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This post is the first in a series on the benefits of natural birth. I have purposefully allowed for flexibility in the term “natural”, as we will specifically be examining the benefits of each of the main components of what is usually considered a natural birth. See full disclosure here.
It’s a term that can elicit all kinds of feelings. Often seen as an ideal, women sometimes feel pressure to try for a natural birth while others are happy to avoid it at all costs. For those who do want a natural birth, there are many barriers that may stand in the way, so actually achieving it usually takes some preparation and determination.
For those who want to avoid a natural birth, there is sometimes a lack of knowledge of the benefits and a perception that a medicated or surgical birth is safer. And some are aware of the benefits but consider the benefits of medicated birth to be greater (which is fine!).
If you’re expecting a baby, knowing the benefits of natural birth is part of being able to make a thoughtful, well-informed decision about your care and your birth.
So, what makes a birth “natural”?
Usually when someone tells us she had a natural birth, we make a few assumptions.
1) We assume she had a vaginal birth.
2) We assume she had an unmedicated birth. Or that even if there was some medication involved, such as Pitocin for an induction or antibiotics for group B strep, she didn’t have an epidural or other pharmacological pain relief.
3) Some of us also assume that she had a low-intervention birth.
These are some pretty fair assumptions to make, but let me be clear, “natural” does not equal “better”. Nor does having a natural birth guarantee a joyful birth, a fearless birth, a satisfying birth, an empowering birth, or any other positive quality we might hope for. A natural birth may be all of those things. But it might not be. And having a medicated birth or a surgical birth also has every potential of being a positive, joyful, empowering experience.
Additionally, it’s pretty natural to want to avoid pain, especially here in the US where most of us are slow to embrace the value of pain and its transformative power. The pain of birth is pain with a purpose. It’s pain that you can handle. It’s pain that can empower you. But it’s still pain. And unless you’ve got some pretty compelling reasons, it’s not the kind of pain that you’re probably gonna just breeze through.
It’s also really natural to want to protect yourself and your baby from harm. Self-preservation is a normal and healthy instinct, and while medication and surgery during birth are currently overused in the US, in the face of a birth-related emergency they can truly save your life or the life of your baby. I don’t know one mother, even the most committed to a natural birth, who wouldn’t willingly undergo surgery or medication or suffering if it truly meant saving the life of her baby. We mothers are fierce protectors of our young.
So my intent here is never to cause a mother to feel guilt or shame because she doesn’t want or didn’t have a natural birth, whatever the reason. It’s not to crusade for a certain kind of birth. There are so many facets of what makes a birth safe and satisfying and joyful, and human beings are so complex with their own sets of experiences, fears, and desires, that I am not willing to say natural birth is best, or even good, for everyone. The risks and benefits of any birth choice go beyond the physical health of the mother and baby to encompass the emotional health of both of them.
I want you to be aware of the benefits of natural birth, and from there, examine your own heart and your own values and make choices that are good for you and good for your baby. You are capable of that and it is your right as a woman and a mother. Even when aspects of birth don’t go as desired, being an active part of the decision-making process is key in producing a satisfying birth experience. And what I want for you, dear expectant mama, is a satisfying birth.
Painless Birth and Pain Perception During Childbirth podcast from Evidence Based Birth. Though the focus of this podcast is painless birth, it includes a ton of fascinating information on maternal satisfaction during birth.
Romano AM. First, Do No Harm: How Routine Interventions, Common Restrictions, and the Organization of Our Health-Care System Affect the Health of Mothers and Newborns. The Journal of Perinatal Education. 2009;18(3):58-62. doi:10.1624/105812409X461243.