Natural childbirth, also known as un-medicated birth, has many hidden benefits that more women of childbearing age should be aware of. In our society, giving pain medication for labor is so normal that most doctors assume a laboring woman will want it, and most mothers-to-be expect it. In fact, depending upon the hospital and region, pain medication rates are as high as 90 percent, with the vast majority of women choosing an epidural.
Generally, if there is a way around it, most women try and avoid the pain. Why be a martyr and suffer needlessly they ask? And that is exactly how I used to think right up until I got pregnant with my son. I always assumed I would just get an epidural. Like other women, I was terrified of the pain and I never even considered delivering naturally until a friend, who had given birth naturally, began listing its virtues.
Despite being in the natural health field, I had not really heard much discussion regarding the benefits of avoiding medication during labor. In retrospect, I should have made the connection since an epidural is a drug, and most drugs have side effects. However, the fear of labor pain was simply too strong to allow me to entertain any other thoughts. Yet, when I started to do some research on my own, which included reading books on midwifery and talking to women who had chosen natural childbirth, I started to realize there was another side to the story.
Due to the medical institutionalization of birth in North America, most women forget birthing is a natural experience that, in most cases, does not need medical intervention. Women have been delivering babies naturally for millennia. It is what our bodies were designed to do. Of course the reality that pain is involved in the process cannot be ignored. For this reason, the vast majority of women choose pain medication.
Yet what would women choose if they were to become more educated about the potential consequences of this choice, and the benefits inherent in natural delivery? I believe the more aware women are about the facts involved with using these medications, the more they will choose what is best for their own bodies and the health of their babies.
Let’s look at the main reasons many women choose to have a natural childbirth.
Labor is Often Shorter
Epidurals and other pain relieving medications often lead to a slower delivery. Pain medications often interfere with the body’s natural way of laboring and can slow down contractions. This increases total laboring periods. In addition, women often do not feel their contractions and do not know when to push. By not pushing at key times, or with adequate strength, they are not able to facilitate the laboring process. They miss important opportunities to work with the rhythms of their bodies.
Epidurals Often Increase Use of Medical Interventions
Because epidurals disconnect women from the natural pushing action and prolong labor, doctors are prone to intervene in the slowed birthing process and may give a pitocin drip (a uterine stimulant) or use a vacuum or forceps to move the fetus through the birth canal. In addition, fetal monitoring may be necessary to study the fetus’s heart rate. This usually requires an instrument to be attached to the baby’s scalp. If there are issues related to the heart beat or other complications, a Cesarean-section may be done.
Although epidural use doesn’t always cause these complications, it does increase the likelihood that interventions will be used.
Breastfeeding is Facilitated
Research shows babies born through natural childbirth are more alert and show more interest in breastfeeding once delivered. Many women don’t realize the pain medication they receive is also passed on to their baby. Because of this, many babies are born slightly “drugged” from the pain medication. This can interfere with their innate suckling behavior that normally expresses itself shortly after birth. It is not unusual for babies, exposed to an epidural, to have difficulty with latching on and an uncoordinated suck/swallow response for hours, or even days.
When videotaped studies of newborn babies have been done, there has been a marked difference between those born to mothers who received pain medication and those who didn’t. The fact that neither mom, nor baby, is medicated means natural instincts can emerge and the bonding that normally manifests between a mother and her baby can take place.
Natural Childbirth is Often Healthier for Mom and Baby
Because an epidural slows down labor, a woman is much more likely to be given a pitocin drip (uterine stimulant) to speed up contractions. The resulting contractions begin to come on so strong and fast that a woman has very little time to recover between them, leaving less oxygen to reach the fetus. This could damage the fetus’s brain cells and possibly lead to neurological problems.
Epidurals in birthing women also increase the chance of fever which increases the likelihood antibiotics will be prescribed.
Faster Recovery Time
Women who planned natural childbirths often feel great for a short while after delivering their babies. Because no numbing drugs were used, and no tubes or needles were stuck into their body parts, naturally birthing moms can get up shortly after labor if they desire, and walk around or take a shower.
The euphoric feeling in which many naturally birthing moms experience is caused by the release of endorphins in the body during labor. Endorphins are calming and pain-relieving hormones the body naturally produces when dealing with pain. Tests have shown a woman’s body will not release nearly as many endorphins if a pain medication is utilized.
Greater Connection to the Experience
When drugs are not used during labor, women are very alert and fully conscious of the experience. They are connected to their bodies in a profound way, and to the experience of giving birth. Pain medications often dull a woman’s senses leading to a physical detachment from the birthing process. Many women report dissatisfaction with their birthing experience when they are not fully alert for their first out-of-womb contact with their baby.
Natural Childbirth is Empowering
Frequently, women who have natural childbirths are extremely empowered and feel much more confident. Being able to birth naturally, and successfully make it through the extreme demands of labor, often makes a woman feel stronger and less fearful about handling other challenges in life. Women often use words like “invincible” and “powerful” to describe how they feel after their natural labors.
In recent years we have begun to see a return to the practice of birthing naturally. Many women who embrace natural health habits in their daily lives feel that natural childbirth is simply an extension of this lifestyle. With the increased accessibility of midwives and doulas, women are now able to receive the support they need to move through the birth process naturally. More women need to hear that natural childbirth is doable and can be a wonderful experience. Women need to regain trust in their body’s ability to birth and understand the pain they experience is never in vain.
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