Do's and Don'ts of Natural Childbirth
Birthing your child without drugs isn't easy, but it is possible. Follow these guidelines to up your chances of having a successful natural birth.
By Berit Thorkelson
I was determined to have my first child naturally, and I almost made it. I reached my goal with the birth of my second child, when I delivered her completely drug-free. It wasn't easy, and I did a lot of work to prepare for it, but the experience was incredibly rewarding. If you and your healthcare provider decide that a natural birth is right for you, try these mom-tested tips for success.
DO find a supportive practitioner. You'll need a healthcare provider who's supportive of the many nuances of natural birthing, including avoiding induction and pain medication, and laboring beyond the bed. "Look for a midwife or doctor who is just as invested as you are in having your baby naturally," advises Maria Lorillo, Licensed Midwife (LM), Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) at wisewomanchildbirth.com, in San Francisco. "She or he will manage the entire birth in a way that's most conducive to success."
DON'T listen to others' horror stories. A positive mindset means everything. Now is not the time to listen to stories about your cousin's emergency C-section and your neighbor's slow-to-arrive 12-pounder with the gigantic head. Preserve your can-do attitude by surrounding yourself with natural birth success stories. Cut negative feedback off politely but immediately.
DO find a supportive birthing environment. That could be a small hospital with low epidural and C-section rates, a birthing center, or your home. "At home, a natural birth is easier to achieve because there are no drugs available," Lorillo says. "It is all natural all the time." But home births are appropriate only for healthy, complication-free pregnancies, and for safety reasons, they should be attended by a licensed midwife or another qualified practitioner. You also want to be near a hospital in case of an emergency.
DO learn various coping techniques. The more mental and physical pain-management skills you have in your proverbial toolbox, the better. You never know what will -- or won't -- help. My first time around, using a TENS unit (which blocks pain receptors in the skin), along with walking between and squatting through contractions, saved me. The second time, I didn't touch the TENS, and walking didn't do it for me, but meditating silently on a birthing ball and using techniques learned during Hypnobirthing classes did.
DO consider a birth doula. She's your own personal cheerleader who supports you before, during, and after labor. "My doula knew that I wanted to labor at home for as long as possible," says Tina Jones of Iowa City, who gave birth to her son, Jack, naturally in 2010. "As soon as she came over, she took away the pen and paper I was using to keep track of contractions, which let me focus on how my body and baby were interacting and how I felt. During contractions, she would rub my shoulders or squeeze my hips when I told her that my back was hurting. She was very calm. I don't think I could've managed at home so long without her." Jones went to the hospital 10? hours into her 13-hour labor.
DON'T forget your birth partner's needs. You've done most of the heavy lifting since your baby was conceived, but labor and delivery is an emotionally and physically draining process for both of you. A partner who is comfortable, hydrated, well-rested, and fed is a much better help to you than one who isn't. "Looking back, Reid could have used some pre-labor Tylenol and some tennis balls or some sort of massager," says Darcie Peifer of St. Paul, who gave birth to her son, Huxley, without drugs last November. "He got pretty worn out too. Still, my supportive husband was my best prop."
DO prepare both physically and mentally. Jones went on 30-minute walks throughout her pregnancy. She also prepared with prenatal yoga and positive affirmations, such as "I trust my body; I follow its lead" and "My mind is relaxed; my body is relaxed," which she read each morning and night. "I really tried to look at birth as a natural process, telling myself that women have been giving birth for eons, that my body will know what it's doing, and not looking at labor as 'pain' but as 'progress' -- one step closer to my baby being born," she says. "The mental preparation ended up being the most important for me."
DON'T starve yourself. "I highly recommend eating a good meal before you leave home," Peifer says. "My husband made me scrambled eggs at 4:30 in the morning. I needed the energy and it was worth the chance that I'd poop during pushing." I couldn't agree more. I downed an egg sandwich at home during early labor, then snacked on toast, Jell-O, and, when I was at the hospital, the kind of electrolyte jellybeans used by marathoners. I may or may not have pooped during pushing. At that point -- somewhat surprisingly -- I didn't at all care.
DO expect to want to quit. You'd be in the minority if you didn't. "Every woman reaches a point in labor when she doesn't want to do it anymore," says Kelly Camden, LM, CPM, of Holistic Midwifery in Albuquerque, NM. "Fortunately, for most of us this happens when we are nearing the end of labor." Lean on those around you who are there to support you, and focus on how it will feel to hold your baby for the first time.
DON'T beat yourself up if you don't have the natural birth of your dreams. I, for one, am still quite proud of my almost-natural first birth. Did I mention that I labored drug-free for nearly 30 hours? I did the very best I could. And I know more than a few women who did the same, who had everything nicely in place for a natural birth, yet ended up with drugs and C-sections. And, more important, healthy babies. Which is truly the ultimate goal, right?