Some women choose to give birth using no medications at all, relying instead of
techniques such as relaxation and controlled breathing for pain. With natural
childbirth, the mother is in control of her body, usually with a labor assistant gently
guiding and supporting her through the stages of labor.
For many moms-to-be, having a natural childbirth isn't about being "brave" or a
"martyr" — it's about treating labor and delivery as a natural event. Many women
find the experience, despite the pain, extremely empowering and rewarding.
About Natural Childbirth
Natural childbirth is a "low-tech" way of giving birth by letting nature take its
course. This may include:
going through labor and delivery without the help of medications, including pain
relievers such as epidurals
using few or no artificial medical interventions such as continuous fetal monitoring
or episiotomies (when the area between the vagina and anus, called the perineum, is
cut to make room for the baby during delivery)
allowing the woman to lead the labor and delivery process, dealing with it in
any way she is comfortable
Many women with low-risk pregnancies choose to go au natural to avoid any possible
risks that medications could pose for the mother or baby. Pain medications can affect
your labor — your blood pressure might drop, your labor might slow down or speed
up, you might become nauseous, and you might feel a sense of lack of control.
But many women choose natural childbirth to feel more in touch with the birth experience
and to deal with labor in a proactive manner.
Where Is It Done?
Some women who opt for natural childbirth choose to deliver in a non-hospital setting
such as a birth center, where natural childbirth is the focus. Women are free to move
around during their labor, get in positions that are most comfortable to them, and
spend time in the tub or jacuzzi. The baby is monitored frequently, often with a handheld
ultrasound device. Comfort measures such as hydrotherapy, massage, warm and cold compresses,
and visualization and relaxation techniques are often used. The woman is free to eat
and drink as she chooses.
A variety of health care professionals may work in the birth center setting —
such as registered nurses, certified nurse midwives, and doulas (professionally trained
providers of labor support and/or postpartum care) who act as labor assistants.
Studies indicate that getting continuous support during labor from a trained and
experienced companion, such as a midwife or doula, can mean shorter labor, less (or
no) medications, less chance of needing a C-section, and a more positive feeling about
the labor when it's over.
These days, it's also possible to have a more natural childbirth in many hospitals.
Some hospitals have birth centers, where a natural approach is taken, but medical
intervention is available if needed. Many hospitals have modified their approach for
low-risk births, and have rooms with homelike settings where women can labor, deliver,
and recover without being moved. They may take their cues from the laboring woman,
allowing labor to proceed more slowly and without intervention if all seems to be
going well. They may use alternative pain-management techniques if requested
and welcome the assistance of labor assistants like midwives or doulas.
In addition to the father, other children, grandparents, and friends may be
allowed to attend the births (which is also common practice at birth centers). After
birth, babies might remain with the mother longer. In its fullest form, this approach
is sometimes called family-centered care.
If you're having a high-risk pregnancy, it's best to give birth in a hospital,
where you can receive any necessary medical care (especially in the event of an emergency).
How Is It Done?
How you choose to work through the pain is up to you. Different women find that
different methods work best for them. Many can control the pain by channeling
their energy and focusing their minds on something else. The two most common childbirth
philosophies in the United States are the Lamaze technique and the Bradley method.
The Lamaze technique teaches that birth is a normal, natural, and healthy process
but takes a neutral position toward pain medication, encouraging women to make an
informed decision about whether it's right for them.
The Bradley method (also called Husband-Coached Birth) emphasizes a natural approach
to birth and the active participation of a birth coach. A major goal of this method
is the avoidance of medications unless absolutely necessary. The Bradley method also
focuses on good nutrition and exercise during pregnancy and relaxation and deep-breathing
techniques as a method of coping with labor. Although the Bradley method advocates
a medication-free birth experience, the classes do prepare parents for unexpected
complications or situations, like emergency C-sections.
Other ways women handle pain during labor include:
hypnosis (also called "hypnobirthing")
massage or counterpressure
changing position (such as walking around, showering, rocking, or leaning on birthing
taking a bath or shower
immersion in warm water or a jacuzzi
distractions via activities that keep the mind otherwise occupied
listening to soothing music
What Will It Feel Like?
Although labor is often thought of as one of the more painful events in human experience,
it varies widely from woman to woman and even from pregnancy to pregnancy. Women experience
labor pain differently — for some, it resembles menstrual cramps; for others,
severe pressure; and for others, extremely strong waves that feel like diarrheal cramps.
First-time mothers are more likely to give their pain a higher rating than women who've
had babies before.
How Long Will It Take?
There's no magic timetable when you're giving birth. For some women, the baby comes
in a few hours; for many others it may take all day (or longer). Whether you opt for
medications or not, every woman's body reacts to labor differently.
Risks and Precautions
Natural childbirth is, in general, very safe. But it becomes risky when a woman
ignores her health care provider's recommendations or if she refuses medical intervention
if everything doesn't go as planned.
It's important for the well-being of you and your baby to be open to other options
if complications occur. In an emergency, refusing medical help could put your life
and your baby's at serious risk.
Like any woman who's given birth, you'll probably feel:
exhausted — both you and your baby will probably want to sleep as much as
shaky or cold — many women shiver after delivery; this is a natural reaction
sore — you'll probably feel cramping in your uterus, especially with breastfeeding,
and you'll have some pain and discomfort in and around your vagina
elated and empowered — you may feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment
knowing that you did it
What If I Can't Handle the Pain?
Labor might hurt more than you had anticipated. Some women who had previously said
they want no pain medicine whatsoever end up changing their minds once they're actually
in labor. This is very common and completely understandable.
You should be applauded for your willingness and enthusiasm to try to deliver naturally.
But if it turns out that the pain is too much to bear, don't feel bad about requesting
medications. And if something doesn't go according to plan, you may need to be flexible
as circumstances change. That doesn't make you any less brave or committed to your
baby or the labor process. Giving birth is a beautiful and rewarding experience, with
or without medical intervention.