Are you currently pregnant and considering natural childbirth without pain medication?
If you live in the United States of America or another 1st world country, natural unmedicated births are far from the norm. Having a vaginal birth without an epidural, painkillers, or any other medical intervention is rare and special!
No matter how you decide to give birth, the decision is deeply personal and the best choice depends on you and your family. No one, not even your health care provider, should tell you how to bring your child into this world.
Giving birth in the U.S. vs. Africa
In developed countries, women are fortunate to have numerous childbirth options, whether it’s a home birth, standard hospital birth with epidural, or natural birth at a birth center. Expectant mothers are guaranteed to have some sort of support person present in a comfortable setting.
In developing countries, pregnant women often do not have the luxury of choice due to lack of access to medical facilities, lack of financial resources, or deeming it unnecessary. In South Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, 80-90% of under-resourced women give birth at home. If women are lucky enough to live close to a clinic, it would most likely be a simple table set up in the middle of an otherwise bare room. In South Sudan, health clinics were makeshift huts and the waiting room was under any tree offering shade.
On the contrary, in the United States, normal birth takes place in a hospital and medical interventions are the norm. The stages of labor begin with pitocin to kickstart the process of labor and then an epidural to numb the lower half of the body. If things do not progress, then a cesarean section (c-section) is usually the next course of action. Pain management including nitrous oxide and medical pain relief are sometimes given.
Cesarean birth, or c-section (caesarian section, where a surgical cut is made below the abdomen to remove the baby) has become extremely common in the past 20 years, and now the U.S. has one of the highest C-section rates in the world. In fact, 1 out of 3 births in the United States is by c-section, according to the American College of Obstetricians and the CDC! It has also been reported that many of the C-sections performed in the U.S. are elective and not necessary. Often the risks of C-sections are greater than the benefits when performed as an elective procedure.
Is a Natural Childbirth right for you?
Having a natural and unmedicated birth is not for everyone. Many factors need to be considered, including the health condition of the pregnant woman, values, and support system including health care options. Good candidates for an unmedicated childbirth include pregnant people:
– with low-risk pregnancies
– with a medical care or support people that will support your decision on the birthing experience
Why I decided to go for a natural unmedicated birth
A natural and unmedicated birth was the right choice for me. Even though I was of “advanced maternal age”, I was in good health and had a low-risk pregnancy .
I also got pregnant less than three months after my now-husband and I returned from living in a rural village in South Sudan in Africa.
We were still not completely adjusted to American-mode at the time I got pregnant, having spent the better part of the past 6 years in developing countries. I was accustomed to the fact that women all over the world give birth naturally without medical intervention, so for me there was no question that I would also go this route.
Another reason is that I am the type of person who tries to avoid modern medicine (aside from Excedrin) as much as possible. I didn’t like the idea of an epidural in which both my baby and I would both be medicated to the point of unfeeling.
I did not want to expose my unborn baby to any unnatural substances (not even steroids, which my NP wanted to subscribe for me after I had a bad case of PPUPS). In fact, I didn’t like the thought of any of the interventions that are commonplace in the U.S.A.
Coming off the heels from living in Africa where natural birth was the norm, I knew that my body was strong and capable.
There was no question that I would have a natural, unmedicated birth. To read my full birth story, go here.
Benefits of Natural Birth
There are many reasons to choose a natural and unmedicated birth, especially if you start your pregnancy out healthy and without pre-existing conditions.
Childbirth is a natural course of a woman’s life and there are many reasons to consider going this route:
- Be an active participant and FEEL your baby and your body go through the natural birth experience together
- Have a sense of empowerment and accomplishment
- Ensure a drug-free birth
- Knowing your body is capable and strong and that women all around the world do this all the time.
- Because YOU CAN!
Preparation for a natural birth is all in the mindset
If you decide to have a natural birth, then you will have to stick to your guns and set it in your mind as soon as possible before your due date.
I started out at a birth center, but because I was AMA (advanced maternal age, aka geriatric in the eyes of the medical field), I switched to an OBGYN recommended to me by a family friend.
Unfortunately that OBGYN tried to talk me out of giving birth naturally, saying it’s “very painful.” She also told me that she loved performing surgeries. Red flag!
Luckily I stuck to my plan and ended up not having the “surgery doctor” on call the night I gave birth in a hospital setting.
It comes down to knowing that a natural and unmedicated birth is what you want and preparing mentally and physically for it. If you go in half-assed or with the thought “I’d love to give birth naturally, but I’ll see what happens when I go into labor” then forget it. It won’t happen because it hasn’t been set in your mind.
You have to decide that this is the right course of action for you, put it in the birth plan, tell your partner, family member and health care team, stick to it, and prepare mentally and physically.
How painful is natural birth?
Sure, a natural birth sounds great for female strength and empowerment, but the big question is “How bad is it? How painful is a natural and unmedicated birth?”
I did a lot of research between the time I decided and the time I gave birth naturally and unmedicated. I talked to the 1 or 2 friends who opted to give birth in this way, watched TLC’s a Birth Story every day, and prepared my body by exercising.
In my head, though, the biggest question is “How bad is the pain?” “Do I actually have a high pain tolerance?”
If you’re reading this and asking the same questions, the answer is:
Yes, the labor process is intense. BUT, your body has an amazingly natural way of moderating the pain. It’s truly beautiful that your body knows EXACTLY what to do.
Is it worth it?
Without a doubt, YES.
Tips for having a natural birth
A natural and unmedicated birth isn’t for everyone. Research the different options available to you and talk to your partner and healthcare provider (again, I had to go a different route and stick to my values because I got so much opposition because of my age). However, if you do choose to go for a natural and unmedicated birth, here are my tips:
Choose Your Health Care Provider Wisely.
Whether you decide to go with a Ob/Gyn doctor from a clinic or hospital, midwife, or Birth Center, make sure that your primary healthcare provider is onboard with your choice to birth naturally and unmedicated. Even if you like the person but they are trying to tell you the “normal” (i.e. American) way to give birth, then don’t hesitate to ADVOCATE for yourself.
Write Out a Birth Plan for the Big Day.
If you want to have a natural, unmedicated birth, first have it in your mind that you will do it and then write it down on paper. Your birth plan can include comfort measures to deal with labor pain, contingency plans if labor isn’t progressing on its own, but it helps to have a tangible plan to stick to in case you decide to change your mind while in the throes of labor.
Learn relaxation techniques for the labor process
Some practice is required for working through the labor pain, whether that’s deep breathing exercises. Look into techniques such as the Bradley Method.
There’s a reason that giving birth is called “labor.” It takes a lot of strength and stamina to go through a natural birth. I did prenatal yoga everyday and took walks frequently to build up my resilience and stamina. Aside from my occasional McDonalds runs and splurges on fried chicken and ice cream, I ate pretty healthy.
Birth center support group and childbirth classes.
If you have a birth center near you, see about joining a class or support group with other soon-to-be, like-minded moms that want to go the natural birth route at the birth center. You can share questions, fears, and concerns with these other expectant moms and build friendships along the way.
Hire a doula.
A doula is a trained non-medical professional who provides support before birth (during pregnancy), during labor, and immediately post-partum (i.e. with breastfeeding, handling a newborn, sleep methods, etc.). If you think your husband is going to run out of the room screaming, I highly recommend a doula. I had one for my first birth and she helped with my back pain, documenting the birth, and providing a calming environment. After I gave birth, she came over to teach me to swaddle the baby, help with breastfeeding, and provide emotional.
Read natural birth stories and/or talk to other people who have gone through a natural birth.
There are podcasts, videos, and personal blogs that document women around the world’s experience with natural birth. At the time, I didn’t have many resources (YouTube or podcasts were not around), so I talked to 2 friends who had gone through a natural birth. Also, TLC (the Learning Channel on cable tv) had a birth story which I watched everyday (only 1 or 2 episodes of the 50 or so I watched featured a woman having a natural birth, though). Hearing other women’s natural birth stories can give you reassurance that giving birth is a natural process and that doing it without medical intervention is possible (and empowering)!
Believe in your strength and power.
A woman’s body is truly amazing and powerful, especially during the cycle of pregnancy, giving birth, and the aftermath (the body knows to produce milk after a baby is born? My mind was BLOWN when milk started coming out of my breasts 24 hours after I gave birth!).
Bringing a life into the world without medical intervention is how women were designed by the powers that be. Trust in your body because it has a way of regulating the pain.
More and more women are choosing a natural birth these days. However, only you (and your partner) can decide whether it’s the right option for you.
Are you considering a natural and unmedicated birth? Comment below!