Labor and delivery is something near and dear to my heart right now since delivering our 3 week old baby girl, Eden Elyse! I have been very passionate about natural birth ever since I became pregnant with Ezra, but now that I’ve just experienced it for the second time with Eden I wanted to share some thoughts on the topic and some ways I was able to prepare for it. Along with just a few newborn pictures because I can’t help but share them 😛
It is obviously an incredibly personal and complex decision but for me personally, doing everything I can to have natural births is extremely important. Anyone who knew me growing up is pretty surprised at this since I was incredibly adamant that I would NOT endure the “horrible, unnecessary pain” of labor if I had the possibility of simply using medication and getting an epidural. However as I got older and began to really study pregnancy and labor, I (very) slowly changed my mind and decided that I really wanted to make every effort to have a natural labor and birth.
This is definitely not a blog criticizing anyone for deciding to have a medicated birth! I fully understand the potential benefits and that in many cases it can help women when they’re experiencing long and/or extremely difficult births. Of course in some cases natural births are simply not possible as well and there are certainly times when interventions are completely necessary. However those special situations aren’t common, so I do feel that it is important for us as women to understand the potential consequences of using pain medicine and especially epidurals when they aren’t necessary.
There are so many factors to consider that, like any topic, it can quickly feel overwhelming, but one of the first things I learned after researching was that I did not want to be induced unless it was absolutely necessary. So many women (one recent survey said around 30 percent) begin labor through induction rather than waiting for it to occur naturally. While in some instances this is necessary, most of the time it is definitely not. Our bodies know when they are ready to give birth better than we do, and unless there is an emergency, induction can cause more problems than it helps. Many times Pitocin, the synthetic version of oxytocin, is used to induce labor. Pitocin typically creates more intense contractions than naturally occurring ones, so women who use it are more likely to ask for (or need) an epidural. Epidurals greatly restrict your ability to help your labor along since you can’t move out of bed, so they typically result in a longer labor. Consequently, you may need an increase of pitocin in order to get stronger, effective contractions. Another potential side effect of an epidural is that since you can no longer move around in order to help the baby be in a correct position for birth, there is the potential increased risk of a C-Section, vacuum, or forceps. To summarize, unnecessary inductions are oftentimes a slippery slope toward other interventions compared to allowing your body to go into labor naturally.
Even more importantly in my opinion are the potential side effects of a medicated birth to the baby verses a natural birth. Research shows that the drugs used in an epidural can linger in the baby much longer than they do in the mother, and can cause potential issues with their abilities immediately following birth (including breastfeeding), negative effects to their immune system, as well as a decrease in blood and oxygen supply during labor. Pitocin has some possible negative effects as well as it can cause contractions that are too strong and close together causing potential stress on the baby.
Of course this is just a very quick summary of why I decided to opt for a natural birth, but I ultimately decided that while these interventions can be life saving, wonderful things, I only wanted to use them in serious cases of emergency. So I began researching how to have the best natural labor and birth possible!
During Ezra’s pregnancy Craig and I took a “Bradley Method” class, and read the books associated with it. This class, along with another book called “Christ Centered Childbirth” were HUGE inspirations to me and I felt thoroughly encouraged and educated on how to have the best possible natural birth. Don’t get me wrong, labor is no joke. It’s hard. But we did it, and it was worth it, and I’m still advocating for it just a few short weeks after experiencing it! So here are a few tips on how to prepare for a natural labor and birth based on my experience with Ezra and my very recent experience with baby Eden.
- Walk! This one probably isn’t much of a surprise, but it really is so helpful. Walking is fabulous for getting that sweet baby down into position and allowing gravity to help get the labor process started. It also is a relatively simple way to keep your legs, hips, and back strong and capable for the birthing process.
- Relaxation. One of the biggest principles in the Bradley Method of labor is relaxation. Tensing up, clenching your fists and teeth, drawing your knees up… all typical reactions to the pain of labor, but very unhelpful in allowing your body to give birth! The muscles of your uterus need to relax in order to allow your cervix to open, and when you tense up, it fights against your uterus and can potentially stop your cervix from opening effectively. So leading up to labor, it’s very helpful to practice relaxing all of the muscles of your body and learning what that feels like. You need to be able to recognize when your body/mouth/hands are tensing up so that you can work toward loosening and relaxing them. This creates much less painful contractions and allows your body to open up effectively in order to deliver your baby.
- Red raspberry leaf tea and dates. My midwife has (along with many other sources) often suggested drinking red raspberry leaf tea in the last weeks of pregnancy to help prepare your body for labor! It is said to help tone your uterus and pelvic floor muscles, as well as potentially increase breastmilk supply. Another study showed that eating dates every day has can potentially shorten labor! I didn’t try the dates tip with Ezra, but they’re delicious and a main ingredient in one of our favorite snacks, larabars! So I thought it couldn’t hurt, and if Eden’s delivery is any indication, they definitely helped! Active labor with Ezra was around 10 hours and Eden’s was hardly 2!
- Kegels! These pelvic floor exercises are so helpful in giving you more control over your body during labor. They are shown to decrease the risk of complications as well as shorten the overall duration of labor and delivery. They also help with healing after birth, as well as regaining control over your pelvic muscles and bladder.
- Pelvic Rocking. This is done by essentially rocking your pelvis back and forth on your hands and knees. This helps to strengthen your hip muscles as well as encourage the baby into the correct position. Ideally the baby will be facing your spine, so this pelvic rocking will use gravity to help pull their spine toward the floor/your belly button. Plus it can be very soothing on that irritating back pain during pregnancy! I did this CONSTANTLY with Eden because we were worried she was in the posterior position, so maybe they contributed to that quick labor!
So those are just a few simple tips for preparing for a natural labor! I would definitely encourage reading some of the books I mentioned as well as taking a natural birthing class if you’re really interested in a natural birth. Learning multiple techniques for coping with labor is very helpful since everyone copes with pain in different ways. You can’t do too much research! 🙂
I want to end this post by reemphasizing that I am in no way belittling anyone who chooses to not have a “natural” birth! I realize that there are multiple reasons for using interventions, and it is every mother’s own personal decision. However I wanted to share a little bit about why it has become so important to me to strive for a natural birth if at all possible. I wanted to create the best possible environment (internally and externally!) for my babies to be born and give them the absolute best start to life that I could. The temporary pain was absolutely worth being in control of my labor and birth and welcoming a very alert and healthy baby into the world! I am so thankful that I’ve been able to experience it twice and hope to be able to experience it again with future babies! 🙂