So you wanna have a natural birth, right? I want to lay this out there before we dig in: all birth is natural. What we’ll be talking about here is how to have an unmedicated labor and delivery! There are so many glorious benefits to avoiding interventions like epidurals and pain meds. Whatever route you choose: birth is beautiful no matter how it happens.
If you’re experiencing a high risk pregnancy, interventions might be necessary. I want to provide information so you can make an informed decision, discuss your options with your care provider, and feel confident and empowered going into your labor day!
1. Know why you’re going natural.
Before you step foot into the hospital you need to be 100% committed to going unmedicated. I’ll talk more below about how to prep for this, but it ALL starts with the decision and knowing why you want to skip all the interventions that’ll be thrown at you!
Think of it this way: you roll up to the hospital in labor. You *kinda* decided you don’t want an epidural, but as soon as you’re checked into your room…a contraction swells. Your nurse offers to bring in the anaesthesiologist to hook you up with an epidural. Unless you’re 100% committed to no meds, you might just take her up on that offer. (Keep reading for how to avoid this situation).
In a hospital setting, lots of women fall into something called the “cascade of interventions“. For example, if your water breaks and you immediately say “yes” to starting Pitocin to ramp contractions up, you’re more likely to end up getting an epidural because Pitocin contractions bite harder than natural contractions. One intervention leads to another.
Why? Because the hospital’s goal is to help you be a good patient. They aren’t usually interested in helping you progress naturally in the childbirth process (unless you’re lucky enough to have a stellar, naturally minded OB-GYN or a midwife with hospital privileges).
The hospital is there to pass out epidurals like they’re candy. (It’s money in their pocket). They might give you Pitocin to speed up labor instead of waiting on natural progression; then write you a prescription for pain meds once it’s all said and done. If you aren’t progressing quick enough you’ll more than likely be offered a c-section. Again, hospitals profit more from c-sections since it’s surgery.
The hospital’s goal is to help you be a good patient.
2. Mindset Matters.
With our first baby, Wyatt, we took a standard hospital birthing class. The instructor covered the mechanics of labor and completely breezed over the mental part of making your way through contractions and the whole advocating for your wants during labor part. Sure, we learned about dilation and the stages of labor, but when it came to mental prep for our big day? Crickets.
With our second baby, Jep, I KNEW I needed a redemptive birth. My mama heart wanted a natural, unmedicated birth. I settled on hypnobirthing as the route for me after researching what it was all about.
What exactly is hypnobirthing?
If you want to train your body and mind to truly relax through labor, that’s exactly what hypnobirthing is. You are not hypnotized like you see in the movies where a creepy magician with a top hat snaps his fingers and you start clucking like a chicken.
I chose this audio course to familiarize myself with natural birth, then downloaded all the audio meditations on my phone and fell asleep to them almost every night while I was pregnant with Jep.
When I went into labor, I had already visualized exactly how I wanted the experience to be and prayed for a smooth delivery. It was actually better than I imagined, and I’m so thankful I found that course and worked through the trauma from my first birth experience.
Prep your mindset:
1) envision your ideal birth
2) talk with your provider to map out details
3) accept that plans could possibly change and envision how you’ll feel if that’s the case
4) hypnobirthing practice, prayer, meditation
If you’re looking at this from a Christian point of view, in Philippians 4:8 we’re called to think about whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. I personally consider focusing on a positive birth experience to fall under all of those categories, whether you’re on the fence on meditation practices or not. I invited Jesus into that experience as a co-creator in my boys’ lives and that’s pretty dang cool, right?
3. Get Physically Ready.
Labor is a lot like running a marathon…but better. You get a precious baby at the end for your medal! The point is, you want to be prepared physically the same way you’d prep for a marathon run.
All about positioning
- See a chiropractor: Your main objective is to get baby in the BEST position to be born. This means inside your belly, he has his back against your belly button and his head is down. This way he’ll be able to “root” out on his big day! Seeing a chiropractor that uses the Webster technique is a gentle way to make sure your ribs aren’t getting kicked out and everything is lined up where it needs to be to help ensure the best positioning.
I will personally attest that chiropractic care during my second birth helped my back pain immensely and helped Jep be in a terrific position for birth. He basically ran out in under three hours from the start of labor!
- Sit on a birthing ball (aka yoga ball): make sure to find one that allows your hips to sit above your knees. The posture you’re in while bouncing around on this little ball will help baby line up perfectly for natural birth vs. reclining on the couch.
3. Posture is a big deal: like I mentioned above, the way you hold your body is huge when it comes to making sure baby is where he needs to be! When you get into your third trimester especially, you want to either be completely lying down or sitting up. Reclining is a no!
4. Exercises: some of my favorites for staying active and encouraging the best position for natural birth are walking, yoga, spinning babies inversion, stretching, and squatting (once you know baby is in the best position!). You don’t want to squat without knowing baby’s positioning when you’re far along in your third trimester, because you could end up helping them “engage” in a poor position.
Eat the rainbow.
You’ll need fruits, veggies, quality protein, and a clean prenatal vitamin. With plenty of water of course!
Now is a perfect time to get some meals prepped for your fourth trimester. See my list of make ahead nourishing postpartum meals
4. Advocate for your wants.
While you’re in active labor and breathing through contractions you probably don’t want to be playing a round of 20 questions with hospital staff. This is where having a birth plan and visualizing your ideal birth comes in! If you’re dead set against getting an epidural or don’t want continuous monitoring- let your doctor know ahead of time to discuss your options.
You also need to communicate your wishes with your husband or partner. Again, this convo needs to happen before you’re in labor! I made Travis my number one line of defense to protect my “zone” while I listened to my hypnobirthing meditations during labor. This way I was able to focus on breathing through surges, relaxing, and progressing.
You might want to consider hiring a doula also. They can run interference to communicate with your labor staff in the hospital or work together with your midwife. I personally made the choice to have Travis stand in this role for me and he was an amazing gatekeeper to protect my little slice of quiet I requested.
If you’re considering hiring a doula, doulamatch.net is a great place to get connected to a birth worker close to you.
5. Know your Options for Interventions
Our bodies were designed to deliver babies. Our hormones sync up beautifully in labor to help bring our baby out and into our arms.There’s lots of great info in this article on how that process works if you’re curious to know the nitty gritty details.
Here’s a quick run down to have an idea of what interventions might be offered to you so you can discuss them with your doctor and decide if any of these are right for you and your baby.
This one is fairly common, especially if a mama has reached her due date and isn’t showing signs of labor just yet. Another reason some practitioners will suggest induction is because the baby is “measuring large”. Low fluid levels are another reason this might be brought up near the end of your pregnancy.
Induction methods range from sweeping the membranes, breaking your water, or giving Pitocin. Pitocin is the synthetic form of oxytocin and helps the uterus contract during labor. This article goes into great detail about when Pitocin might be medically necessary. It also includes a list of risks and benefits.
Remember, mama: babies come when they’re ready.
Natural alternatives to induction.
If you’ve made it to 40 weeks and are beyond ready to meet your little one, you can try:
+Sex! Prostaglandins in semen can help jumpstart contractions. Your body naturally produces prostaglandins while in labor.
+Clary Sage Oil: a tiny drop blended with a carrier oil on your back is all you need! I swear this is what helped my labor kickoff with Jep. Just be sure you’re using a therapeutic grade oil.
+Relax, mama. Our bodies can transition into the birthing process calmly to go in with a solid mood and mindset. Go for a pedicure, get a massage, soak in an epsom salt bath. However you relax, do it!
2. Continuous Fetal Monitoring
If you’ve had a healthy, low-risk pregnancy be sure to ask your doctor or midwife about intermittent monitoring in labor instead. This way you can move around freely to change positions and can limit false alarms from the machine.
Natural alternative: intermittent monitoring.
3. The “Just In Case” IV
Planning a hospital birth? Some hospitals require mamas to have an IV for a laundry list of reasons: antibiotics, Pitocin, fluids, etc. Many hospitals also don’t allow mamas to eat or drink during labor “just in case” they need a c-section. That’s why they’re giving you alllll those fluids!
+Talk with your OB or midwife about opting out of the IV. Some hospitals require the minimum of a “saline lock” so you can be administered medicine via an IV if the need arises.
+Request that you’re allowed to drink water and fluids during labor in place of an IV. Most midwives and birthing centers will allow you to eat and drink freely in labor. You wouldn’t run a marathon without staying hydrated or eating, right?
My goal with this isn’t to make anyone feel guilty about having an epidural. My goal is to present information so you can decide whether or not you choose to pass on it! Epidurals absolutely have their place. They can help a mama who’s been in a long, difficult labor relax enough to push instead of heading straight to a c-section. They can take the edge off if it’s hard to get a handle on your mindset as contractions swell.
That being said…an epidural can throw off our body’s hormonal balance and slow contractions (because it’s suppressing oxytocin, the hormone that helps the uterus contract). When it comes times to push, the natural pain reliever we’d normally have in the form of endorphins is also thrown off by the epidural.
When to consider an epidural:
Epidurals aren’t all bad! I had one with my first baby, Wyatt. He was sunny side up and I had unmedicated back labor for over 10 hours. I was beyond exhausted and needed to rest. I ended up getting an epidural, and it allowed me to relax and rest to be able to deliver him without moving to a c-section.
If you end up getting an epidural, it’s ok! They’re sometimes absolutely needed. I do personally think they’re so often given out immediately before there’s a chance to watch labor unfold naturally. But if it’s decided that’s what best for you, there’s no shame in it at all.
Natural alternatives to an epidural:
+Hydrotherapy: can you soak in the tub? Let warm water fall on your back during contractions? If you’re at a birthing center (and even some hospitals!) you might have access to a birthing tub whether you opt for a water birth or not.
+Counter pressure: oh my gosh, mama- THIS is what saved me combined with listening to my meditations.
+Heat or ice: have your hubs move a heat pad or ice pack around where you need it!
The caesarian section rate in the US is 30% for low risk women.
Yep, you read that right!
Again, c-sections have their time and place. They are definitely a blessing to have when needed! But if you get induced you’re more likely to get Pitocin. If you get Pitocin you’re more likely to get an epidural. If you get an epidural you’re more likely to get a c-section. It’s the Cascade of interventions and they usually aren’t all necessary!
Natural alternatives to a c-section:
+Let labor progress naturally! For first time mamas especially things can take a while. Stay encouraged, change positions, and stay in your zone! You can do this.
My favorite acronym for determining if an intervention is necessary is BRAIN:
Benefits– what are the benefits of doing this?
Risks- what risks are associated with this?
Alternatives- what can we do instead?
Intuition- what’s my mom gut telling me is right?
Nothing- what if we do nothing or wait it out?
The magic phrase to remember: “What if we wait 20 minutes and see what happens” Always advocate for yourself, your baby, your birth plan, and your wishes.
You CAN do this.
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