A natural birth is something many pregnant women plan and hope to experience. The choice to have a natural, unmedicated and intervention-free birth should ultimately be decided by mother and baby wellbeing.
Some women feel confident and trust their body. Others simply want to avoid any interventions or medication. Yet in our modern culture and society, having a natural birth is becoming less common, and ‘pain-free’ labour has become the norm.
Birth has become so widely medicalised that we tend to forget, in most cases, we don’t need assistance in birthing. Pregnancy, labour and birth are miraculous by design, and your body and hormones are made to give birth.
We know the major benefit of a c-section — to save a mother or baby's life. The World Health Organisation says this is the case in 10-15% of births. After which point, research shows that no further lives are saved. So for the other 85-90% of births, natural birth can offer many benefits for both baby and mother.
The way your baby is born matters, and planning a natural birth is the safest and gentlest choices for the wellbeing of your baby.
Here are 5 huge benefits to your baby of going through the natural process of labour and childbirth:
Natural Birth Benefit #1: Helping Baby to Breathe
During labour, your baby produces a stress hormone called catecholamines. It's the ‘fight or flight’ hormone produced in response to a stressful or threatening situation.
Catecholamines help with respiratory adaptation (for breathing) when babies are born. It does this by increasing absorption of the amniotic fluid in their lungs, as well as increasing surfactant production. Surfactant helps your newborn baby to keep their lungs inflated after the birth.
As the uterus contracts and squeezes down on your baby, his chest is compressed. This helps to expel the fluid in his lungs, clearing them so that he can breathe when he is born.
Babies born by c-section have four times the rate of respiratory distress and admission to special care units. When labour is induced, babies often experience respiratory distress (twice the rate of natural birth).
Natural Birth Benefit #2: Promoting a Strong Immune System
Newborns have immature immune systems, and need all the help they can get to protect them from diseases.
During pregnancy, your baby receives maternal antibodies from you, but most are transferred during labour. White blood cells also increase as a result of higher levels of catecholamines. It helps to support your baby’s immune system after the birth, and it protects your baby against infections. Breastmilk also contains white blood cells, protecting your baby even further. Just one drop of breastmilk contains around one million white blood cells.
A study has shown that babies born via c-section experience DNA alterations to their white blood cells. This has the potential to change the way their bodies respond to attacks on their immune systems in the future. Especially when combined with environmental triggers, it can result in diseases such as asthma and diabetes.
Babies born vaginally also receive protective bacteria on their skin. This colonises their intestines and ‘trains’ their body to know the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’ bacteria.
There is increased growing interest in this area of the human microbiome. Research already shows that the immune systems of babies who aren’t exposed to their mother’s bacteria may not fully develop. This may increase their risk of disease later in life.
Emergency c-sections that occur after labour begins means your baby will be exposed to the beneficial bacteria. A planned c-section doesn’t provide any opportunity for bacteria seeding, but immediate skin to skin after birth and exclusive breastfeeding can increase their exposure.
Natural Birth Benefit #3: Increases Energy to Your Baby
After birth, your baby is no longer receiving constant nourishment from the placenta. As a result, their blood sugar levels begin to drop.
While this is normal, babies who have a natural birth are protected against any adverse effects of low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) such as brain injury. Catecholamines help increase the glucose levels in your baby, keeping their blood sugar levels relatively stable until your milk comes in, usually several days after the birth.
Natural Birth Benefit #4: Increases Oxygen to Your Baby
During a natural birth, your baby is protected against low levels of oxygen during contractions (hypoxia) by the stress hormones present in her body.
If labour has been induced with a drug (such as syntocinon or pitocin), the action of artificial oxytocin on the uterus can cause extremely strong and frequent contractions.
These contractions can cause blood and oxygen depletion to the baby. It's not uncommon to see fetal distress in induced labours, as a result of this over-stimulation of the uterus.
Below is a clip from the eye opening documentary, The Business of Being Born. It explains this all too common scene being played out in labour wards all around the world. To watch the full documentary (highly recommended) see here.
Natural Birth Benefit #5: Promotes Mother-Baby Bonding
Again, the catecholamines produced by your baby during labour have an important effect on her after birth.
After a natural birth, newborns are alert and wide-eyed when meeting their mother for the first time. This period immediately after birth, when baby is placed skin-to-skin on their mother’s body, primes both mother and baby for bonding and a successful breastfeeding relationship.
Your baby already knows your voice and will gaze intently at your face, imprinting your smell and the taste of your skin when breastfeeding for the first time. If babies are exposed to drugs during labour, they may be drowsy after birth, cry more and can take longer to initiate breastfeeding than babies whose mothers had no pain relief.
Natural, undisturbed labour has many benefits for mother and baby. But if things don’t go to plan, you can still use the above knowledge to make the best choices you can. If induction is required for medical reasons, speak to your doctor about ways to start labour as gently as possible. Here are 13 ways to bring on labour naturally.
If a c-section becomes necessary after labour has begun, your baby will have had some of the benefits of labour. Due to medical complications, some women require a planned c-section. Talk to your doctor about waiting until labour has begun if possible and not prevented by emergency.