Having a baby is a little like getting married, in the sense that every pregnant woman has a vision of how her labor will unfold. You might picture yourself in a modern hospital delivery room, pain-free and supported by every medical aid available. Or you might envision a more natural scene: giving birth surrounded by friends and family, with no drugs.
How you deliver is your choice, barring medical complications. But just like a wedding, natural childbirth requires some research and planning, well before your first contractions kick in.
"In general, it implies a non-medicated birth where you're letting the natural process of labor and birth take place without any interventions," says Christine Isaacs, MD, director of the General Obstetrics & Gynecology Division at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center and director of Midwifery Services for the VCU Health System.
During natural labor, you won't get an epidural or medicine to relieve pain, although you may use pain-relief methods, such as massage, hypnotherapy, or a warm-water bath. You'll also avoid medical interventions like an episiotomy, in which a doctor cuts the area between the vagina and anus to widen it for birth.
Isaacs says she's a fan of natural childbirth because it counteracts a lot of the anxiety attached to the birthing process. Yet natural childbirth isn't for everyone -- especially if you have a high-risk pregnancy. "The purpose of prenatal care is to determine who is a good candidate for a natural birth versus who might not be," Isaacs says. "That's where having a relationship with a trusted provider becomes very important."
Choosing Labor Partners
If you opt for natural delivery, you'll want to decide who will be with you. Isaacs shares her advice for choosing labor partners.
Midwife match. Often in natural childbirth, you'll be assisted by a midwife instead of a doctor. Make sure the professional you choose is prepared to stick to your birth plan and will not call in the anesthesiologist at your first twinges of pain.
Support person. Have someone by your side who will stay calm and support you through the delivery, no matter what happens. That might be your partner or a friend; a person who is committed to helping you realize your delivery goals.
Safe word. Make one person at the delivery your rescuer. Choose a word only the two of you know, like "April." When you say the word, it means you're done with natural childbirth and want pain relief.