When you hear the phrase natural birth, what comes to mind? Are you in a hospital? A birth center? Maybe you’re at home, or out in a field with nature? One thing is certain, many people see natural birth differently. To me a natural birth is one that does not include the augmentation of pharmaceuticals like Pitocin (for induction) or epidural for pain relief, and the like.
For the record I am not a healthcare professional nor a birthing expert. Always consult a licensed professional before making pregnancy related decisions. I've been pregnant only once and have no idea how things would have turned out had I not followed this regime. However, I do believe the recommendations in this article created a synergy that surely contributed to my successful natural birth. That being said, everyone has different needs and mindsets, so please always go with your gut and choose what's best for you.
You're reading this because the idea of a natural birth has piqued your curiosity. The first thing to ask yourself is why? Think for a moment. Why do you want a natural birth? For my husband and me there were several reasons:
1. We wanted to avoid pharmaceuticals during the birth.
2. We believe the birth is how the baby's soul transitions to our earthly bodies, and that this experience can have an impact on their life. We wanted to welcome Rory into a quiet, dimly lit space with candles, soft voices and essential oils. We wanted it to be a gentle transition.
3. The last reason was a personal one: I wanted to do it for myself. I wanted to prove to myself just how strong I am.
A handful of people have told me how "lucky" I am to have had the experience I wanted. While I do feel extremely fortunate, I wouldn't be so quick to call it luck. I was very intentional about the choices I made during pregnancy. I had a goal in mind (natural birth) and I was constantly directing myself towards it.
Luck favors the prepared.
One of the hardest parts for me was hearing comments and opinions about what I was doing! The things I heard during pregnancy were enough to make your head spin!
"Don't be a hero, get the epidural” or “Just get the epidural, you have nothing to prove” was common.
"Whatever you do, just get the epidural as soon as you can" was another good one.
Or my personal favorite, "You're not having the baby in a bath tub are you?"
I actually lied to people about where I was giving birth because I felt I would be judged and told I was doing the wrong thing. Imagine starting a diet and your good friend, who didn’t know your plan, says “Oh man diets are SO HARD! The only way to do it is to take the weight-loss pills. If you don’t you are crazy!” Would you feel confident about your diet? Same holds true for your birth, only times 1,000.
The following are seven areas to consider when planning for a natural birth:
BIRTHING LOCATION: This. Is. HUGE. Birthing a human is insanely challenging and it is of utmost importance to select a location that makes you feel comfortable. If that’s a hospital, perfect, that's where you should be. For me, the idea of a hospital made me uncomfortable. I had read enough statistics and studies to know it is perfectly safe to deliver a baby at a birth center or at home. I also felt very comfortable knowing that everyone involved in our labor deals with natural birth daily. That is all they do. I knew that they would allow me to be in control and trust my body, which was important to me.
I also set myself up in a scenario where pitocin, epidural and other pharmaceuticals and interventions were not even available. I didn't have it in my back pocket just in case, and I knew this going in to the birth. If I wanted an epidural I would have had to get into the car and drive to the hospital.
If natural birth is what you desire, be warned a very small percentage of women who deliver in hospitals avoid pitocin and epidurals. Hospitals commonly recommend pitocin, which produces more intense and painful contractions, to “move things along.” This is frequently the first step that leads to epidural because the pain becomes too much to manage. If you have not already, please watch "The Business of Being Born." This documentary goes much deeper than I ever could about the different places to give birth (hospital, birth center, or home). Here's a link to another shorter video that talks about out of hospital births.
However, if the idea of being outside of a hospital is terrifying, by all means, be in the hospital. In order for your body to produce oxytocin to stimulate birthing waves, you need to be calm and relaxed. Cortisol, the stress hormone, and oxytocin are inversely correlated, so the less stress the better! Put yourself in a place where stress is minimal!
BIRTHING TEAM: Your birth team is equally as important as the location. Our birthing team consisted of a midwife, two midwife's assistants, a doula, and Eric. There are two things to consider in your team: quantity and quality. Most midwives will tell you the more people present the longer the labor will be. Keep your list short. In regards to quality, choose a team that is aligned with your goals. People that that take part in only natural births know how to coach laboring women through natural birth. This is HUGE. My team ONLY sees natural births. They treated me as if the whole process was completely normal without even thinking of intervention.
Midwives are great for this because they are trained in the normalcy of birth. If you are more comfortable with an OB, choose one that is supportive of your goals, and remember no matter how far along you are in your pregnancy, it's never too late to change providers.
If you are having a hospital birth, consider a doula mandatory. You have no idea who will be on staff the day you deliver. The nurses are in and out managing other moms as well. A doula will dedicate their time and energy to only you. They help you through each contraction and apply counter pressure when and where it’s needed.
A doula does not replace your partner, but allows him or her to relax and be more present with you. It's a lot of pressure for your partner to do it all. The doula will also help you to labor at home as long as possible, so when you get to the hospital you are in active labor rather than waiting around. I've heard several women credit their doula for their unmedicated birth at hospitals.
I am so thankful for our doula. She applied counterpressure exactly where I needed it during the car ride to the birth center. She held my leg and massaged me at the birth center and allowed Eric to sit there peacefully and connect with me. Eric and I were extremely prepared, but we had never done anything like this before. We didn't know what to expect, but having a doula helped reassure us that everything happening is totally normal.
EDUCATION: Choose a birth education course geared towards natural birth. Hospitals generally encourage augmentation of labor with epidurals, so you’ll want to take a class that educates you a little deeper about coping with the intensity of labor. Here are a few birth education classes to consider:
Look at the approach of each and decide which is the best fit for you. I went with Hypnobabies and REALLY enjoyed it. Hypnobabies is based on mindfulness and putting yourself into self hypnosis. It focused on mindset and changing your perception of labor, and promoted the idea that birth is normal and NOT to be feared. If you are in Orange County, here's the link to our Hypnobabies Instructor...she was AMAZING. For our next birth I may check out The Bradley Method or Birthing From Within to gain another perspective to add my tool box of birthing knowledge.
EXERCISE: The first half of pregnancy I maintained my normal exercise which consisted of jogging and weights. I added in pre-natal yoga the moment I found out I was pregnant at week 6 and was sure to take daily walks with my dog. My midwife constantly reminded me how important and beneficial walking is for pregnancy. At about the halfway point I focused solely on walking (about 1.5-2 miles a day) and pre-natal yoga twice a week. Once I hit 36 weeks I really made sure to step it up. I didn't miss a day of walking, and in addition to going to yoga twice a week, I also did pre-natal yoga stretches every other day at home. I believe that this was HUGE for my birthing process.
I feel that this made the first stage of my birthing a breeze. At 38 weeks I was 2 cm dilated and 80% effaced, 39 weeks 3 cm and 80% effaced, and at 40 weeks on my due date I was 4 cm and 90% effaced. By the time my water broke on the 11th day past my due date I went straight in active labor almost immediately. My consistent walking and pre-natal yoga allowed me to get the first stage of birthing over the previous few weeks without feeling or noticing a thing.
My total birthing time was just 7 hours with a posterior (sunny side up) baby! Most times posterior babies add several hours to labor, and often end in c-section.
BIRTH PREP: Starting at 36 weeks I took birth prep herbs from my midwife as well as evening primrose oil for “cervical ripening.” Sometimes I took it orally, but mostly I would poke a hole into the capsule with a safety pin and insert it vaginally. When my water broke I was 90% effaced which helped eliminate some of the work. I also saw a chiropractor to ensure I was in proper alignment the second half of my pregnancy. Often times the body gets all whacky with the new weight distributions of a baby. Towards the end I did two acupuncture treatments aimed to trigger induction, which I felt helped, but Rory was just not ready to come yet.
NUTRITION: This could be a whole other blog post in itself. Prior to getting pregnant I ate pretty much all organic/non-GMO whole foods. I tried to avoid processed foods as much as possible and followed a combination of a paleo/ketogenic lifestyle. High fat, moderate protein, low carb...all from quality sources. The major tweak I made during pregnancy was increasing protein. The midwives instructed me to eat 70-80 grams of protein per day. Pasture raised eggs and a homemade protein shakes using grassfed collagen protein powder were easy ways to get quality protein.
I noticed carb cravings increased dramatically in the beginning, so I listened to my body and ate more rice and potatoes, and occasionally enjoyed sprouted sourdough bread, toasted, slathered in grassfed butter, with half an avocado spread across each piece. Ah-maz-ing…
For supplements I followed the exact regimen laid out by Dave Asprey in The Better Baby Book. (HIGHLY recommend that book!). For more information on diet, The Better Baby Books has a wonderful philosophy on eating for pregnancy. The principles in this book steered us in the right direction. We were given massive validation when, after the birth, our midwife said my placenta was one of the healthiest she’d ever seen.
MINDSET: I believe everything presented so far is important, but mindset takes the cake. Mindset is what gets you through unexpected bumps in the road. Mindset gave me the power to stick to the game plan. The birthing time is intense; the most intense experience I've ever been through, and my mindset was truly my most valuable asset.
Leading up to birth and throughout birthing time I never had a shadow of a doubt if I could do it. I knew 1,000% I was going to succeed. When things got intense I forced a smile and moaned positive phrases out loud like, "Relax," "Breathe" and "I can do this." I knew my biggest enemy would be acknowledging the pain or having doubt. Birth is absolutely, positively, a mind over matter experience. Count on it.
In closing I’d like to say that of course the number one priority in any birth is a healthy mom and baby. Number two is having your ideal birth experience. We must remember to save our judgments, because not everyone will think or believe the same things. Every birth and every person can be vastly different, and remembering this can help manage your expectations. Not everything will go according to plan and it's important to roll with the punches. Flexibility is a massive asset in natural child birth.
Just be as prepared as you can and remember everything turns out exactly the way it's supposed to. Home birth, birth center, hospital birth, natural, epidural or scheduled c-section; no matter how your baby enters this world you are bad-ass. Just remember that you have options and to chose the plan best for you.