How to prepare for a natural birth
As you prepare for pregnancy or childbirth, you're definitely weighing your options. While over 70% of women use an epidural to control the pain of labor, the concept of natural birth is becoming increasingly common. The reasons for natural birth range from fear of the potential risks of an epidural to the desire to remember the event more clearly. Childbirth is a miracle, and while it is painful, it's also something that many women want to recall vividly; medication can muddy the memories. Finally, some women welcome the pain - birthing a human is the most powerful thing people can do, so to experience that in its totality is incredible.
If you've decided on a natural birth, there are many ways you can mitigate the pain and make the process go more smoothly in general. We consider these tips to be essential for any mama getting ready to eschew medication to experience all that natural childbirth is and can be.
Benefits of a natural birth
While millions of women have babies with an epidural and end up completely fine, there are risks to using this type of pain blocker. These risks include but are not limited to:
- Loss of bladder control
- Itchiness or discomfort
- Low blood pressure, and as a result, nausea and headaches
- Nerve damage
Many women experience some or most of these but they are temporary and go away. The concern over long term nerve damage, seizure, paralyzation, or death are minor but they are still potential issues.
Aside from avoiding the potential risks of an epidural, there are some significant benefits to going the natural route. Women who have a natural childbirth often experience:
- Shorter duration of pushing during labor
- Better recovery after birth
- A higher spontaneous birth rate
A higher spontaneous birth rate means easier delivery and a better recovery rate means you're back on your feet sooner. These are huge benefits to natural birth, and as long as your pregnancy has gone well (no preeclampsia, heart conditions, or other complications, you are a good candidate for natural birth.
Natural birth without pain medication
Giving birth without any kind of pain medication can seem scary at first, but humans did it for thousands of years before modern hospitals and chemistry. With natural birth, pain is handled through relaxation and breathing techniques designed to help you work through the hard parts and focus on the good. Preparing well in advance of the birth by using aromatherapy, music, and breathing techniques can put your experience of the actual birth much more in your hands.
Natural birth vs C-section
As we talked about previously, complications are the main reason you might not consider a natural birth, like if the baby is breech. C-section is made for these situations, to ensure that the baby and mama are safe and the delivery goes off smoothly. Outside of complications that somewhat necessitate a c-section, vaginal birth is safer for mom and baby.
Additionally, without administering medication like pitocin, and by avoiding the stress of trying to force the baby out as quickly as possible, you're far less likely to tear. Natural birth - when possible - is simply a better experience in terms of delivery.
Tips to prepare for a natural birth
Even though the outcomes of natural birth are largely better than the typical scenario, it doesn't mean it's going to be a cakewalk without preparation. There is still a lot of pain involved - childbirth is probably the most painful thing a human can experience - and while it's beautiful and lifegiving, it's intense.
These tips are essential for making your natural birth a much calmer, easier event. This will help you focus less on pain and more on the wonder of the new person you're introducing to the world.
Pelvic floor exercises
Your pelvic floor muscles will be under considerable strain during childbirth, and so anything you can do to strengthen them is a benefit. These muscles run from the tailbone to the pubic bone and, in general, support the strain of everyday life on your pelvis. After birth, these muscles are almost always weakened, so pelvic floor exercises are great before and after baby arrives.
You can strengthen these muscles by performing a few simple steps every day.
1 - Squeeze the muscles you use to stop peeing, and hold them for 10 seconds (or as close to 10 seconds as possible)
2 - Repeat this process 8-10 times, or as many as possible, with about 10 seconds of rest between squeezes
3 - Do 3-5 "sets" of 8-10 "reps" per day
This will help you keep your pelvic floor muscles tight, and it will aid in recovery after birth as well. Stronger pelvic floor muscles also help with "stress incontinence", which is often a problem after birth. Essentially, stress incontinence is when you pass a little urine when straining to cough or otherwise strain your muscles. It's totally normal, especially after birth and during pregnancy, however, and these exercises can help reduce the frequency with which it happens.
Working out and being fit in general makes just about every aspect of your life easier, and this goes for pregnancy as well. In particular, flexibility can be a big help when it comes time to deliver the baby. Mild weight training can help improve the muscles of your back, and yoga can increase flexibility. Aim for 30 minutes a day unless it's otherwise not possible. Even if you can't dedicate 30 minutes to exercise, simply walking every day can be a boon to your fitness and overall health.
Find a support person
Whether it's your partner, your best friend, or a professional like a doula, having a person who is wholly committed to your natural birth plan is essential. They can travel with you to appointments, encourage you during the actual birth, and otherwise help you go through this process successfully.
A doula provides expertise in regards to childbirth, reassurance, and a calming presence. For most women, simply having a calm, understanding person to help them focus and breathe can improve their experience dramatically.
There are a variety of relaxation techniques, from bathing in peace with scented candles, or meditating to soothing music. Focused relaxation can help you control pain, push more effectively, and be better prepared mentally for the rigors of childbirth.
For example, aromatherapy with candles in a calm, soothing environment can be replicated during birth. Your partner can keep the room dim, and use the same candles you used during pregnancy to help your mind better slip back into the calming state you practiced. Scent is the most powerful sense connected with memory, and can very much help you regain that peace you created in preparing for your baby's arrival.
Meditation - with or without sound and scent - is another way to calm your body and control your breathing, both essential during natural childbirth. There are plenty of apps that are great for meditating at increasing lengths of time and practicing mindfulness in a way that truly helps lower blood pressure and eases away stress.
Choosing a location for giving birth
Many proponents of natural childbirth go a step further and suggest home delivery. In particular, a birth at home with a trained doula can be one of the most powerful experiences of your life and generates a level of comfort and security that cannot be matched in a hospital.
It's worth noting, however, that being in a hospital but still having a doula and using natural childbirth has its upsides. If, for instance, there are complications that arise during birth, being at a hospital is convenient and can mitigate those problems quickly and safely.
It's important to discuss with your OB/GYN, family, and midwife/doula what you want, and be clear about it. They are there to support you, and so it's important they are as informed as possible.
Making a plan with your OB/GYN
Once you have your plan in place, it's important to share that information with your OB/GYN. Many doctors are very supportive of natural childbirth, even home birth, but they need to know what the plan is so they can advise you accordingly.
Natural childbirth is a gift, something to be celebrated for those women who can experience it, but it's not without difficulties and pain. You can reduce the negatives, however, by preparing ahead of time.
Regular exercise can help you stay flexible and fit, helping your body deal with the rigors of childbirth and recover faster. Pelvic floor exercises can make giving birth easier, and help fight against stress incontinence.
Practice meditation, aromatherapy and musical therapy as well. You can recreate the setting of soothing smells and sounds from relaxation sessions during pregnancy by having the same music and candles in your delivery room. This will help your mind slip back into the peace you practiced.
Finally, have someone - or several someones - to trust during pregnancy and birth. Whether it's a parent, partner, or professional like a midwife or doula, having someone you can trust is essential. Giving birth is hard, but having a person with you makes it significantly easier.
If you're healthy enough to experience natural childbirth, these tips will help make it a much easier, less painful experience, with better recovery and less stress.