Is Natural Childbirth Right for You?
The birth of your baby should be one of the most memorable and joyful experiences of your life. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first, second, third or more, welcoming a new little miracle into the world is momentous. If you’re like me, you’ve spent several hours, days and weeks thinking through the details of your special delivery and then rethinking them just to be sure. It’s all part of the magical journey to childbirth. Most doctors will remind you that part of this preparation should also include your birth plan. There are so many options when deciding how you’ll bring your little one into the world, but perhaps one of the most distinguishable decisions is choosing a medicated or unmedicated birth. Most refer to the latter as natural childbirth.
Some women choose to give birth using no medications at all, relying instead on techniques such as relaxation and controlled breathing for pain. With natural childbirth, the mother is in control of her body, usually with an assistant coaching her through the stages of labor. For many moms-to-be, having a natural childbirth isn’t about being “brave” or a “hero“ — it’s about treating labor and delivery as a natural event. Many women find the experience, despite the pain, extremely rewarding.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), natural childbirth entails going through labor and delivery without the help of medications, including pain relievers such as epidurals and using few or no artificial medical interventions such as continuous fetal monitoring or episiotomies.
“Nationally, we are seeing a shift away from augmented, highly medicated births to a less interventional approach,” said Corey Babb, D.O., an OB/GYN with Utica Park Clinic in Tulsa. “Although Oklahoma has been slower to adopt this trend, there is a movement within the local birth community aimed at emphasizing alternative birthing options, including unmedicated births. As these alternative practices (home births, midwife-only births, water births, etc.) become more common, community support is expected to increase as well.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics published a report on the use of epidurals and spinal blocks for pain relief for women in labor. Based on data collected from 27 states that track the use of anesthesia for labor, six out of 10 women with a singleton birth received an epidural or spinal anesthesia.
For those choosing a natural route, Dr. Babb said that there are many reasons for the choice and they are personal to each family. “For some, birth is about feeling, and they want to experience each sensation to the fullest,” he said. “Others are concerned about potential effects of medications on their baby. Additionally, there are those that feel that they lose some control over their birth experience when they place the decision-making power entirely in the hands of their provider.”
According to Dr. Babb, the choice to use pain medication or not during childbirth is one of the easiest ways a mother can influence her birthing experience. “As a patient, it is important to remember that every medicine has potential side-effects,” he said. “Therefore, when you avoid a medication, you avoid any risks associated with it.”
Often, couples assume that an unmedicated birth means a home birth or a birth at a birthing center, which can compromise the health of both the mother and the baby if something should go wrong. If you are considering this route, talk to your obstetrician or healthcare professional. Many doctors employ nurse-midwives in their practices and support natural childbirth as an option in the hospital, allowing for unmedicated labor and delivery, while also providing immediate access to medical intervention if needed. Hospitals also may welcome the assistance of midwives or doulas in the delivery room.
In fact, Dr. Babb recommends that women who choose unmedicated birth have a doula with them during labor. “Doulas provide immense physical, emotional and spiritual support,” he said. “Likewise, birthing education classes can help condition and inform a mother on what to expect during and after an unmedicated birth.”
The ACOG recommends that if you choose a natural birth plan, go the hospital route. Published medical evidence by the ACOG shows that homebirths carry a two- to three-fold increase in the risk of newborn death compared with planned hospital births.
“As physicians, we have an obligation to provide families with information about the risks, benefits, limitations and advantages concerning the different maternity care providers and birth settings,” said Richard N. Waldman, MD, president of The College. “It’s important to remember that home births don’t always go well, and the risk is higher if they are attended by inadequately trained attendants or in poorly selected patients with serious high-risk medical conditions such as hypertension, breech presentation, or prior cesarean deliveries.”
“While I was in training, once of my attending physicians told me that ‘it’s called labor, and not a vacation, for a reason,’” Dr. Babb said. “Childbirth is hard work; there’s no doubt about it. Choosing to have an unmedicated birth should be an informed decision, and not one that is taken lightly. My role as an OB-GYN is to be an advocate for women. I am here to provide them the information they need to make the most informed decision about their healthcare and to facilitate that decision as much as I can.”
The best way to find out more about pursuing a natural childbirth is to discuss it with your doctor and come up with a written birth plan together. Dr. Babb encourages women to find a physician who respects them and will be a partner in their care. He also recommends local organizations such as ICAN of Tulsa and DONE-OK for help finding such a provider. Internet sites such as childbirth.org have examples and worksheets for birth plans to use with your doctor.
Natural childbirth isn’t right for everyone. Some women who had previously said they wanted no pain medicine may change their minds once they’re actually in labor. 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 strong or committed to your baby. Giving birth is an amazing experience, with or without medical intervention.
“As always,” Dr. Babb said, “seek answers and take charge of your own health.”