“Natural childbirth” is a term that is frequently tossed about without the speaker clarifying his/her meaning. One person may use “natural” in reference to vaginal birth, rather than birth by cesarean. Another may use natural in place of “medication free.” Still others think of the spontaneous onset of labor, home birth, or hospital birth with a certified nurse-midwife rather than an OB. In reality, proponents of true natural childbirth encourage a birth experience that not only is drug-free, but one that incorporates a variety of positions and coping methods for all stages of labor. Above all else, the birthing mother is encouraged to trust, rather than question, her own body.
Natural childbirth is not for everyone, and should not be presented as such. No matter what our personal philosophies, no one has the right to tell another woman how to birth her baby. With that said, many women do not consider birthing naturally, or are skeptical about their ability to do so, simply because they have never been offered the proper tools. Every woman deserves to be educated about the option of natural childbirth, and the vast majority of women should be offered the opportunity to birth in this way.
An epidural-free labor that does not incorporate tools for coping with pain is nearly impossible. “Natural” childbirth does not equal un-medicated childbirth. Rather, natural childbirth offers an alternative philosophy of the birthing process and, in doing so, incorporates an alternative set of coping tools. I have spoken with so many women who tell me, “I wanted to have a natural birth, but it was just too painful.” As the conversation continues, I usually hear that she spent the most difficult parts of labor in bed, hooked up to machines, often surrounded by nurses who were strangers to her, or a doctor / midwife she met once before. What woman has a pain threshold high enough to withstand the intense contractions of transition in this environment?
Birthing naturally does not just mean the absence of an epidural. It requires freedom of movement, emotional and sometimes physical support from the birth partner and from care providers, and confidence in birth itself. Most women who have had positive experiences with natural birth also credit mental preparation and relaxation techniques. Partners often mention the benefits of close communication with the laboring mother, and the ability to understand her needs and desires. These are important skills that come with training and practice – they don’t simply manifest in an instant in the labor and delivery room! All pregnant women and their partners who desire natural childbirth should be encouraged to communicate openly with one another, to educate themselves about the birth process, to practice relaxation exercises, and to strive for a naturally healthy and fit pregnancy. These four principles are the basis of an empowered, woman-centered birth experience. You deserve to know the power and beauty of natural birth!