If you’ve ever heard mothers compare birth stories, you know that birth can be traumatic. Thirty hours of labor, use of forceps and vacuums, an epidural that only half-way worked, unbearable contractions after being administered pitocin, emergency C-sections, immediate separation from baby, and a hemorrhage are just a few examples of stories I’ve heard from friends and family.
Is it any surprise, then, that many of us fear birth?
We are a part of a culture that perpetuates the narrative that birth is scary, that women are dependent on the experts to bring a baby into the world, and that a woman should accept all interventions at the advice of said experts.
Unfortunately, the increase of interventions has increased the incidence of negative outcomes. There are, of course, situations in which intervention is necessary and life-saving. But for most women, a natural birth – a vaginal birth void of conventional interventions – could lead to a more positive birth experience.
The caveat? One must be ready and willing to embrace the pain. Which is hard. Believe me, I know: I’ve done it twice.
But in my opinion, it is worth it. Here are some reasons why.
Disclaimer: Giving birth naturally is not possible in every situation, nor is it desirable to every woman. In no way is this post meant to invoke feelings of guilt or shame. Rather, it is to give a voice to an alternative perspective.
1. Natural Childbirth is…Natural
For the majority of human history, women have been bearing down and delivering babies without a hospital bed, obstetrician, or pain relief. Women’s bodies are designed, both structurally and hormonally, to give birth and bond with their new child without intervention. They were supported by midwives or other women who had done it before. It was a communal, primal, and natural experience. It has been primarily in the last one hundred years that hospital births and their interventions became the norm for childbearing women.
Giving birth is, of course, risky, and sadly there are times when it proves fatal for mother and child. The invention of the cesarean section has undoubtedly saved lives.
That being said, medical interventions are not natural, and the majority of medical practices that occur during today’s births were established to assist doctors, not mothers. A woman giving birth in stirrups, laying on their back in the bed is about the best view for doctors, not the best position for birthing. Inducing or augmenting labor is more likely to get a woman in and out of the hospital room quicker than it is about letting birth progress at a natural rate.
2. Interventions Increase Risk
Additionally, most interventions do more harm than good. From the horrific “twilight sleep” of the early 1900’s, to today’s labor-inducing pitocin, interventions interfere with the woman’s body natural progression through labor and delivery.
Routine interventions, including preventing a mother from eating or drinking, augmenting or inducing labor, being hooked up to a fetal monitor, and epidurals interfere with a woman’s natural ability to give birth and can increase risks. When there is more intervention, mama and/or baby are more likely to end up in distress, and there is a higher likelihood of having a c-section, a major surgery with its own set of risks.
Here’s an example of what Catherine Bell calls the “slippery slope of modern birthing.” A woman in labor arrives at a hospital. She is hooked up to an IV and told she no longer can eat or drink. Labor’s going smoothly for a time, she’s feeling confident. But it is taking “too long” for her labor to progress. She’s given pitocin. Shortly, her contractions become unbearable. She feels exhausted and afraid and isn’t even into active labor yet. The nurse encourages an epidural, which she gladly accept, and labor slows down, so she is given more pitocin. Later, she is told she is fully dilated. On her back, without feeling the pressure of contractions, she struggles to push. Each minute, she becomes more fatigued. After an hour or ineffective pushing, the baby’s hear rate is increasing. She is rushed into an emergency C-section, left feeling traumatized and ashamed.
What would have happen if that woman had been given the time and energy her body needed to do it naturally?
Dr. Judith A Lothian states: “Having a deep understanding and confidence in the normal physiologic process of labor and birth and confidence in her own ability to give birth makes it easier for a woman to let go of the belief that technology and routine interventions make birth safer for mothers and babies.”
Unfortunately, most hospital births are more likely to educate their patients about interventions than their bodies’ natural ability to undergo this amazing feat.
3. Natural Childbirth is Good for Baby
Without any interventions, mama’s body works with the baby to deliver. Things go at baby’s pace, not at a doctor’s pace. When interventions enter the scene, baby is affected. Here are a few examples.
Pitocin, which is artificial oxytocin, brings on intense and frequent contractions, which can cause baby distress. Birth activist Doris Haring compares it to “holding an infant under the surface of the water, allowing the infant to come to the surface to gasp for air, but not to breathe.” The package insert admits that risks to baby include abnormal heart rate, brain damage, lower APGAR scores, neonatal jaundice, and fetal death.
Epidurals, which are used in more than 50% of hospital births, can cause comfort to mother, but not without a price. The American Association of Pregnancy includes the following as some side effects of epidurals: “Most studies suggest that some babies will have trouble ‘latching on’ causing breastfeeding difficulties. Other studies suggest that a baby might experience respiratory depression, fetal malpositioning, and an increase in fetal heart rate variability, thus increasing the need for forceps, vacuum, cesarean deliveries, and episiotomies.”
Cesarean deliveries are, at times, of crucial importance. However, the c-section robs the baby from the amazing benefits of exiting the birth canal, from having extra amniotic fluid being pushed out of the lungs to the amazing benefits for gut health from being exposed to the various good bacteria in mama’s vagina. Babies who are born via c-section have a weaker immune system that affects them long-term (read more on that here).
As Dr. Judith A Lothian says: “Routine interventions have the potential to interfere with the processes at every point in labor and birth, leading to a cascade of other interventions and ultimately increasing risk for mothers and babies.” Avoiding them at all cost, unless medically necessary, really benefits your baby.
4. Natural Childbirth Allows for more Freedom
Avoiding interventions is also really good for mama, too.
With a natural childbirth, you are not bound to a hospital bed. You are able to move, adapt, and be in whatever position is comfortable for labor and delivery. Whether you choose to give birth at home, at a birthing center, or with a midwife at a hospital, a natural birth will provide you with many more options for getting comfortable and feeling at peace. When mama is able to move and follow her own instincts, the labor and birth are more likely to go smoothly and significantly less likely to require life-saving intervention.
During my labors at the birth center where I delivered, I went on a nature hike, went out for ice cream, sat on a giant yoga ball, labored in a tub, and pushed in various places and positions. I had so much freedom and choice, which bolstered my confidence and satisfaction in my birthing experiences.
5. You can Eat and Drink during Natural Childbirth
Did you know that the only reason women are unable to eat and drink during labor and deliver is in case of needing of c-section? The minuscule risk of aspirating on vomit during a c-section is what prevents nearly all women from nourishing their bodies during a taxing and rigorous event.
Consider being asked to run a marathon, a nurse told us, while being deprived the energy to do it. No wonder mamas become fatigued quickly and require additional intervention!
When you give birth naturally, you can follow your body’s cues on what to eat or drink as needed.
6. Natural Childbirth Encourages You to Surround Yourself with People who Care
At a hospital, you are likely to be cared for by an obstetrician and nurses whom you do not know and who don’t know you. They are, inevitably, supervising multiple births simultaneously, and are not guaranteed to be available to you at all times. Though many of them are caring people, it is easier from them to offer you an intervention than undivided attention and encouragement. It also is likely that your spouse or support person, particularly if uneducated on birth, will default to the hospital staff instead of taking an active role in the birth experience.
When giving birth naturally, you need the support of people you love and trust. Most women who deliver naturally use a midwife who knows them and their birth plan well. Some women hire a doula to advocate for and support them through the process. A natural birth requires more of your spouse or support person in education and in presence, but that will, in turn, mean that they are more involved with the process.
The midwives that helped me through our births were experts not only on birth, but on helping me feel confident and capable. And with the help of our birth center, my husband was well prepared to support and encourage me through the birth of our children. He, more than anyone, knew me and was deeply involved in every step of my labor and delivery, from speaking the right words, to rubbing my back, to bagging up the placenta. It truly was a team effort. I needed him, and he was empowered to offer me what I needed in regards to support and advocacy.
When you trust the people who are with you during the birthing process, you not only set yourself up for success, but you undergo an intimate, life-changing experience together.
7. Natural Birth Typically Results in an Easier Adjustment to Motherhood
After delivering a baby naturally, mamas are likely tired and sore, but they are also equipped with helpful hormones that enable them to bond with and care for their baby.
Babies born naturally are more likely to get that glorious first hour of life bonding with their mama. Initial skin-to-skin not only helps baby to regulate temperature, practice breathing, and become acclimated to the outside world, but it also is proven that it improves the likelihood of breastfeeding success.
Interventions, for various reasons, can impact a baby’s health or a mother’s readiness to care for her child and make adjusting to parenting and recovering from birth more difficult.
8. Natural Birth is Profoundly Positive
I will be the first to say that I did not enjoy every part of giving birth. It was freaking hard. There was a moment in each of my births when I thought, “I can’t do this. I’m not going to make it. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. What was I thinking?!”
However, there is something supernatural about the transition from the extreme struggle of labor to the euphoric joy of delivery.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I know for myself, I felt like all of the effort and pain made me even all the more grateful, relieved, and ecstatic to meet the child I had worked so hard for. There were no negative feelings at all; only love, joy, and peace.
There also was the intimate experience of bonding with my husband, who was with me through every step of the journey. It was amazing to be assisted by him, to go through such a vulnerable and powerful experience together, and to need him in a way I’d never needed him before.
Also, it was a powerful experience to hold my newborn in my arms, knowing that God equipped my body to be completely sufficient to grow, deliver, and nourish this child. I, for the first time, really celebrated my body and recognized how strong and life-giving it is.
Worth The Pain
I know that I am fortunate to be someone who was able to give birth without intervention, but it wasn’t without cost. I wept, struggled, popped blood vessels, and tore my perineum during both of my births.
But when it was over, I honestly didn’t even care about the pain I had endured. I was flooded with intense instincts to love and care for that child, a fierce feeling I could not have prepared myself for. With that wide-eyed bundle of joy looking at me, the memory of pain wafted away like a fog after the emergence of the sun.
I wouldn’t trade my experiences giving birth for anything in the world.
Want to learn more about natural childbirth?
- Read my daughter’s birth story here.
- Check out the Mama Natural website, particularly this article on the benefits of natural childbirth.
- Watch “The Business of Being Born”. This documentary will change the way you think about giving birth entirely.