February 20, 2008
Before addressing the question of why you might want to choose natural birth, you should first define “natural” in terms of having a baby. Natural birth? In some circles, it is easy to characterize natural birth with a simple answer. For many women though, the explanation is not as clear or easily illustrated. What does “natural birth” mean to you?
The definitions are as varied as the women who provide them. Some would say that vaginal birth is natural birth, while others would go even further saying it means minimal to absolutely no interventions are involved. Additionally, there are individuals who believe that an unassisted birth is the ultimate natural birth. It is no wonder why the defining of natural birth is often debated amongst birth professionals.Therefore, in the interest of the reader, natural birth discussed here simply means, unmedicated birth – birth without the use of pharmacology. Perhaps a better question would be, “Why choose unmedicated birth?”
The idea of not using drugs for pain relief during childbirth is an unthinkable option for many women. First time mothers are especially fearful of the sensations they might experience during their labor. It is certainly understandable why some women would choose to be numb, especially today. It doesn’t help that we are regularly exposed to fear-provoking scenes on television as the media exploits our emotions with depictions of negative birth experiences. Even well-meaning family members and friends unwittingly scare mothers by telling of their unfortunate circumstances with birth. Who can blame women for wanting to be completely free of physical discomfort during labor and birth? Expectant mothers are afraid. After all, childbirth is extremely painful and unbearable. Or is it?
There is a growing number of women today who take the extra time and initiative to research their options with regard to labor and childbirth. These proactive women are fully involved and are taking more responsibility in the decision-making surrounding their pregnancy and birth experiences. When a woman becomes educated and informed about her care provider’s procedures, policies, intervention rates, and her rights as a birthing mother, she will have a better overall experience.
So what are women learning? They are finding the benefits of natural birth far outweigh the risks that come with the use of pharmacology. Contrary to what many women are often told, the drugs used for induction and pain relief, do in fact cross the placenta and can cause many undesirable side effects for both mother and baby.
Drugs used for induction are known to cause adverse reactions for mothers and babies including some of the following:
- Uterine hyperstimulation,
- Uterine rupture
- Fetal and maternal death
- Brain damage in infants due to uterine rupture
Another thing mothers are learning is the epidural analgesia is a cocktail of drugs chosen by the administering anesthesiologist. Most women have no idea what drugs are being given to themselves and their babies through the epidural IV. The side effects range from minor to life-threatening. In fact, some of the most significant and well-documented side effects on the baby are a direct result of the drug effects on the mother.
Every single drug a mother gets during her labor is passed on to her baby. In some cases the drug levels in babies are even higher than in the mothers, which may result in toxic effects. Interestingly enough, most of the drugs that are used for induction and pain relief are contraindicated for labor and birth by the very pharmaceutical companies that manufacture them.
Side effects aside, there is a direct relationship in the use of drugs during labor leading to the need for additional medical intervention. There is also documentation that shows once drugs are introduced, the likelihood of complications increases. Most mothers never anticipate the consequences of their choice to use drugs for labor.
The good news is mothers are also discovering that there are tremendous benefits in choosing unmedicated birth. Researchers are more recently studying and trying to understand the important roll the body’s natural hormones have in the health and wellbeing of mother and baby. For one thing, an incredible amount of these chemicals are released at the moment birth is experienced by the mind and body. They include oxytocin, endorphins, enkephlins, catecholamines, prolactin, and many, many more. It has even been suggested that there are chemicals within the body that have yet to be discovered. The wonderful news is we do know that these hormones put mothers into euphoric states of well-being and help them bond and attach with their babies more readily.
Another great benefit to natural birth is a faster recovery time that is free of any adverse side effects from drugs. Some women experience the negative effects of using medications during childbirth for days, weeks, and even months after the birth of their baby. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell in advance how a mother or her baby will respond. There is no rhyme or reason as to who is affected and to what degree.
Babies who are born without drugs in their system are generally more alert, calmer, and tend to cry less. Mothers have also reported that their unmedicated babies tend have fewer problems with breastfeeding, are happier and more content.
There are also long lasting psychological benefits for mothers who consider their labor and birth as a positive experience. Women who feel empowered by their experience are usually more confident in their ability to parent and with decision-making in other areas of their lives. They are even less likely to experience postpartum depression.
So what can a mother do to be as comfortable as possible during her natural unmedicated birth? First and foremost, remaining calm and as deeply relaxed as possible will help alleviate much of the discomfort of childbirth. It’s important that she be able to move about and choose whatever position helps her most too.
Some great techniques a mother can use for comfort during labor and birth include: getting into a deep tub of warm relaxing water, showering, using a birth ball, eating and drinking plenty of fluids, massage, walking, listening to soothing music, and deep relaxation or hypnosis. Changing positions, swaying, deep slow breathing, moaning, repeating a particular mantra, and being vocal during labor are other ways mothers instinctively help themselves to feel better. When centered and grounded, a woman will find her birthing rhythm and do what comes naturally to help her feel better and more comfortable.
For added support, many couples are now hiring professional labor assistants, or Birth Doulas, to help them accomplish their goals for birth. Studies have shown that having labor support has many benefits including a reduction in the cesarean rate. Mothers who have utilized the services of a Birth Doula reported an increased sense of satisfaction with their overall birth experience.
It’s a misnomer to believe that a woman who chooses to birth naturally is trying to be a hero or a martyr. Or to suggest she is trying to make a point or has something to prove is most likely far from her truth. When a woman chooses to birth without the use of drugs, she is doing what she believes is the best and safest thing for herself and her baby.
The most important thing is, that regardless of what a mother chooses to do, her decisions are formed knowing what the evidence shows. This way she is either deciding on “informed consent” or “informed refusal” for all of her birthing options.