Do you want to have a natural childbirth? Or are you at the beginning of your quest to understand what to expect when you give birth naturally. There’s so much to know about when it comes to delivering a human baby into this world and hopefully this post can help shed some light on what to expect if you’re considering a natural birth plan.
This post is not meant to convince you to have a natural childbirth or to have a home birth or a water birth or any of that.
I fully support any birthing method and fully believe if you can deliver your sweet baby into this world then you’re an incredible rock star.
If you choose to have a C-Section after doing all the research, good for you momma. If you choose to have an epidural after 20 hours of labor, good for you!
Natural Childbirth v. Unmedicated Childbirth v. Medicated Childbirth V C- Section
Guess what all four of the above have in common?
I’m going to say it again.
You get to deliver a - hopefully - healthy baby boy or girl and survive the miracle of childbirth.
You will not be a better mom because you’ve somehow managed to deliver your baby without pain medication or interventions.
This isn’t a competition.
The Increased Interest in Natural Childbirth
Not more than 100 years ago if you were pregnant, you likely knew someone who had died delivering a child. In fact, back then, maternal death was the leading cause of death for women.
And while the risk of maternal death has improved dramatically over the years there are still some risks worth considering.
The Cascade of Interventions
I this article published on Childbirth Connection, the author discusses the real consequences of the cascade of interventions.
What is the cascade of interventions? Essentially it’s a way to slow down your progress during labor to a point that you or your baby could be at a great risk of needing additional medical interventions.
It’s kind of a weird vicious cycle and usually it begins when you arrive at the hospital.
One mom checks in she’s brought to a room and made to lay down so that a fetal heart monitor can be applied to track baby’s heart rate. This position naturally slows down contractions.
Pitocin is administered to speed the contractions up again. Pitocin, as I understand it, is incredibly painful and can be even more painful than the prior labor pains.
This may lead to a request of an epidural.
The epidural slows down contractions again.
Hours go by with very little to no progression
If your water breaks (Or has broken) or if your baby’s heart beat seems erratic, your doctor may insist on a C-section. (and honestly this is probably a really good idea at this point and may even feel like relief).
I wrote another post about some of the real life stories of moms who intended to have a natural labor and delivery and in many cases they were successful.
For some, the escalation of interventions may have contributed to other delivery methods.
The Real Life and Death Risks of Natural Childbirth and Delivery
The more I read about the cascade of intervention the more interested in giving birth without even so much as an epidural I became. It was less for me about accomplishing some sort of masterful plan than it was about mitigating things that I felt were ultimately worse.
For example, maternal death is the 6th leading cause of death for women age s 20 - 34 in the United States.
I want to repeat that.
You are more likely to die giving birth in this country than by driving a car.
If you are a woman of color, you are two to six times more likely to die from complications in your pregnancy and in your labor and delivery than if you are a white woman.
Scary thought right?
It’s important to note, that there are some things you cannot control and you won’t know until you get on that delivery table and attempt to try and pop a little munchkin out of your vagina.
On the extreme flip side, you should know that if you are considering a home birth, your baby is four times more likely to die due to complications during delivery as they are in a hospital.
It is for this reason that I opted for a hospital birth (even though I’m pretty sure my doula was bummed about it.
If you're thinking of giving it a go but want to be uber-informed, below are some links to some of the potential life and death risks in choosing to have an un-medicated natural childbirth.
These aren't meant to scare you but are worth a read so that you can be prepared with your decision:
Because I educated myself intensely on what to expect that my doctors might try to get me to do, I ultimately created a birth plan with a doula, and found a new doctor who was on board with my delivery plans.
The Secrets of a Successful Natural Childbirth and Delivery
There are some women who swear by hypnobirthing techniques to help you get through the pain of labor and delivery. Others who swear that a water birth is the way to go.
At the bare minimum attending childbirth classes will educate you about the various stages of labor and delivery and what to do during each.
Check out this video below from the Hypno-birthing Midwife to learn more about this method.
I didn’t practice this at all but I did have a Doula/Midwife and a husband who took me through meditation and breathing exercises (which are somewhat similar).
If you’re more of a visual learner and up for taking a deep dive into some dark corners of the internet there are some very graphic childbirth videos that you can watch to prepare you for what is going to happen.
Personally, I did not want to see that. You do you, boo.
Have a Dedicated Support System for Your Natural Childbirth Plans
I’m going to make a poor comparison (because there is no REAL comparison to the endurance marathon that can be labor and delivery) and liken it to running an actual marathon.
You don’t just sign up and go out and run it. There are months of training and usually a coach or team that helps you both mentally and physically to survive the endurance test that is running a marathon.
When it comes to delivering naturally be sure that you consider working with a supportive team who know exactly what to expect and how to help you get through it all.
Some options to do this:
Hire a qualified Doula or Midwife (be sure to check credentials and meet with several if you decide to do this)
Attend child-birthing classes with a focus on unmedicated delivery.
If you cannot or do not want to hire a doula/midwife, work with someone in your family who can be a dedicated coach for you and who knows everything that can happen (and knows you and what you need most when you’re at your lowest).
Have an honest conversation with your doctor (or midwife) about your plans and any risks to your pregnancy that could inhibit the potential of you being able to delivery naturally.
Not sure what the difference is between a doula and a midwife? Check out this helpful article from Labor Teen that explains the difference.
Also, check out this video about working with a doula and why it can be helpful:
Build Up Your Strength and Endurance
If you can, try to make the time to build up endurance in your lungs, and the strength in your legs.
When a friend of mine became pregnant, her midwife instructed her to walk five miles every single day. (She was lucky if she made it two miles).
When I was pregnant I continued working out at an intense boot camp to keep up my endurance and strength for delivery.
At the least, do squats.
Like, THOUSANDS of them.
Be sure to consult with a qualified health professional before beginning any kind of pregnancy exercise routine.
If you haven’t been exercising regularly a light walk may be okay but be sure to ask your doctor or midwife first.
If you have a local Fit 4 MOM group you can check out their pre-natal classes that target pregnancy specific exercises and are mindful about preventing pregnancy specific injuries (you can pull muscles so easily while pregnant because of all the relaxin!)
Here’s a quick workout you can do at home to get you started:
The Benefits of Delivering a Baby Naturally
Beyond avoiding the cascade of interventions, and being able to freely move around when you’re not hooked up to medication, there are some additional surprising benefits to delivering a baby “naturally.”
When it comes to the great debate over having a natural birth vs. C section there’s mounting evidence of the positive effects both to mom and baby of being able to deliver your baby without medical interventions including a lowered risk of post partum depression and reduced symptoms of the baby blues, as well as the general “easier” recovery of being able to stand up and walk out of the delivery room (or bathtub) rather than having undergone major surgery.
Having a natural childbirth can be incredibly empowering, potentially lower the risk of a blood transfusion, increase brain development in your newborn, and more.
A word of caution though - The article I linked above includes a section about “better for breastfeeding” and this was definitely not the case for me.
Every mother is different and what someone sites on the internet as a “study” may come from a study that has about 30 participants and was conducted without a control group (I’m not saying that’s the case here, I’m just saying…Trust, but Verify.
Have Labor and Delivery Plan and Be Flexible With Your Childbirth Plan
Because of all the above reasons I was mentally and emotionally prepared with a plan to deliver my baby by any means possible to protect both his and my life.
I had a doula and a doctor who were both on board with my intention to go unmedicated, but we were all ready to switch gears should the need arise.
There are so. Many. Risks which I feel like I have outlined in this article (did you see them!?).
If you’re able, and willing to give a naturally a try here are some things to expect:
You Will, At Some Point, Want to Give Up Your Plan
I have mixed feelings about this because as a DGAF Mom, I believe very much in doing what is best for you and for your family and your sanity.
I don’t think that "giving up” is bad and I don’t think you’re “bad” for choosing medical interventions (or even opting for a C-Section).
What’s important is you weigh all your options:
For me, an easy recovery that wasn’t a result of major surgery was a priority for me. I did NOT want that if I could possibly avoid it.
So that meant sticking to the plan.
However, at 2:14 in the morning, after my water broke, and the contractions started coming harder and longer and faster I looked at my husband and told him breathlessly: “I will not be able to do this for more than a few more hours. He better come quickly.” (And he did. Thankfully.)
If You Tear, It Will Hurt Like Hell to Get Stitched Up
If you have a long, lovely (is there such a thing) labor your chances of tearing are far less, but your exhaustion is sure to be pretty significant. I was lucky that both my boys came pretty quickly once I slipped into active labor.
And as a result, I had a second-degree tear of my vagina both times.
No, I did not tear in the same place. In-fact number two was in a highly sensitive area different entirely from number one. Because I had said no to an epidural, I felt everything down there during the stitching up process.
And even though my doctor was a highly skilled surgeon, it hurt like a mo-fo to have him inject a numbing agent and use a suture. Almost worse than the actual childbirth (but not quite). There are benefits to having an epidural to be sure. For me, the only one would have been not feeling the pain of being stitched up.
There Will Be an Enormous Amount of Blood and Afterbirth
After an average vaginal delivery you can expect to lose about 1/2 Quart of blood.
Prepare your partner if they’ve never seen this before. A half a quart of blood dripping out of you rapidly, or along with your placenta and the baby’s cord may look like several gallons and could be terrifying.
There is also a small risk of a postpartum hemorrhage which is different. An added bonus to delivering naturally is a reduced risk of this occurring. 1 - 5 C section deliveries result in a post partum hemorrhage which would be more than 1 quart of blood (which is the average amount of blood lost after C-Section according to the above article in Stanford’s Children’s Hospital.
This blood loss was surprising to my husband.
During the aftermath of both of my deliveries, my husband was sure something was significantly wrong based on the sudden, intense amount of blood gushing from me. Even now, when I ask him about what he saw after both our boys were born, particularly with our second, he can’t let himself go there.
He shudders and gets this far away look and just says…blood. So much blood.
He thought I was dying. That’s how much blood there was.
Luckily, modern medicine was there to help and stave off the bleeding.
In the case of our second kid, the massive amount of blood was caused by the tear as mentioned above in a sensitive area.
After you have the baby you will pass the placenta and all the fluid and blood that held your little life.
You Will Recover Faster Than Most of Your Medicated Counterparts
After my oldest was born, I was back to regular activity within a few weeks or so.
We went for a long slow walk when the baby was four days old as recommended to help my stitches heal.
I couldn’t walk very fast, or for very long. But I could lift mostly anything and could climb stairs and drive - things that many women who have a C-section aren’t able to do at first.
We went out to dinner with the whole family when Sammy was five days old (he was in the car seat the whole time - I'm not a total maniac). I was taking fast, and regular walks with him when he was just a few days old.
C-Section recovery can range from six - eight weeks depending on whom you ask. A birth utilizing an epidural or other medical assistance can set you back six weeks.
For me, this was hands down the best thing about having an un-medicated birth.
There are so many unknowns when it comes to postpartum recovery. This article from One Weird Momma is lays out many of the options to help you recover.
Also this helpful article from the Bump details more.
Beyond the physical recovery, there are mental issues that can come up as well including postpartum depression which is very serious and can be very dangerous.
Please take your recovery seriously, regardless of the type of birth you end up having. I'm merely suggesting that your physical recovery from delivery may take less time.
In retrospect, my labor and delivery was oddly the easiest thing I would do as a mom. Which at the time was certainly hard to believe.
For me, my real challenge came when I was surprised to learn how difficult breastfeeding could be.
You May Also Like :
Hoping to have an un-medicated childbirth? Already have one and this post sending you down memory lane? Tell me about it below!