Why Natural Birth Is So Beneficial For Baby & Mama

Over 80% of American women have an epidural during labor. Over 30% of women give birth via cesarean in the US. So you have to wonder, why would anybody want to go natural?

That was my question when I became pregnant with first child Griffin. I was living a natural life at the time, so liked the idea of a natural birth. But, I was also scared of the pain.

Could I really show up to it? Could I even have a natural childbirth? After all, my mom had two c-sections, maybe I would follow suit.

I started to research childbirth, and I was amazed at what I discovered

The benefits of a natural birth are profound. And while not every birth can end this way, I certainly was going to give it my all to have a natural childbirth. I went right out and joined some natural birthing classes.

In this post, I’ll share a handful of benefits of natural childbirth – some of which may surprise you!

Please know that my intention in this article is not to condemn, criticize or judge any mother who chooses to have any interventions. Nor is it my intention that any mother should feel bad about her labor. Birth is a mystery and each one unfolds as it needs to. Sometimes babies are even born in cars! We can steer the ship as best as we can, but ultimately, the process is much bigger than us. I, myself, had interventions with my first birth.

My intention with this post is to educate and empower mamas about birth and interventions so that they can chose what’s right for them (or forgive themselves if they don’t have the power of choice due to urgent medical needs.) I hope this post is helpful to you!

Women are designed to give birth

As much as this sounds obvious, I think many doctors lead us to believe differently. The truth is, in most cases, women are perfectly capable of giving birth to a healthy baby without any interventions. Birth is a normal biological function not a medical event. Though we are incredibly lucky to have interventions if they are necessary, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that normally, birth happens on its own.

The disbelief of this truth has far reaching consequences. One study found that women who were fearful of childbirth were more likely to have longer labors and were more likely to need instrument assistance or an emergency c-section. We need to dispel these fears and empower ourselves with the facts around natural birth.

Pain is part of nature’s plan

Sensation is important to birth a baby. Labor pain in natural birth helps a mom find what works for her to bring baby into the world. The choices she makes instinctively will help her contractions be as productive as possible.

Pain helps tell mom when it’s time to change positions so baby can continue down the birth canal. It also helps mom know when it’s time to push, how to push, and when to stop pushing to avoid a tear.

Changing positions, meditating, breathing deep, listening to soothing music, or using water are very effective ways to cope with labor pain. But the biggest helpers in natural birth are endorphins. During labor, oxytocin stimulates contractions and endorphins are released to help ease pain. Oxytocin helps mom go into a meditative state and find what works best for her during labor.

Interventions like epidurals and Pitocin interfere with this natural cascade of hormones and can prevent mom from entering this meditative labor state and getting the full benefit of her endorphin surges. This can result in feeling more pain, discomfort or anxiety.

Sometimes the epidural is turned down for pushing (a numb mom can’t push effectively) and she is flooded with pain and no endorphins to help.

Likewise, when the Pitocin is turned up for stronger contractions, the mom is not supported by her body’s natural pain relievers.

Natural birth is usually safest & healthiest for baby

Baby gets huge benefits when delivered by natural birth.

Cesarean birth

Vaginally born babies have more diversified microbiomes, less allergies, less risk of obesity, asthma, and diabetes in childhood and later.

Babies receive protective bacteria from the birth canal that helps build their immune system. Babies born via cesarean birth are more likely to pick up bacteria that is on skin, mostly harmful bacteria like staph.

Passing through the birth canal in a natural birth also helps shape the head and expel amniotic fluid from the lungs which lower baby’s risk for respiratory problems like asthma.

Cesarean births are linked to obesity and diabetes later in life. Researchers theorize that this finding could be because:

  • The stress of birth may alter the activity of genes in the baby.
  • Differences in gut bacteria could affect later health.
  • Not being exposed to infections early in life (as c-section babies often are) may reduce a child’s immune response against it.

This preliminary study suggests that natural birth may also boost brain development.

Epidurals & Narcotics

Narcotic drugs cross the placenta to reach the baby’s bloodstream and can affect the baby’s heart rate during labor as well as their transition to breathing and breastfeeding after birth. Narcotic medications affect babies in the same way they affect moms, producing drowsiness, disorientation, and depression of heart rate and breathing.

Epidural anesthesia also affects the baby in a multitude of ways. Changes in the mother’s blood pressure following administration of the epidural can cause the baby’s heart rate to go down. While this problem can usually be corrected with position changes and administration of intravenous fluid, in rare cases it can lead to an emergency cesarean. Likewise, the baby’s ability to process and excrete drugs is not as mature as an adult’s, so even though only small amounts of epidural anesthesia medications are found in the baby’s bloodstream, studies have shown that it takes babies much longer to excrete medications used for local epidural anesthesia. Some studies have found that epidurals can negatively affect baby’s immune system, and may compromise fetal heart rate and blood supply at birth.

Epidurals can cause fever in mothers during labor. Babies born to mothers with fevers are more likely to have poor tone, to require resuscitation, to have seizures in the newborn period, and have low APGAR scores.

Finally, some studies have concluded that babies born to mothers who had an epidural during labor demonstrate more disorganized behavior in the early days and weeks, as well as a reduced ability to initiate and continue successful breastfeeding. More studies need to be done to determine if these effects are related to the epidural or simply related to the types of births that may necessitate an epidural, but it’s just another reason to use caution when choosing interventions.

In summary, epidurals have been proven to affect babies in the following ways:

  • Cause fetal heart rate changes that may necessitate a cesarean birth
  • Stress the baby’s system in charge of excreting medications
  • Affect APGAR scores and increase need for resuscitation
  • Impact early bonding and breastfeeding

Natural birth is usually safest & healthiest for mom

Natural birth also benefits mom.

Cesarean birth

One reason that cesarean births are on the rise may be that doctors have a relaxed attitude about cesarean section surgery. The truth is cesareans are major abdominal surgery with side effects including severe bleeding, scarring, infections, reactions to anesthesia (like nausea and vomiting) and, of course, a longer recovery time.

Longer-lasting side effects can include bowel problems where the intestines don’t move waste properly and a possibility that another organ, like the bladder, could be injured.

Any incision made in the uterus has the potential to cause uterine rupture in subsequent pregnancies, a very rare but serious complication.

Epidurals & Narcotics

As previously mentioned, narcotics affect mother and baby in similar ways. The disorientation, grogginess, and impaired memory that comes with narcotic administration during labor not only affects the woman’s ability to move freely but also may affect her ability to remember the birth and bond with her baby in that first hour or two following birth.

Additionally epidurals can cause a number of side effects for mom. Epidural use puts mom at increased risk of severe perineal tear, cesarean birth, need for Pitocin, persistent posterior baby position, instrumental birth and complications from instrumental birth, and pelvic floor problems such as incontinence and sexual disfunction.

In addition, during a vaginal birth, epidural anesthesia lengthens the 2nd stage of labor (pushing) by 2-3 hours, possibly because mom can’t feel “how” to best move baby or because the epidural has numbed the vagina, which normally signals the extra oxytocin release that pushes baby out. Some moms have the opposite effect as the epidural can calm and relax the pelvic muscles so baby can be pushed out without surgery.

Pitocin use during labor can cause unusually strong or frequent contractions which may cause fetal distress and result in an emergency c-section.

In summary, epidurals have been proven to affect mothers in the following ways:

  • Increase risk of severe perineal tearing and pelvic floor problems
  • Increase risk of cesarean birth or instrumental vaginal delivery (vacuum or forceps delivery)
  • Increase need for Pitocin
  • Lengthen the second stage of labor
  • Increase the chances of having a posterior baby which can lead to longer labors and pushing times and cesarean birth

Natural birth benefits breastfeeding

Establishing breastfeeding early is the best way to ensure a long and happy nursing relationship. Pitocin use is associated with newborn jaundice and jaundiced babies are known to have difficulty breastfeeding.

Pain medication such as Demerol can interfere with the newborns ability to suck. This study concluded that this drug is best avoided during birth.

A number of studies have found a correlation between epidural use and fewer breastfed babies though no correlation to breastfeeding attempts. That means that women weren’t less likely to try just less likely to succeed. One study found that epidural anesthesia during birth correlated to ending breastfeeding by 24 weeks postpartum.

C-sections can cause breastfeeding problems. Pain medication given to you for recovery can cross over into your milk and cause a sleepy baby. Sleepy babies have trouble nursing. Also, moms aren’t always able to breastfeed within that first hour postpartum due to recovery from surgery. Some hospitals may rush to supplement, which can cause issues with long-term breastfeeding successThis study showed that women who had a cesarean section had a “significant delay in initiating breastfeeding compared with women giving birth vaginally”.

Natural birth bottom line

Though natural birth is best, thank God we have interventions. I would not be alive today if it wasn’t for cesareans. I also had Pitocin administered during the last 20 minutes of my birth with Griffin due to an exhausted uterus. I had to grieve that my birth didn’t go as planned and no mom should feel guilty about their unique experience.

The point is to use interventions judiciously. With our high c-section and epidural rates, my sense is that many people don’t understand the full picture. There are ways we can optimize interventions such as having a Gentle Cesarean. Bottom line, we need to know the risks and benefits; and then make the best choice for ourselves, our families and our births.

How about you?

Did you have a natural birth? Why or why not?

References

  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595040/
  • http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03126/Newborn-Janudice.html
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12583645
  • http://jn.nutrition.org/content/131/11/3012S.full
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3110651/
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2730905/
  • http://www.bbc.com/news/health-26355416
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3237660/
  • http://chriskresser.com/natural-childbirth-v-epidural-side-effects-and-risks/
  • http://www.webmd.com/baby/tc/cesarean-section-references#tn10095
  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/06/epidurals-prolong-labor_n_4738949.html

 

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18 Comments

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  1. I thinking you show natural birth and it is safe for all parties then you do you.

    However after being a week over due with me first, not dialting having to be induced , so I go 12 hours then the doctor breaks my water and I dialite to 5 and stop. After 5 hours longer, they have to put more fluid in me. My blood pressure is up. I had to wear oxygen, talks of a c section took place. But I didn’t have to have one because I calmed down after the epidural. I do wear a scar from that but who cares they didnt.give me a prize for being in pain.
    I used the laughing gas which is a joke it worked after the contraction was over .my child came out screaming and everything fine and has never been since in her 16 months of life.

    I truly believe if I didn’t have a eperidal I would of had a stroke or heartache or worse. Put I had stabbing pain my side like knives. The night before I would watch my stomach rise and fall with contractions and I think that is normal. Well if that is then that was easy. And I only tore 2 mm.3 stitches and I was good. Factors that might of contributed to me not being able to do the natural route

    My pelvis is tilted
    Blood pressure issues before concecption
    Being medically induced ever step of the way
    First baby
    A large cyst on my ovary

    Don’t know if any of these factor played a role.

    But I wanted to go natural with my first but glad the epidural was there. It was such a relief, I could of sleep thourgh birth it was awesome.

    Hopefully with number 2 I can go natural

  2. I have a 6 month old boy. I wanted an unmedicated natural birth with my first, but could not find a doctor in my country who knows natural birth, and there are no midwives nor birthing centres here. I ended up with a doctor my friends said was the best of all available, because she wouldn’t hurry to c sections. Birth plans are unheard of here, and the doctor decides everything for you. They don’t even ask! I tried talking to my doctor about letting me birth upright, to delay cord clamping but she was furious. Then I planned to go unassisted but also knew no one would support me. That’s what indeed happened. I was called to come for an induction on my due date but I insisted in waiting, and went into labor at 40w 6d. It was the best feeling ever. Contractions were so painful and required all my attention, and I loved each and every one of them. I was in labor for 7 or 8 hours when my husband (who never got himself educated on childbirth as I wanted) panicked and decided that I go to the hospital. It was so heartbreaking. And I thought I wouldn’t need any interventions even if I go in, because I checked my cervix before going to the hospital and I could touch baby’s head! I was 3 cm dilated and my water hadn’t broken.

    I eneded up in the hospital. As soon as I went in, they started those vaginal exams. Right in the peak of the contraction they do it. And they don’t even ask if you’re okay! They ask you nothing. Upon admission my husband had to sign an agreement I didn’t read but it basically meant I’m handing myself over to them and can’t refuse anything they do. I felt defeated. My husband was not able to speak on my behalf. (And doulas arent available here). I was forced to wear fetal monitoring belts all the way until I gave birth. They were tight and makes contraction pains 10x worse. I was forced to lie on my back, not allowed to move, and even when my labor was progressing I was done a sweep (without consent) and then enema (ouch got me hemarroids I can’t get rid of still) and put me on IV. I felt disabled and started crying my eyes out. I hated my husband for everything. I cried until I got dehydrated and was shaking. Had to turn the ac off and get a thick blanket. Tried to come to terms with it and then she ruprtured my membranes and put me on pitocin. Worst feeling ever. I was in the labor room for 7 hours and I’m sure they checked me over 7 times. Would shout at me if I sit up on the bed. By the time I was 7 cm I felt like a dead body. I could hear them talking but couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. Couldn’t help but scream. Then I saw that baby’s heartbeat dropped but thanks to God there was no nurse around and I just focused on breathing out of fear of being taken to a c section. Had the urge to push at 8 or 9 cm but was not “allowed” to push. And when I was fully dilated I pushed just thrice and baby was out. He was 7.7lbs. Was done an episiotomy (routine). Baby was put on me over the gown and I literally felt nothing. I didn’t even touch the baby. But then when I realised what just happened I asked the doctor to wait to cut the cord. She got mad and said its been 30 seconds, and baby would need suction bla bla n cut the cord, took him away. I was stitched up and got to see the baby again after several minutes, maybe an hour.

    My stiches took 3 weeks to heal and hemarroid 2 months (and keep recurring). Had no issues breastfeeding and he’s a healthy boy.

    Till this time I break into tears whenever I recall the birth experience. Many people tell me I had a good birth and I’m lucky etc. I suffered severe PPD, thought of harming myself, and had to come to live with my family because husband didn’t help. He still criticises me saying I’m not patient enough to give birth.

    Can’t think of anything other than an unassisted birth for a next baby. Can’t wait to get pregnant again, I so want to have a healing physiological birth.

    Do you suppory unassisted birth? How do I prepare for one?

  3. My labor started when my water broke on its own. I labored naturally for around 42 hours at home and at a birth center. Then, it was strongly suggested that I go to the hospital for an epidural, and soon after, pitocin. I ate, drank and rested. Fortunately, I was still able to feel every contraction and had a very strong urge to push. My midwife caught my baby and he was placed right into my chest! We were successful at breastfeeding and he weaned himself around 11 months. Although it wasn’t my all natural birth I dreamt of, I feel I learned a lot and have an overall sense of satisfaction. I’ve found a homebirth midwife this time around and can’t wait to meet my Baby Natural!

  4. I started out with a great group of midwives but have to move to Kansas at 7 months pregnant. There were no midwives close enough so I went with the most natural minded doctor in the area. However she was leaving three days after my due date to go to Haiti to train midwives. So my birth started with induction. She gave me a pill to start my labor. I was in early labor for about 20 hours. I walked, danced, bounced on the birthing ball. They did let me eat some but not as much as I wanted. Luckily we had thought to bring some protein bars with and I snuck those. I was so bored and tired. I accepted some iv meds to help me get some sleep. When I woke up i almost went right into active labor. They say u need a doula to have a natural birth, I jut needed my husband. He was amazing! About 7 hours active labor I didn’t feel any pain, just lots or pressure. I pushed for 1 1/2 and needed pitocin in the last 1/2 hour because I was so tired. While I was pushing my doctor had me rotate because my baby’s head wasn’t lined up right with the birth canal. Once he got lined up it was easy. Any other Doctor would have had a c-section. If I had had an epidural I would not have been able to rotate to get the baby positioned right. It was a great experience even if it didn’t go like I wanted it too but my ultimate goal-have a healthy baby-was accomplished.

  5. I wanted a natural birth after a scary experience with an epidural for my first. My first experience with an epidural was me passing out due to low blood pressure. Before I passed out, I remember the scariest feeling of not feeling anything. The nurse (according to my husband ) attempted to stop the epidural, but I didn’t wake. When I did, I had jumped from 5 to 10 centimeters, but still couldn’t feel anything below my waist. Normal except the epidural should have worn off. I had to push without feeling anything. Eventually my daughter was born but she was a lazy eater and I had a horrible spinal headache that lasted two weeks. I ended up formula feeding her after she was rehospitalized for failure to thrive.

    She’s now a beautiful, active three year old.

    With my next pregnancy, I wanted a natural delivery. I ended up with pre-eclampsia so I had to have interventions, but I labored without the epidural and he is now a thriving 1 year old and we’re still nursing.

  6. I had to have an emergency section as on examination during labour, baby was found to be a footling breech. My baby really struggled with breastfeeding, he had a slight tongue-tie but I strongly feel that in most part it was due to all the drugs in my system that made him sleepy. Expressing colostrum onto a syringe for two hours is a nightmare that I don’t ever want to repeat and one that set me up for weeks of breast tissue pain. My baby never really got to grips with suckling and weaned himself at 4 months,
    I have been booked for a home water birth this time and am so excited. Fortunately, in the UK we have a lot of choice and superb NHS homebirth teams- it can come with a lot of opposition from the consultants, but luckily, I haven’t really been met with much, as yet. If you are interested in a natural birth then my advice is to go for it!

  7. I was wondering if you could share your birth plan? I’m working on mine and need help!

  8. with my first baby I was induced 11 days overdue (?). labor was very intense after that and I started on the pain relief spiral downhill, with gas, then pethadine, then an epidural…..then, surprise, surprise an emergency c-cection.
    my second baby I went into labour bang on due date, but after that it was almost identical to my first birth, ending in a c-section.
    looking back on both births I realized they prepped me for surgery when I went to hospital. they wouldn’t let me eat or even drink while in labour and I was to naive to ask why not? I was so thirsty.
    with my 3rd after almost being tricked into signing papers to go ahead with tying my tubes while doing an elective c-section I found a midwife who agreed to help me vba2c…quite reluctantly though and under the condition that I gav birth at the hospital where I had my first 2.
    I DID IT!!! I refused pain relief (as I’m sure that’s why my first 2 births ended in c-sections) even though the hospital staff were almost beating down the door. they kept coming in advising epidurals and c-section etc. then said I wasn’t allowed to push for more than an hour! well I pushed for 1.5 hours….what a rebel! lol
    have had another with no medication since then and would do it the same again.
    our bodies are wonderfully designed to give birth to babies without any medical intervention and except in the case of emergencies I think should be allowed and encouraged to do it.
    go mamas!!

  9. I first want to say that I am so thankful for this post. I think it hits the nail on the head with some of the questions so many women ask about the point of natural birth. I’m working on my education to be a Certified Nurse Midwife, currently a BSN program nursing student. Because of this, I personally would have preferred to see a little more of the science and research in your actual post but I appreciate that you got most of your information from reliable sources such as the National Institute of Health and the scholarly journal, Birth. Overall though, I think this is a great post to get some of the information out there to the general public about natural birth, something I think American women are sold short on.

  10. (Appreciate the post, but whoa! That picture looks a little strange. Lovely little baby feet … but where’s the rest of the baby?)

  11. I really wanted natural births for both my babies. Unfortunately I ended up with emergency c-secs. My first I strongly believe was an ‘unessecearian’. I tried to VBAC at home with some fantastic midwives. But ended up in the OR again to find out there my uterus didn’t rupture but it exploded like a balloon. It was terrifying. My baby was born in perfect health with excellent apgars. This was nothing short of a huge miracle. The OBGYN later told me she was absolutely convinced my baby was no longer alive.
    My point? C-sections are a huge HUGE risk! Maybe not the first birth but the first one nearly cost me my second child. I’m thankful for the surgery that saved him but it was a c-section that got him near death in the first place.

    • I should add that I live 5 minutes from the hospital and that upon arrival al vitals of me and baby were perfect. Nobody suspected the rupture but me. I knew I needed that c section. I chose it.

  12. When I first got pregnant I wanted to have a planed c-section. I thought – I have nothing to prove… let the doctors to their job. I researched birth and came to a conclusion that I want to do it naturally after all . I want to do the thing that women have the privilege to do, to experience, I wanted that orgasmic feeling of holding my baby for the first time ever in both of our lives and be fully conscious and present for it. I wanted that challenge and grow swiftly into the motherhood though it (and now that I think back to the first moths of my daughter’s life, I know that birth was just a prep for all the sleepless nights of comforting and breastfeeding her). Giving birth and preparing for it isn’t just for the birth itself it’s for taking that biggest “promotion” in life that can be given to you (no man will ever know it).
    I had no idea what natural birth will be like for me. Sometimes I was scared that it might feel like a big wave smothering me in claustrophobic pain… it wasn’t.

    I wanted to give birth in a birthing centre (luckily enough I am based in Manhattan so that was an option). About ten days before my due date I was told by my midwife that my blood pressure is dangerously high. They were talking about inducing me, which wasn’t what I planned at all.
    I went home and thought it through. Induction sounded like a lot more pain (from what I had read at least), but since my baby’s safety was the most important thing I agreed.
    I think it helped that I had the night to “sleep” on my decision. I also discussed it with my doula (You got to have one if you really want a natural birth). I felt comfortable with having my baby at that point.
    The induction started and I had a feeling that the birth will go fast. And it did. a few drops of pitocin (4-6) was all it took. The “real” labor was about 4 hours long. I remember thinking “never again” “why am I doing this” (very tiring more than painful) during the contractions. Then the transition came and let me tell you- WOW…
    I kept going to the bathroom to pee or to be by myself not sure and then it hit me:
    “I love YOU” “I love you my baby” that became my mantra. I kept repeating it to my baby all the way through the transition phase. My midwife, nurse, doula took a step back and it was mine and only mine birth at that point. I probably said it about 300 times. Faster and more intense when at the peak of contraction, and then all of the sudden I was 10 cm ready to push out my baby who somehow knew that I love and ready to receive her into this world.
    Out she came. I felt like the richest woman in the whole world, like someone had given me everything I’ve every dreamed of. Holding was her. I had done it.
    It’s well worth the feeling.

    • Thank you so much for your story. I’m 23 weeks now, and your story is the most detailed and beautiful I’ve come across. I’m sitting here with tears seeing it like it’s a prediction.
      This makes me excited for the birth. It’s so easy to get totally freaked out by the thought of natural birth (I mean the whole modern world is ready to tell you just how crazy and naive you are), but reading about the benefits and your story, turns that fear into excitement.
      I just wish I could do it now. Patience is not my strong point…

  13. I had a natural birth, but not in the sense you think. All births are natural. A believe a better way to look at this topic is medicated vs unmedicated birth. As much as I wanted an unmedicated birth, I had to be induced and then asked for an epidural because even at the dose of 4 of pitocin, my body was not getting the rest it needed in between contractions. But after receiving the epidural, I was able to relax and my body did its job and I quickly dilated and then only pushed for 45 minutes before my daughter was born. I just wanted to bring up the terminology medicated vs unmedicated, as sometimes natural vs un-natural can have a negative sound to it, when in all actuality birth is all around natural. If you’d like to read my entire birth story, it’s on my blog at my website that was included with this comment.

    • I hear you on the term unmedicated versus medicated. I use the term “natural birth” just because it’s what people associate with birth without interventions. Sounds like your interventions help you have a better birth! That’s what it is about.

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