birth planning

The Quick Guide to Natural Childbirth

Natural Birth

If you have decided on or are considering birthing in a setting like a freestanding birth center, it perhaps has to do in part with your desire to have a natural birth experience. It is estimated that approximately 85 percent of childbearing women are considered low-risk and are great candidates for a natural birth. But what is a natural birth exactly and what does it entail? Are there really worthwhile benefits to it and how much pain will I experience? These are all important questions when considering your birth plan. Here are the whos, whats, wheres and whys of the choice of natural birth.

What is a natural birth?

Natural birth is a vaginal birth that is free of pain medication and has minimal, if any, medical interventions. With a natural birth, the mother is in control of the labor process; she is a part of each and every decision, including when it’s time to rest, change positions and push, with her care providers acting as support throughout the process. 

Why do women choose to have a natural birth?

There are many reasons women choose to have a natural birth. Whether you are expecting your first baby or had a past birth experience that left you wanting to try something different, here are a few of the top reasons moms choose natural birth:

  • To have a sense of control over the birthing process
  • They view birth as a natural, normal, non-medical event
  • To have a sense of presence and awareness during birth
  • To have the ability to move about freely during labor
  • To have the ability to follow the lead of your body’s natural instincts
  • Less invasive
  • To avoid unnecessary medical interventions
  • To avoid undesirable side effects of pain medication to mom and baby (such as drowsiness, a drop in blood pressure or nausea)
  • To avoid undesirable side effects of pain medication on labor (such as slowing or stopping the progress)
  • A sense of empowerment
  • Reduced risk of certain interventions such as the use of synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin), forceps and vacuum extraction
  • The ability to eat and drink throughout labor

Where do women have natural births?

While you can absolutely have a natural birth in a hospital setting with the right supportive team and a clear birth plan, you might find that a birth center is more conducive to your goal of a natural delivery (It is important to note that some hospitals call their labor & delivery units "birth centers"...this is not what we are referring to). Birth centers place a strong emphasis on empowering women to realize the amazing capabilities of their own bodies without intervention or pain medicine. Another option for natural birth is having your baby in your own home. This approach typically includes the attendance and care of a midwife. 

Who can have a natural birth and who attends them?

As previously stated, approximately 85 percent of women are considered great candidates for a natural, vaginal delivery. However, in order to plan for a natural delivery, a woman should ideally have a low-risk pregnancy with few complications or other existing serious conditions. 

A natural birth can be attended by a doctor or midwife, along with a birth assistant and a doula, depending on your setting and personal preferences. Continuous care and support from a midwife or doula throughout labor has been associated with lower rates of the use of pain medicine, incidence of C-sections and other interventions in addition to shorter labors and greater overall satisfaction with the birth experience.

How do women cope with the pain of a natural birth?

Every woman will experience the pain of childbirth differently. Fortunately, there are many alternative forms of pain management that can be used during a natural birth instead of medication or an epidural. Here are just a few of them:

Nitrous oxide for Labor Pain
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Water immersion/water birth
  • Massage
  • Relaxation
  • Acupressure
  • Acupuncture
  • Visualization
  • Hot/cold compresses
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Deep breathing
  • Yoga
  • Changing positions
  • Distraction
  • Visual imagery
  • Meditation
  • Walking
  • Hypnosis
  • Birthing ball

Consider taking child birth preparedness classes that focus on natural birth and pain management. The better prepared you are, the more tools you will have to help you achieve your goal of a natural birth.

What if something goes wrong?

The most important thing with any birth plan is to approach it with flexibility and a willingness to heed the advice of your caregivers who have you and your baby’s best interest at heart. While having a natural birth is typically very safe, complications do arise occasionally where medical interventions are not only suggested but necessary. Beginning with a caregiver that you trust is an important step to helping you feel confident and comfortable in the event that a change is made to the plan involving unexpected interventions. Just know that no matter what course your birth ends up taking, whether it is perfectly natural or ends in a C-section, you and your body have done an incredible, life-giving thing. There is no shame in a birth that does not go as planned.

For questions about natural birth, prenatal and postpartum care and all other women’s care services, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center. Our goal is to support you in realizing your body’s tremendous strength and potential.

Creating Your Natural Birth Plan

There are many factors to consider as you prepare for the birth of your baby and one important step is taking the time to create a written copy of your natural birth plan. A birth plan is a document that describes your expectations and wishes for the way that you would like your birthing experience to unfold. Although changes may arise and it is important to remain flexible, having a birth plan helps ensure that all of your health care providers know and respect your wishes to the best of their ability. This is particularly important if a natural, unmedicated birth is what you are seeking. The task of writing your natural birth plan may seem overwhelming at first; but let’s take a look at some of the key components you will want to include. 

Birthing Environment:

Your birthing environment and who and what you desire to have in it is an important consideration for your natural birth plan. Some questions to consider about the environment are:

  • What family members do you wish to have present during your labor, the birth and after the baby is born?
  • Do you plan to have a doula?
  • Do you wish to have your birth photographed or videotaped?
  • Are there any comfort objects you would like to have handy such as treasured photographs or a favorite pillow or blanket?
  • Do you want to have music playing? Or silence?
  • Do you wish to have the lights dimmed?
  • Would you like to have access to headphones for music or guided meditation?

Laboring:

Being prepared with ways to make your labor as comfortable and tolerable as possible is an important way to help you achieve your goal of a natural birth. There are many natural techniques that can help alleviate the pain associated with labor that do not include medication or epidurals.  Some questions to be sure your natural birth plan addresses are:

  • What props would you like to have available for labor? (For example: a birthing ball, a squatting bar or a birthing stool)
  • Do you want to be able to labor in water? (For example: in a birthing tub or shower)
  • How do you feel about fetal monitoring? Is it important to you that monitoring only be intermittent to allow you to move around more freely? 
  • What pain management techniques would you like to have available and be supported in using during your labor? (For example: breathing exercises, massage, hypnotherapy, visual imaging, acupressure and guided relaxation)  Nitrous oxide is a great alternative to pain medicine for  those who wish to utilize it during labor. 
  • If your goal is a natural birth and you are delivering in a hospital setting, be sure to address your desire to avoid unnecessary interventions. You may also wish to request that you not be offered any pain medicine unless you specifically ask for it.  

Pushing and the Birth:

Water Birth

In this section of your birthing plan, you should include information about how you would like to be supported during the second stage of labor and the birth of your baby.  Factors to address include:

  • Do you want to be told when to push or allow your body to do it instinctively?
  • Are there ways that you wish to help prepare your body further for delivery such as perineal massage, hot compresses or oils?
  • Do you want to have access to a mirror to see the baby as he is born?
  • Do you want to be able to "catch" the baby when she is born?
  • Think about the things that are important to you is an emergency necessitates a transfer to a hospital or a C-section.
  • If in a hospital setting, how do you feel about the use of instruments such as the vacuum or forceps? How do you feel about the possibility of an episiotomy?
  • Do you wish to allow the placenta to be born spontaneously versus with assistance?

After delivery:

After Birth

Some of your most important wishes for your first moments with baby will likely be included in this section of your natural birthing plan. Questions to consider include:

  • Would you like to have immediate skin-to-skin contact with your baby? Skin-to-skin contact during the first moments of life has been found to be one of the most important things you can do for your newborn. Learn more about the importance of the skin-to-skin practice
  • Would you like to delay the process of cord clamping to allow time for extra blood flow from the placenta?
  • Would you like to delay routine procedures such as eye drops, a bath, and the vitamin K injection to allow you to have time to bond with your baby?
  • Are there any routine procedures that you do not wish to have done to your baby?
  • Do you wish to save the placenta for encapsulation or other purposes?
  • In the event of an emergency C-section, who would you like to have stay with your baby until you are able to hold him? Do you wish for your partner to have immediate skin-to-skin contact?

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when writing your natural birth plan. Be sure to keep your plan direct and concise, so that anyone who is on your birth team can clearly understand your wishes. Print several copies of this document and have them available for doctors, midwives, nurses and family members on the day of your delivery. In addition to having a written birth plan, it is also important to choose health care providers that support and uphold the value of the natural birth process. Statistics show that approximately 85 % of mothers are capable of having a successful, unmedicated birth. The other 15 percent represent those who have high risk pregnancies and other complications.  

At the Health Foundations, we strive to encourage, nurture and support you in your desire to bring your baby into the world in the most natural way possible. We are confident that the sense of accomplishment you will feel when holding your wonderfully alert baby in your arms will be well worth your amazing efforts. Contact Health Foundations to learn more about planning your natural birth and to schedule a free consultation with a midwife or a tour of our Birth Center.