Most pregnant women I speak to express some level of desire, be it overwhelming or wavering, to give birth naturally – and first lets be clear on language – natural meaning no drugs or interventions, not born through their vagina, which is a vaginal birth.
However, what many of these women have found to be lacking in today’s society is enough support, education and encouragement to help them achieve the natural birth they hope for. Not only that, labour pain has become something that has been seen by many as ‘unnecessary’ or ‘bad’ pain – when it is, in fact, a very useful pain. Given time, our body even responds by sending out natural pain killers – but interventions at birth interfere with this. So it makes sense to work with labour pain as best we can, seeing pain as power and not an enemy.
There is also an epidemic of fear about labour pain which prevents women from even wanting a natural birth. You can read more about this in our article about fears in labour.
A normal physiological birth without drugs reduces possible risks and complications for mother and baby and reduces the need for further obstetric interventions that may follow as a result of having those drugs.
So how does one go about increasing their chances of a normal physiological birth? Here are a few suggestions below.
Natural Birth Tip #1 – What Are Your True Motivations For a Normal Physiological Childbirth?
Firstly, it helps to make sure that you want a normal physiological birth for the right reasons, in order to stay motivated during your labour and birth. Ask yourself why you want to birth this way and what your motivations are.
If your motivations aren’t something deeply meaningful to you, it’s probably not going to hold you in labour. For example, when you’re in the height of contractions, knowing that you have chosen a natural birth in order to prevent your baby from being exposed to drugs and their side effects is more likely to keep you on track and focused on your goal. You’re less likely to hold steady if you’re trying to get through without drugs because you want to show a support person ‘how it’s done’ or how easy it is for you, or maybe because you feel for your support person who ‘missed out’ on a normal physiological birth with their own child – and you feel that you have to do it for them. It’s important you labour and birth for you, for real and important reasons – not someone else!
Natural Birth Tip #2 – Write Out Your Birth Preferences (Birth Plan)
Some believe birth plans aren’t worth writing because things may not go as planned. I think the opposite. Writing out a birth plan can generate important discussion between yourself and your partner/support people and raise important questions and points to think about. It need not be pages long if you don’t want to go into too much detail, but make sure there is enough key information so that your caregivers and support people know what your preferences are for your birth.
Your birth plan can encourage thinking about tools and ideas that might be useful for you in labour. For example, noting various positions you might like to try for labouring and birth can be discussed and practiced (ideally upright and off the bed, reclining and semi-reclining can slow labour and may even make it more painful).
A good birth plan should also touch on your preferences for various outcomes. If a medical reason arises for an emergency caesarean during labour, it’s a good idea to note or think about what you would like to do in the circumstances surrounding that e.g. dad to be present and with the baby at all times. It’s great to have your mind set on a normal physiological birth, but it’s also important to remember that there will be some instances where intervention may be needed for the safety of yourself or your baby, so seeing such an outcome as failure can be devastating – especially if you aren’t prepared for the slight possibility it may happen. Which ever way you end up birthing your baby, you’ll be a success.
Check out our article Birth Plans: Are They Worth It? which includes a downloadable template.
Natural Birth Tip #3 – Find a Midwife/Obstetrician Who Will Support Your Choices
Make yourself a list of questions to ask your midwife/obstetrician on your first meeting with them, to ensure they will support your choices for labour and birth. Don’t feel embarrassed asking lots of questions and providing a copy of your birth plan to them – you need to feel comfortable with the main caregiver you choose for your care and be able to trust them. You may find it more difficult to find an Obstetrician who will let you attempt a normal physiological birth in some instances, for example a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) or even multiple births, however there are obstetricians out there who will support these births if all is going well, so do a little homework to find them.
If you are birthing in a public hospital and can’t choose your carer, you can still have a birth plan – take one with you to an pre-natal appointment for their records and also when you arrive in labour (so you know the midwives on duty are aware of your wishes). Public hospitals tend to have lower intervention and caesarean section rates than private hospitals. Private hospitals and private obstetricians (you need a private obstetrician if you want a private hospital) have the statistically highest rate of birth interventions and caesareans across Australia. Consider your own independent midwife to take to hospital with you or look into a homebirth. Independent midwifery is such a gold standard of care, offering such individualised, continuity of care. Check out our article, Who Cares? Choosing a Model of Care.
Natural Birth Tip #4 – Surround Yourself With Your Own ‘Cheersquad’
If your family and/or friends aren’t able to support or encourage you in the way you’d hoped or if you would like more support, seek out and chat to those who have already experienced or intend to experience a normal physiological birth. Join some support groups where you’ll receive the inspiration, encouragement and information you’ll no doubt be craving!
Natural Birth Tip #5 – Find Appropriate Support People For Labour
It’s very important to have the right support people at your birth if you want a drug-free birth. You might think it will be all wonderful and fluffy having mum, sisters and all the family to be there to watch your baby be born, but in the height of your contractions when you start begging (or perhaps screaming at!) all your birth support people to ‘help’ you, are they going to encourage you and help you get to where you want to go? Or are they going to collapse into a bawling heap and tell you how awful it all is and a little pain relief can’t hurt?
The support people in your labour are more important than you think. Before asking them to be a support person, ask them how they would react if you went to them in labour, begging you to stop your pain. Would they tell you that you should get some pain relief? Or would they encourage you to keep going and tell you what a great job you are doing? If your support people start to panic, you are more likely to panic too – and that’s when you might be looking for the next exit to the epidural freeway. Be sure your support people are strong because they are going to have to be there for YOU and not for THEM.
Natural Birth Tip #6 – Educate Yourself and Your Support People
There are so many great resources available which are found in a variety of mediums. I’ll add to this list gradually however the best books are not necessarily the worldwide best sellers that we all know as a household name. If your support people are friends or family and not trained support people, it’s a great idea to have them come along to birth classes with you or read some resources.
You can share our article with them, 10 Great Tips That Will Help Her In Labour.
Natural Birth Tip #7 – Read Some Empowering Birth Books Full of Great Information
Check out BellyBelly’s most recommended birth books. You’ll get so much useful, powerful information, that it’ll make some other birth books seem more useful in the bin. Before you get bogged down with a million books to read, choose one of these FIRST.
Natural Birth Tip #8 – Attend Independent Workshops and Classes
There are some fantastic privately-run workshops and pre-natal classes available for couples by some very experienced, qualified birth educators around Australia. Attending these are a great way to not only find encouragement and information, but also to spend time with like-minded people and build friendships. It’s a great idea to take your birth support people with you to these classes if possible. BellyBelly’s article on Independent Birth Education is a must read and has nine big, important reasons why you should choose independent/private classes over hospital based classes.
Contact NACE to find independent childbirth education classes in your area.
In Melbourne, I highly recommend Rhea Dempsey’s “Transforming Pain” workshop – it’s the workshop midwives themselves go to and you’ll see why! It really left a lot to be desired from the hospital-provided pre-natal classes I had been to. The content and coverage of the workshop was fabulous (as per most independent classes) and I was so disappointed I had not heard of her workshops prior to having my own children or their births would have certainly been much different! This class is designed for those who want to give normal birth a go without unnecessary drugs or interventions.
You can visit Rhea’s website, Birthing Wisdom for more information.
Calmbirth is also fantastic.
7. Hire An Experienced Birth Attendant/Doula
A recent study showed that doulas (also known as birth attendants) were able to provide more effective birth support than hospital staff or family members.
Birth Attendants/Doulas are not only there to support the birthing mother, helping her to work through the pain, but also to help your carers to work with your birth intentions. They can be particularly helpful if you have little or no support, or if your birth support person is unsure of what to do or if they will cope. You need encouragement in labour and not sympathy – something our mothers can be very guilty of seeing us in pain! Our partners may also just want to ‘fix’ our pain for us, because they don’t realise that the pain is normal and everything is going beautifully despite these painful contractions.
Based on known studies, having a birth attendant or doula present for your birth can decrease the need for pain medication, shorten labour by an average of 98 minutes, decrease the chance of a caesarean section by 50 percent, increase breastfeeding success and much more.
7. Trust Your Body, Trust Your Baby
Women have been birthing since the beginning of time and while mortality rates during childbirth are much lower than that of our ancestors, their instinctive ways of birthing is much more efficient and less painful than what we commonly experience on our backs, in a bed, at the convenience of doctors.
Our past sisters embraced pain in labour and didn’t fear it – fear is really the enemy when you see that it can slow or stall your labour, and even make it more painful! Have confidence and faith in your amazing birthing body, follow your instincts in labour and allow your body and your baby to do exactly what they know to do. Surrender to the power of birthing energy… let go you birthing goddess!
While there will be times when obstetric intervention is necessary, there is a little acronym you can remember to get a better idea if the intervention you are being offered is warranted:
What are the *B*ENEFITS? (of this being done)
What are the *R*ISKS? (of this being done)
Are there *A*LTERNATIVES? (than this being done)
Does it need to be done *N*OW?
Can I have 10 minutes to make a *D*ECISION?
Chances are, if they give you 10 minutes, its not that urgent.
Having a healthcare provider you trust as well as a professional support person can help you feel more satisfied with the outcome of your birth, even if the situation calls for some form of intervention.
‘We can trust we have inner knowledge of the birth process; trust that our babies know the journey; trust we will draw to us those we need for support; trust in the power and flow of birthing energy.’ — Rhea Dempsey
All the very best for a wonderful birth!