The first natural childbirth I saw wasn’t pretty. It involved a good deal of flailing, cursing and pooping. Additionally, the patient kept repeatedly screaming, “This isn’t how it looked on the baby story!” As a young med student, accustomed to seeing epidural deliveries, I remember walking out of the room thinking, “Why on earth would anyone want to do that?”
Over the years, I’ve seen many beautiful natural deliveries. I’ve begun to understand the longing women have to birth naturally. Witnessing women who choose to do it au naturale is inspiring. Their strength is amazing.
I have cared for a lot of women attempting natural childbirth. Some by choice, others by accident. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. After reading Jessica’s review of Unbound Birth, I thought I would assemble my list of helpful hints.
The Pregnancy Companion’s Top Ten Tips for Natural Childbirth
10. Be Healthy Before You Get Pregnant
The journey of natural birth begins well before the first contractions. Actually it starts before the pregnancy test fades to pink. For a healthy baby and natural birth, the best first step is a healthy mom. Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. Both of these conditions often require induction (see #1) which can decrease your chances of successful natural childbirth and increase your risk of cesarean section. Chronic medical conditions such as asthma, hypertension, hypothyroidism and diabetes can also causes pregnancy complications. Having them under optimal control before conception is key.
9. Know Why You Are Choosing Natural Childbirth
Do not choose natural childbirth because your mom did it, your husband thinks you should or all the girls in your MOPS group are doing it. You choose it because in your heart of hearts you know that natural childbirth is important to you. You must truly believe that its the best thing for you and your baby.
This is your birth, your delivery, your decision. It’s your vagina that’s getting a cantaloupe squeezed through it. It has to be your conviction.
8. Have a Strategy
Natural childbirth will likely be one of the most challenging things you ever do in your life. You need to be prepared. Whether it’s Lamaze, Bradley or hypnobirthing, know what your plan is for when things get bad. After you formulate a plan check to see what items your hospital has available (i.e. showers / birthing tub) and what you need to bring (i.e. Yoga ball). Practice the different birthing positions. Keep a list of your pain management strategies.
7. Have a Good Coach
When you are in transition and you are experiencing pain on a level that you have never felt before, you may not remember all those birthing strategies you practiced. That’s why you need a coach. Some husbands are great at this, others not so much. If your husband may not be the best birth coach, hiring a Doula (a professional birthing coach) may be a good option.
6. Have a Really Quick Labor and Come to the Hospital When You are 7 cm
Or at least labor at home as long as possible. Discuss with your provider how soon you need to come to the hospital. This will be dependent on how dilated you are, how many babies you have had and how far you live from the hospital.
Having a quick labor is also helpful, but sadly I don’t have the magic recipe for that or else we’d be selling a lot more books.
5. Be Determined
I have a lot of patients who tell me, “Well I want to try to go natural, but leave the option open for epidural if it gets really bad.” These women, with the rare exception, end up with epidural. Labor is stinking hard and it does get bad. Of the women who say epidural is not an option, about 50% of them make it natural.
Realize this is going to be hard and stick to your guns.
4. Don’t Listen to the Haters
If natural childbirth is important to you then it doesn’t really matter if anyone else thinks you can do it, it only matters if YOU think you can do it. I have patients ask me all the time if I think they will make it natural. I always say, that anything is possible.
I have been proved wrong many times by patients who succeeded in natural childbirth despite the odds. Patients I thought would cave – like the unprepared teenager who had to be induced, but was just stubborn enough to stick to her guns and make it natural. There have also been patients who I swore would make it, like the 30 something with a 10 page birthplan and the Bradly book memorized, who got her epidural at 1 cm.
3. Don’t Get Fat
When you gain weight in pregnancy you gain it EVERYWHERE, including your pelvis. The fat takes up space in the birth canal that the baby desperately needs to squeeze through. All those extra calories can lead to a big baby, making it even harder for the baby to come out. Additionally, packing on the pounds increases your risk of pre-eclamplsia and gestational diabetes, both of which increase the need for induction and cesarean section.
A normal BMI patient should gain between 25 – 30 pounds during pregnancy with the majority of that being after 20 weeks.
It’s all about moderation: Give into to your crazy pregnancy cravings twice a week not twice a day.
2. Keep Walking
Gravity is your friend. Stay mobile in labor as long as possible, let gravity help urge the baby further down into the birth canal. When walking hurts too much, rock on a yoga ball or stand and sway your hips back and forth. Stay out of the bed as long as possible.
1. Avoid Induction
Natural childbirth is hard. With the rare exception, its one of the hardest things you’ll every do. Natural childbirth with pitocin is even harder. It can be done, but it makes the already crushing contractions even more abrupt and intense. Some medical conditions do necessitate induction, but if you can avoid it, that is your best option.
I must now give a disclaimer: I have never personally experienced natural childbirth. If you want me to be totally honest, I have never actually had a vaginal delivery. But I’ve delivered over a thousand babies, so I have observed many natural labors. These are the strategies that I’ve observed leading to the most successful natural births.
For those who have delivered naturally, do you agree with my tips? What do you think was the most helpful in your natural birth?