Editor’s note: Although “natural” can mean different things to different people, for the sake of this article, we’re using it to define a birth that doesn’t involve medical intervention of any kind.
It’s a fact that medical interventions are sometimes necessary for a healthy, safe labor and delivery. From kickstarting the process for a baby who seems determined not to budge to making a clean cut to safely remove a baby who is in danger, the miracles of modern medicine have benefited many a mom and baby in need. However, sometimes women tend to look to interventions out of convenience rather than necessity.
“The allure of ‘getting it over with’ and inducing labor can be tempting,” concedes Margaret Buxton, CNM, DNP, clinical director of Baby+Company birthing center in Nashville, Tennessee. But because opting for even one medical intervention tends to create a domino effect—induction leads to pain relief, which leads to continuous fetal monitoring, and so on—your best bet might be to let nature lead the way when possible. Assures Buxton, “Waiting for your labor to unfold naturally has many benefits, both for mom and baby.”
In the beginning
When it comes to wanting to start the party at a designated date and time, we get it. Buxton says, “Waiting for labor to start is such a difficult thing for most mothers.” Aches, pains and exhaustion increase as you creep toward the end of your third trimester, and you’ll no doubt grow anxious to have your wee one in your arms instead of in your womb.
Babies are technically considered full- term and ready for arrival at 39 weeks, but not all babies spend—or need—the exact same amount of time in utero. Some early birds might be ready for their entrance sooner, and other buns may need to bake a little longer.
“[Labor] is thought to be triggered by the baby,” says Buxton, so if your due date has passed and baby hasn’t pushed the “go” button yet, it could be that some finishing touches are still taking place. Ultimately, when you allow labor to occur on its own, “baby picks the perfect point of readiness,” says Buxton. (Note: If you go too far past your due date, the risks might start outweighing the benefits, and an induction could become the best route.)
Once the show is on the road, your perception and management of pain can be better controlled if labor isn’t dictated by interventions. “When labor starts naturally, it begins slowly and builds in intensity in an incremental way, allowing your body’s own internal ‘pharmacy’ to release the endorphins that give you natural pain relief,” says Buxton.
Using nonmedical relief options, such as breathing techniques and meditation, also allows you to remain mobile, which increases the effectiveness of labor and helps the baby move down into the correct position in the pelvis, explains Buxton. When you’re free to move, you can walk around (even if just for a change of scenery), switch positions or hop into a tub or shower for additional relief.
Rest assured, your body knows what it’s doing. “Natural labors can have important lulls, or built-in breaks, for resting and sleeping,” say Buxton. Give it a chance to operate on its own, and you might be surprised by what your body is capable of.
Moving on out
When it’s time for baby to make her entrance, a mom who is delivering naturally will know. In fact, the urge to push is both primal and instinctual, and once the stars align, there’s no stopping either mom or baby from getting it done. Without any numbing down below, you’ll be able to feel everything. And although that sounds a little terrifying, it’s actually a good thing because you’ll be able to grasp how to push powerfully and effectively.
Just like you could move around in the early stages of labor, you can continue
to reposition during the delivery phase. “Changing positions frequently during pushing is encouraged, especially for first-time moms, because it shortens the pushing time, which in turn puts less stress on the baby,” notes Buxton, who adds that movement improves a mom’s ability to push the baby down through the birth canal.
When you get to the final stages, baby will begin to play a game of peekaboo, with her head appearing for a moment and then ducking back in. This helps prepare your lady bits for what’s on the horizon, and your awareness and control over the situation will help reduce your risk of severe tearing during the birth.
Keep in mind that you aren’t the only person pushing through the excitement and trauma of this big day (pun intended). Your baby is right there with you. Although today’s common interventions are safe for baby, when you opt for an unmedicated birth there are some pluses for your wee one, too.
According to Buxton, “If medications are given to induce labor, a side effect can be that contractions are too strong or too close together, increasing the stress on the baby and leading to an emergency C- section.” Overall, there is a lower risk of fetal distress for babies whose mothers labor naturally.
On the pain relief front, “Medications in labor cross through to the placenta in varying degrees, depending on how they are given,” Buxton says. “If narcotics are given, the baby will be affected by these medications temporarily, and, if they do not wear off before delivery, [they] can affect [the baby’s] ability to breathe.”
Mom’s response to the anesthesia can also—though not always—raise some concerns. “Epidural anesthesia can cause a dramatic drop in blood pressure for some women, decreasing the blood flow to the placenta and causing temporary lack of oxygen to the baby,” says Buxton. “If mom’s blood pressure can’t be corrected with IV medications, this can lead to the need for an emergency C-section.” Some moms and medical professionals find that babies who are born without intervention are more alert and exhibit better instincts upon arrival, both of which can make that initial breastfeeding latch more successful.
The after show
The benefits of going natural continue beyond the big event. You’ll experience some positive effects in the recovery room, as well. Because anesthesia leaves the legs numb and takes some time to wear off, moms who have an epidural are bedbound in the hours following delivery. However, a mom who opted out can be up and about as soon as she’s comfortable. “Moving around improves the uterus’s ability to contract,” says Buxton, which decreases postpartum bleeding and helps prevent the risk of blood clots in her cardiovascular system.
“Remember: Important endorphins that are released at the time of birth leave many mothers feeling excited and energetic,” says Buxton. “It feels good to get up and care for yourself and your baby.” Yes, you’ll be tired and sore from the events of the day, but you’re also going to be exhilarated— lying down and waiting for your legs to “come back” might be the very last thing you want to do. Plus, you’ll be able to care for your baby more easily when you’re completely mobile.
Additionally, you’ll likely avoid a number of side effects that moms who have intervention-heavy labors and deliveries regularly report, including headaches, urinary tract infections, back pain and fever. Overall, you can expect your recovery to be quicker; bonding with baby might come more easily, as well.
Perhaps the biggest perk of a natural delivery is the feeling you experience afterward. Most moms will feel a surge of empowerment postdelivery regardless of the process, but once you’ve conquered a drug-free delivery, you’ll feel like there’s nothing you can’t do.
By Sarah Granger