Natural birth means different things in different contexts. Sometimes, natural birth refers to vaginal birth, as opposed to surgical birth via cesarean section. Other times, it refers to a vaginal birth without the use of medications for augmentation or anesthetic purposes (for speeding up the birth process or numbing pain). And of course, when some people hear the words “natural birth,” they picture a woman squatting in a field to give birth.
In the context of this post, natural birth means vaginal birth without the use of medications, regardless of the other details; a natural birth can happen at home, in a hospital, in a birthing center, and with the assistance of a doctor or midwife, or even unassisted (which is never recommended as a plan, but it can happen sometimes). Natural birthing can also happen in many positions; squatting is common, since it’s usually an anatomically optimal position, but other options are the well-known lying back position, kneeling, on hands and knees, side-lying, and so on. Some natural births take place in a tub of water, which can have added benefits.
So why would a woman choose a natural birth?
In our society, natural birth has become uncommon, although it is beginning to make a comeback. Yet still, many women who choose natural birth are labeled as martyrs, crazy, brave, odd, foolish, or many other words both positive and negative—but honestly, mostly negative. Some people may not understand why a woman would choose a birth involving pain when there are modern options that make birth much “easier” for the mother.
There are a number of reasons to choose a natural birth.
- A medical birth often involves unnecessary interventions that aren’t best for the mother or baby. One common example is birth that has “failed to progress,” and is pushed along using a medicine known as Pitocin. The reality is that birthing can take quite a bit of time, and most women’s bodies are capable of birthing at the right pace for themselves. Unless the baby is truly in distress, or the mother becomes too exhausted to continue, it is usually best to allow birthing to progress on its own. Another example is episiotomy, the cutting of perineal tissue instead of allowing it to stretch or tear naturally. While episiotomies may speed birth along, the tissue will actually heal better if allowed to tear; more importantly, allowing the perineum to stretch gradually may prevent tearing altogether, even though it takes longer than cutting. These are just two examples of how medical intervention during birth is often unnecessary and harmful.
- There are risks to the medications used in birthing. Using Pitocin to speed up the birthing process can cause more intense contractions, which are more difficult and exhausting for the mother, as well as more stressful for the baby. This can often lead to the use of pain medication in a birth that would have otherwise proceeded naturally. Pain medications such as epidurals can then cause birth to slow down again or stall. Often, the result is an emergency c-section for a woman and baby who should not have needed it. These medications have other risks and harmful side effects as well.
- Vaginal births are almost always safer than elective cesarean sections—even vaginal births after a previous c-section. One common thing to hear in the birth world is that women who have had a cesarean section must always have them for births afterwards. While there are cases in which that is true, in the vast majority of women, there is no need to automatically plan a c-section because vaginal birth still has fewer risks. Another common example of unnecessary c-sections are in the cases involving nuchal cords, or an umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck. This is a relatively common occurrence, and does not constitute an emergency in most cases; babies in the womb breath through their umbilical cords, not their throats, and oxygen continues to flow through the cord even when it is wrapped around the neck or tied in a knot. C-sections are frequently done unnecessarily using the excuse of a cord wrapped around the neck. Surgical birth is very safe nowadays, and invaluable in situations where it is truly necessary—but for women who are able to safely give birth vaginally, c-sections are simply not the safest choice for the mother or baby. There are risks to any surgery, and this is a major surgery. It also involves a more difficult and longer recovery than a vaginal birth.
- Natural birth is the only option for birthing outside of the hospital. For some women, the scariest part of childbirth is the idea of going to the hospital to give birth and feeling vulnerable or out of control because of the hospital environment. Hospitals can make people feel like they are not in charge of their own bodies, or their own medical decisions. They can feel pressured to follow a doctor’s orders or a hospital’s policies, even when they aren’t comfortable with those choices. On the contrast, a birth in the comfort of one’s own home or in the home-like atmosphere of a birthing center can be a much more comfortable and positive experience. These environments are a great place for women to give birth with the assistance of a midwife or even in some cases a doctor, as long as they do not want or need special equipment or medications for their births. And of course, in the event of a change of plans or even an emergency, the hospital is always there.
- Natural birth allows the mother to be fully present and experience the birth process. Medications may cause mental fogginess, but a natural birth allows a woman to feel in charge of the process. Birthing naturally also brings a great sense of empowerment, and can boost the strength of the mother-infant bond from the start because it encourages skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth, and supports a strong start to breastfeeding for those who so choose.
- Natural birth does not have to involve pain. While many natural births do involve pain, there is another option. Hypnosis for childbirth is a powerful tool that works, allowing women to experience the intense sensations of birth as pressure or discomfort, without being overwhelmed by pain. Using hypnosis to prepare for a natural birth can also help the body to experience an easier, safer, and more peaceful birth process.
For me, the realization that I could have a natural birth at home was the reason I first was able to shed my fear and begin to feel confident about the birth process. When I discovered Hypnobabies, I became even more confident and excited. I used it, and it worked, and I can’t wait to do it again with my next baby. Childbirth can be a beautiful and positive experience—and that’s why I believe in natural birth, and especially in Hypnobabies.