between the entitled birth plan that everyone will roll their eyes at, and ensuring that you’ve got a team of advocates who’ve got some basic hard lines to stick to. For example, no epidural without code word, no eye ointment, no bathing. Baby to be placed on mom/skin-to-skin ASAP. Delayed cord clamping. etc. Hospitals are usually pretty cool about these types of requests nowadays, so don’t be a Preg-zilla. When you arrive, request that a nurse who supports natural childbirth be assigned to your room. This will help to ensure you have one more advocate on your team. There are plenty of them out there, and they want to help you be successful.
If you can avoid being overly monitored and checked during labor, that’s good. Sometimes too much “checking” can lead to a defeated sense of progress, and for some women, there is such a thing as TMI.
If this is your first baby, do your best to remain open to what your body is going through and let your primal nature take over. If you’ve had previous unmedicated birth(s), you may find this next one “easier” because you already know what to expect and subsequent births are almost always faster and easier. If you’re reading this to prepare for baby #2, you’ll be that much more ahead of the game. [Again, not always the case, but usually].
The most exciting thing to happen to me right after I pushed out my first was turning to my mom and saying, “Ok! I could do that again!”… Why the excitement, you ask? Because I’m a skeptic. That’s why. I knew my HypnoBirth prep was great and all, but I didn’t know what actual showtime would FEEL like. I found reassurance in that – when I thought I was about to die – it was actually just my return to consciousness and the whole thing was about to be over.
When the oxytocin is flowing through your body, it’s almost like you’re in an altered state of consciousness. Then, when you’re in transition and about to push (aka, doing the “hard” work), you have an adrenaline surge that brings even the most exhausted mama back to attention. Mother nature, y’all — it’s so cool! This is why some women think they’re going to lose it, then don’t. But it’s ok… by that time, the hard part is actually done. And, forgive me here, but pushing actually feels “good.”
Watch my entire water-birth story (below). It’s a feel-good vid.
Good luck with whatever you decide!!
Natural Birth Testimonials
We received many emails from readers about their natural birth experiences. I like testimonials because everyone’s experience is different, and reading these gives you a sense for all the various scenarios you could encounter.
Some common “natural birth story” themes, from our Facebook QOTD:
Recommendations for preparation: Bradley birth classes, HypnoBirthing course (The Mongan Method), read “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.”
Most used a doula.
Most moms reported being alert, able to get up and walk, joke and laugh right after birth.
Most moms reported that babies were alert and able to breastfeed right after birth.
Most moms did the heavy lifting of contractions, etc. at home prior to going to the hospital.
Some moms took these steps to start labor: lots of walking, prostaglandin gels, took at bath and drank a glass of wine.
Most moms who had both natural and epidural or C-section said that their recovery was much faster with natural.
Mostly, natural birth moms want to see what their body is capable of. They don’t like the idea of having no control or not being able to feel their body during such a huge life event.