What to Know About Natural Birth

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on April 23, 2023
4 min read

Some women may choose to experience childbirth as a natural event, using no medications at all. Instead, they use techniques like controlled breathing for pain or relaxation. The mother feels like she is in control while she is gently guided through the process by a midwife or labor assistant.

Electing to have a natural birth isn’t about being “brave” for many women — it’s about having the experience in its purest form without medical equipment or synthetic drugs. Women often find the natural birth experience extremely rewarding and empowering.

Natural birth may include:

  • Going through the entirety of labor and delivery without the help of medications, including pain relievers like epidurals
  • Using few or no artificial medical interventions, such as episiotomies (when the area between the vagina and anus, called the perineum, is cut to make room for the baby during delivery) or continuous fetal monitoring
  • Allowing the mother to lead the labor and delivery process

You might choose a planned home birth for different reasons, which may include:

  • A desire to give birth without medical treatments, such as pain medication, labor augmentation, labor induction, or fetal heart rate monitoring
  • A desire to give birth in a comfortable, familiar place surrounded by family
  • Dissatisfaction with hospital care
  • A desire for freedom and control in the birthing process
  • Cultural or religious concerns
  • A lack of access to transportation
  • Lower cost

Many women choose to have a natural birth in a birth center or other non-hospital setting. In this environment, women in labor are encouraged to move around, relax into comfortable positions, and spend time in a tub or jacuzzi. They also experience comfort measures like massage, hydrotherapy, warm and cold compresses, and are often guided through relaxation and visualization techniques to help manage their pain.

A team of healthcare professionals including certified nurse midwives, doulas, and registered nurses are there to support the mother through labor and also monitor the baby’s progress, often using a handheld ultrasound device.

Some hospitals also offer more natural childbirth options. They’ll often have birth centers, where a natural birth is possible, but medical intervention is available when needed. Most healthcare professionals take cues from the woman giving birth, allowing labor to proceed at a slower pace as nature takes its course.

In natural birth settings, something called family-centered care is common. The father along with other friends and family may be allowed to be present during the births. After birth, the baby might remain longer with the mother.

How you choose to give birth and work through the pain of it is up to you. The two most common childbirth philosophies are called the Lamaze technique and the Bradley method.

The Lamaze technique. The Lamaze technique follows the philosophy that birth is a natural, healthy process but leaves the option for pain medication open. They empower women to decide what’s best for them.

The Bradley method. Also called the Husband-Coached Birth, this method emphasizes the avoidance of medications unless they are absolutely necessary. They believe in focusing on exercise and good nutrition during pregnancy in combination with deep breathing and relaxation techniques used as a way of coping with the pain during childbirth. Although they encourage a medication-free birth experience, they do prepare mothers for unexpected complications or potential emergency c-sections.

Other ways women handle pain during labor include:

  • Changing positions (such as rocking, showering, or leaning on birthing balls)
  • Distractions via activities to keep the mind otherwise occupied
  • Hypnosis (also called "hypnobirthing")
  • Immersion in warm water or a jacuzzi
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Massage or counterpressure
  • Meditation
  • Taking a bath or shower
  • Visual imagery
  • Walking
  • Yoga

If complications or an emergency situation comes up during childbirth, you might be transferred to a hospital. The most common instances where this is likely to happen include:

  • Your labor isn't progressing
  • Your baby shows signs of distress
  • Your baby presents in a position other than headfirst
  • You need pain relief
  • You have high blood pressure
  • You experience bleeding

If you want to have an active role in giving birth, want to have the option of moving your body into different positions during labor, don’t want to be separated from your baby in the hours after childbirth, and want to be in a cozy and familiar environment surrounded by loved ones, natural birth can be a beautiful option.

However, giving birth comes with risks, whether at home or in a hospital. Therefore it is also important to do your research. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Find a pediatrician that will be available to examine your baby right after birth.
  • Have a “plan b” just in case you need to be transferred to the hospital.
  • If you want a midwife, interview midwives about their experiences and birthing philosophies to find one you are comfortable with and respects your views on birth.
  • Talk to your obstetrician and/or doctor.