Some women choose to experience childbirth as a natural event, using no medications at all. Instead, they use techniques like relaxation and controlled breathing for pain. The mother 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 experience extremely empowering and rewarding.
The Basics of Natural Birth
Natural birth may include:
- Going through labor and delivery without the help of medications, including pain relievers such as epidurals
- Using few or no artificial medical interventions such as continuous fetal monitoring or episiotomies (when the area between the vagina and anus, called the perineum, is cut to make room for the baby during delivery)
- Allowing the woman to lead the labor and delivery process
Why Choose Natural Birth?
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
Where Does Natural Birth Happen?
Many women choose to have a natural birth in a non-hospital setting like a birth center. In this environment, women are encouraged to move around during their labor, relax into positions that are most comfortable for them and spend time in a tub or jacuzzi. They also experience comfort measures like hydrotherapy, massage, warm and cold compresses and are often guided through visualization and relaxation techniques to help manage their pain.
A team of healthcare professionals including registered nurses, certified nurse midwives, and doulas 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 their cues from the woman giving birth, allowing labor to proceed more slowly as nature takes its course.
In natural birth settings, something called family-centered care is common. The father along with other family and friends may be allowed to attend the births. After birth, the baby might remain with the mother longer.
Natural Birth: What You Can Expect
How you choose to give birth and work through the pain 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 absolutely necessary. They believe in focusing on good nutrition and exercise during pregnancy in combination with relaxation and deep-breathing 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:
- hypnosis (also called "hypnobirthing")
- massage or counterpressure
- changing position (such as walking around, showering, rocking, or leaning on birthing balls)
- taking a bath or shower
- immersion in warm water or a jacuzzi
- distractions via activities that keep the mind otherwise occupied
- listening to soothing music
- visual imagery
What Might Cause a Need for a Hospital Transfer?
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.
- 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
Natural Birth: Is It Right For You?
If you want to have an active role in giving birth, want to have the option of moving your body into different positions while giving birth, don’t want to be separated from your baby in the hours after childbirth, and want to be in a familiar environment surrounded by loved ones, natural birth can be a beautiful option.
However, giving birth, whether at home or in a hospital, comes with risks and therefore it is also important to do your own research. Here are some tips to consider:
- Talk to your obstetrician and/or doctor.
- If you want a midwife, interview midwives about their birthing philosophies and experiences to find a midwife that you are comfortable with and respects your views on birth.
- Have a “plan b” just in case you need to be transferred to the hospital.
- Find a pediatrician that will be available to examine your baby right after birth.