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What is Natural Childbirth?

A pregnant woman.
Unexpected complications can arise during childbirth, such as a decline in the baby's heart rate.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 March 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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Natural childbirth is giving birth with only minimal medical intervention. It posits that women have given birth for thousands of years without pain relief, and that it is not a medical process, but rather, a natural one. Instead of offering drugs for the pain of labor, women are often trained through different methods to move their bodies, adopt special types of breathing, or meditate to get through the pain of labor and delivery.

Natural childbirth advocates against using any type of sedatives or anesthesia since these may slow labor, have a greater chance of causing complications, or may make it more challenging for a woman to push appropriately. Pain relief through medication can also have adverse affects on the baby, which might make complications more likely. Epidurals, a local anesthetic that inhibits feeling from the waist down, restricts the mother’s ability to move. You literally can’t move with an epidural, and being able to walk, squat, and assume different positions are key to natural childbirth because they speed labor.

Women begin the path to natural childbirth by taking natural childbirth classes. Of the several methods taught, the most common is Lamaze®, a series of breathing exercises that differ during each stage of labor. The Bradley Method® is another fairly common form. Both encourage having a birthing coach, generally the father, to help the mother stay firm in her decision not to use pain relief medications.

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To relieve labor pains, women can rely on a number of natural sources. One of these is hydrotherapy, staying in a tub of warm water, which helps to relax tensing muscles. Some women even remain in a warm water to give birth. Massage, exercises, and hypnotherapy may all be used to relieve pain. Some natural childbirth methods don’t really focus on pain relief but rather on the fact that the pain is part of labor, and something birthing women should not try to avoid.

Women who want natural childbirth can give birth at home, in birthing centers or at hospitals. They’re encouraged to develop a birth plan, an idea of how they want labor to go. Most obstetricians are open to looking at a birth plan, and some women even hire doulas to see that their birth plan is carried out in the hospital setting. Some women fear that giving birth in a hospital will make it easier to stray from the birth plan.

While natural childbirth is in essence “natural,” birth plans are not. Many first time moms, even those who’ve taken birth classes, are unprepared for labor. It’s not something that truly can be prepared for until it is actually experienced. Further, a birth plan can only address a labor where circumstances are ideal. Some labors become complicated due to factors that are unplanned for, like the decline of the baby’s heart rate, or a very lengthy labor. Birth plans would be better called "birth goals," since they reach for ideal circumstances which may not always be present.

Some women feel disappointed if they’re unable to follow through on natural childbirth. Again it’s important to remember that it’s impossible to estimate the amount of pain experienced during labor, particularly if you have never had a child.

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