13 Benefits of Natural Childbirth

Birth has gone from being a normal biological process to a medicalized event. Epidurals, Pitocin, and IVs are the norm more often that not.

It doesn’t have to be this way…

And really, it shouldn’t be this way for the health of baby and mama.

While medical interventions can and do save lives in a small percentage of births, the majority of labors can unfold as nature intended. As natural mamas, we need to take back this experience!

Natural birth is a tremendous rite of passage, but you just may be surprised at how beneficial it is for baby and mama.

Here are 13 benefits of having a natural childbirth.

1. Freedom during labor

Having an epidural, IVs or continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) usually means you will be confined to bed, unable to walk or change positions when it would be beneficial to do so. Many moms don’t realize that they’ll be given a catheter once the epidural is administered so forget laboring on the toilet!

Natural childbirth allows you to move freely and work with your body to birth your baby. Freedom of movement makes labor easier, and sometimes faster. Women who walk and change position during labor experience increased comfort, are more likely to give birth vaginally, and have a better sense of control over their experience.

Freedom to eat and drink during labor is another way that natural childbirth helps women have easier births. A woman who is well nourished and hydrated is a strong woman ready for the hard work of labor.

2. Avoid the cascade of interventions

Each unnecessary intervention has the potential to lead to more interventions, including c-section. When birth begins on its own and continues on its own time, mom is less likely to need these interventions.

For example, if you have an epidural, labor is likely to slow which may mean that your doctor will give you Pitocin to push labor along. Likewise, if labor is induced and your body and baby weren’t ready you will not produce natural oxytocin to begin contractions. You will then need Pitocin to get contractions going.

Pitocin has the potential to create intense and frequent contractions that don’t allow mom or baby rest, which can reduce the oxygen supply to baby. If baby becomes distressed many doctors will recommend a C-section.

3. Avoid Cesarean

Natural childbirth reduces the risk of cesarean delivery. Simply planning a natural childbirth with trained professional midwives reduces your risk of having a cesarean section from 30% to about 5%. Hiring a doula decreases your risk of a cesarean by 60-80%.

There have been a number of studies addressing whether epidurals cause higher risk of cesarean section and none have found a direct link. Unfortunately, these studies are flawed because they compare epidural anesthesia to narcotic pain relief rather than unmedicated labor. However, we do know that epidurals increase the risk for forceps or vacuum assisted births, which are related to higher risk for C-section.

We also know that, though continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) is not evidence based, even with high-risk moms, most OBs will require you to be continuously monitored while on an epidural (and in some other cases too).  In a Cochrane review, continuous EFM was associated with an increase in pain medication use, cesarean sections and instrumental vaginal births including forceps and vacuum extraction.

4. Shorter, easier labor

In natural childbirth oxytocin signals the uterus to begin contracting and signals the brain to send endorphins, nature’s pain killer. It also signals the brain to continue sending oxytocin which will reach a peak during the pushing phase.

Epidurals interfere with this normal cascade of labor hormones and can slow labor significantly. Often Pitocin is recommended to get labor progressing.

When you have an epidural you can’t feel your lower body so you can’t change positions when it would be beneficial. Also, if you can’t feel your contractions you can’t push at the right time and with the right force to help baby out, resulting in a harder, longer labor.

5. Safer for baby

Epidural use can cause sudden blood pressure drop for mom which means less oxygen rich blood pumping to baby. This can result in fetal distress and many practitioners will recommend a C-section.

After an epidural, babies are less alert, less able to orient themselves, and have less organized movements for as long as a month after birth. Your body and the placenta help the baby to eliminate toxins while he is in your uterus. However, once he is born, his newborn liver will need to do it alone, which means it sometimes takes longer for babies to get rid of drugs and toxins in their system.

Narcotic pain relief medication can cause additional side effects in baby as well. These include:

  • Central nervous system depression
  • Respiratory depression
  • Impaired early breastfeeding
  • Altered neurological behavior
  • Decreased ability to regulate body temperature

Because of these side effects, baby may need additional medications.

6. You’re present during natural childbirth

Narcotic pain relief can cause mom and baby to be groggy and “out of it.” Forgoing this kind of pain relief will help you to stay present during the birth of your baby. Even epidural pain relief can make you feel disconnected from your child’s birth. Though the medication may not make you feel groggy, the lack of sensation and connection to the physical act of giving birth may make you feel disconnected from the experience. Some moms have to be told when to push because they can’t feel the urge. Moms may also have an epidural “hangover” or feel itchy as the result of the procedure.

Unmedicated, natural childbirth, on the other hand, requires your full attention. Some women describe it as “other worldly” because of the connection between mind and body that has to occur during birth. With the rush of natural endorphins, some moms even enjoy giving birth rather than just suffering through it.

7. Natural childbirth is empowering

Natural childbirth supports the idea that childbirth is a rite of passage. Because of the blood, sweat and tears that you put into birth, there is something really transformational that happens. Some like to say that you go into birth as a maiden and come out the other end as mother. Natural childbirth advocates know that this journey to motherhood is a necessary one. They know that it is empowering for a woman to give birth on her own terms. To make choices for herself and her baby without coercion, guilt and ridicule. The mother needs to feel empowered and encourage as her birth unfolds.

8. Better breastfeeding right after delivery

A sleepy baby doesn’t breastfeed as well. The less he eats, the more sleepy he becomes and the less he will nurse. This can start off the nursing relationship with some bumps in the road. Pitocin can cause jaundice in some newborns, which makes babies lethargic and sleepy as well. Narcotic pain medication can also cause sleepiness in baby, while epidurals have been associated with fewer successful breastfeeding relationships in the first 24 hours though there was no reduction in breastfeeding attempts.

According to La Leche League International pain relievers or anesthesia can contribute to breastfeeding problems:

  • The baby and/or mother may be sleepy or less alert and thus delay the first nursing.
  • The baby’s ability to suck, swallow, and breathe may be disorganized.
  • The baby’s rooting and sucking reflex may be delayed and depressed.

The most important time for establishing a breastfeeding relationship is in the minutes and hours just after birth. If mom and baby are sleepy, groggy or disoriented, they are much more likely to miss the opportunity to begin breastfeeding at the optimal time.

C-sections have also been associated with difficulty in breastfeeding (mostly because of hospital protocol getting in the way), and also with delayed onset of milk production due to the blunt in hormonal cascades that normally occur in natural birth.

9. Quicker recovery

Without the haze of drugs or the soreness of surgery, moms who experience natural childbirth are able to recover quickly and be present right after birth. Moms experience an oxytocin high which gives them a boost of energy to cuddle their baby and begin skin-to-skin touching, breastfeeding and eye contact, which in turn enhances the oxytocin cascade. Many moms are up and walking around shortly after natural birth.

10. Natural childbirth improves healthy gut flora

Natural childbirth benefits babies in their gut. Gut bacteria plays an important role in building and sustaining a strong immune system and proper digestion. Vaginally birthed babies have more diverse gut flora that they acquire in the birth canal.

Research has shown that babies who are born via cesarean delivery have less diverse gut flora and are more likely to have harmful skin bacteria like Staph and Strep that is usually present on the skin. This may be that babies born via c-section don’t come in contact with vaginal bacteria but instead gain their first colonization in the operating room from mom’s skin or the skin of practitioners.

Breastfeeding is another way that baby develops a healthy gut, so breastfeeding becomes even more important after a cesarean delivery.

11. Decreases risk of adult illness

As we mentioned, gut health is vital to overall wellness. Early healthy gut flora seems to be key in teaching an infants immune system what to attack and what to allow, meaning that autoimmunity is learned early.

Recent research, published in the British Medical Journal, revealed that c-section babies are more likely to develop obesity, asthma, and type 1 diabetes when they get older.

We also know that C-section babies are hospitalized more often for asthma, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disorder, immune system defects, leukemia, and other tissue disorders during their lives. They also have a 20% higher risk of developing asthma and an approximately 40% greater risk of developing immune defects.

Though not directly linked to cesarean delivery, unhealthy gut flora has been linked to allergies, autoimmunity, vascular disease, some cancers, depression/anxiety, neurodegenerative disorders and type 2 diabetes, so it makes sense that early unhealthy gut flora could contribute to these diseases later in life.

All is not lost if a child has to be born via Cesarean. These medical interventions can save lives and are absolutely necessary in about 10% of births. A mother can optimize her surgery by electing for a Gentle Cesarean. This practice will help to boost the health of her newborn and create some of the positive benefits of a natural childbirth.

12. Better brain development

A team of researchers found that natural childbirth triggers the release of a protein in a newborn’s brain that improves brain development and function in adulthood. This protein (UCP2), which regulates behaviors related to memory, learning, spatial awareness and stress response, is released as the hippocampus is stimulated in the birth canal. Alternately, The brains of cesarean babies may have impaired expression of the same protein.

Additionally, the protein help cells metabolize fat, which is a main component of breast milk, suggesting that triggering of the UCP2 protein through vaginal birth may help newborns transition to breastfeeding. Therefore, the lack of this protein may also contribute to cesarean babies and moms struggling more with breastfeeding.

13. Better fine motor and social skills

As if lower risk for blood transfusion, anemia and low blood volume weren’t enough reason to demand delayed cord clamping, research has found that there is another, surprising benefit to this natural childbirth choice.

One study found that babies who experienced delayed cord clamping had better fine motor and social skills at age 4 than those that had early clamping. This was especially true for boys. Researchers speculate that girls are more protected by the high levels of estrogen in utero.

Bonus Benefit: It’s Cheaper!

With healthcare costs rising finding a way to save money isn’t a bad idea. Natural birth is far less expensive than a birth that has many interventions. In the U.S., maternity care is not a package deal like it is in many other countries. Instead, women are charged a la carte for each procedure or test. An epidural alone costs around $1000 while a c-section can raise your bill by as much as $20,000.

Giving birth at a birth center or at home is also much less expensive than giving birth naturally at a hospital. The fee for midwifery services ranges, based on location, from $2000-$4000 while the cost for a vaginal birth at a hospital ranges from $10,000-$15,000.

Convinced? Learn how to have a natural birth here.

How about you?

What was the most surprising benefit of natural childbirth?

References

  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3110651/
  • http://sciencenordic.com/giant-study-links-c-sections-chronic-disorders
  • http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0042911
  • http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2296145
  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/29/doula-benefits_n_5730720.html
  • http://americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/narcotics/
  • http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03126/Newborn-Janudice.html
  • http://www.llli.org/docs/lad/ChildbirthandBreastfeeding.pdf
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1948086/
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595040/
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24 Comments

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  1. After delivery i had problem with vagina and i tried dermalmd it makes the skin tighten and smoothness,.PERFECT

  2. This is a great post, but I’m commenting to say I was a bit dissapointed to see the sentence “is natural childbirth worth the pain?” in my 12 week text. Natural childbirth and pain are NOT synonymous and I am a bit turned off to see this site feeding into that mentality. I want to do my part to let women know they can labor and birth naturally without pain. Please consider rewording your 12 week update text and help women release fear! Thank you 😍

  3. cute baby:D

  4. First that she came out so alert! I remember them putting her on my chest and her looking at me. Then shortly after she began looking for the nipple! Even my midwife hadn’t seen a baby do that so soon. Breastfeeding was pretty easy for us. We had no trouble with latching. She is still an alert baby. She’s 4 months now. I also had no tears. I think it’s because my midwife put some oil down there right before she crowned. Amazing experience. I am so happy I brought her in the world the way I did.

  5. I think you need to broaden your range for midwifery fees. I had a home birth in 2005 in Portland, OR and paid $5000 and that was almost 12 years ago! My second homebirth was in The central coast of CA and again cost $5000 in 2007. Now I am pregnant again and I live in Southern CA and my midwife charges $5500.

  6. I am so happy to hear there are so many benifits to having a natural birth. I had my natural birth in a hospital with a midwife and it was great. I was most excited to know It helped with brain development and healthy gut. Thank you for sharing these benefits with us!

  7. At 41 weeks and 5 days, my cervix was still shut up tight (they could wiggle a pinky finger tip in there), so I was urged to induce, despite best intentions to go all natural. The Cervidil to ripen my cervix was supposed to take 12 hours to work, but lo and behold, I went into natural labor about 6 hours into it. However, having only had 1 hour of sleep, I had a little narcotic pain killers to allow me to sleep between contractions. Baby came out 6 hours later, after the narcotic had worn off, with no other pain meds. I loved my labor experience. I loved feeling all her little body parts passing through the birth canal. I can’t remember the pain of contractions now, but I can still remember how that felt. I loved my body just knowing when it was time to push. So cool. I hope my next one will be similar (in 18 weeks or so!).

  8. I’ve given birth 5 times. 1st, a totally natural home birth complete with a labour pool. 2nd, a hospital birth with an effective epidural and complications from birthing a 10lb baby. Even with birth trauma, I felt better after 3 days from the hospital birth than 10 months after the home birth. Therefore I disagree with a lot of what this article promotes. 3rd and 4th were hospital births with ineffective epidurals. The 5th I did without the epidural and it was as bad or worse than the 1st, though much shorter – 8 hrs as opposed to 24. Each birth experience is unique. All my babies were very alert following birth – no difference between all natural home birth, high intervention hospital births, and all natural hospital birth. That is just my experience.

    • I agree. I’ve had three babies, the first two of which were with an epidural. My third was all natural, and I was so exhausted and spent after her birth that I felt like I could hardly even hold her. I was far more aware and alert and able to enjoy/ breastfeed my first two babies after they were born. I never noticed any differences in any of my babies’ alertness or ability to breastfeed after birth at all either. While I’m so glad I have the all natural experience under my belt, I’m not sure I want to do it that way again next time.

    • That’s great for you. I’m glad your children had such positive outcomes.
      Mine got so dehydrated from the epidural effects, we thought he was going to die. His fontanels sunk so far in and his cry went from weak to breathy and silent.
      Scariest week of my life with so much prayer. :'(

      • I have had three all natural births at a birth center. I was very alert and have that wonderful feeling of accomplishment and love for my new baby afterwards. I couldn’t stop staring at the newest miracle. My third baby, however, I had to be induced for health reasons and ended up at the hospital where I had to take some Demerol from the intense pain of the forced contractions . I was exhausted from the forced labor and, afterwards, I was too tired to even hold my baby. I just wanted somebody to take him so I could sleep. I’m hoping this next one will go well so I can have a beautiful all natural experience of a drug free labor.

  9. Every piece of child birth is a wild card. It’s impossible to know how you will feel, how long things will last, or how you might experience any intervention. My advice is to take everything you read and hear with a grain of salt. Know it’s a wild ride. Understand what the interventions may or may not do. Know you can say no to any (most) of them. You may be pressured to accept them. You may regret something later. Forgive yourself. No doubt, you’ll do your best.

  10. I agreed with every point except for us, one. With my oldest I got an epidural at the last minute, his face was facing my hip causing super intense back labor, he turned right before I started pushing. I had my husband push on my back for relief and I had HUGE black and blue bruises and after hours of this I got an epidural and he came within an hour and a half. My second was in perfect position and it was such an easy labor. BUT between the two, my second would not breastfeed. He also was super mucusy, despite the nurses best effort and I almost knew from the beginning he wouldn’t nurse long (we only managed 4 months. His body actually would relax during feedings when we switched to a bottle.) On the other hand my oldest was a champ nurser and would have breastfed for a whole year if I hadn’t gotten a super bad case on stomach flu when he was 7 month. Each child is different, it’s amazing how some do and some don’t fit into molds we create.

  11. My contractions were so hard with no room to breathe and collect myself, just one right on top of another. I begged for the epidural 14 hours into labor. It wasn’t my plan but that was all I could do. I dilated from 4cm to 10cm in15 minutes after the epidural went in! My son was already +2 long before the epidural. It took me 1hr to push him out and I could still feel my uterus contracting, it just wasn’t painful anymore. If I had to do it over again, I’d do it exactly the way I did. Fortunately, everything worked out for me.

  12. it sounds lovely but it’s not an option. I’m diabetic and high risk. A midwife cannot attend me in my state, nor are at home birth allowed. I tried all natural and wound up with a C-section and once a cesarean always a cesarean in my state.
    I’m just grateful I had my three and they are all healthy little humans growing just fine, three little girl four and under. In the end it’s how you love and raise them that influences who they will be.

  13. I had a natural breech delivery with my second child! So thankful for it now! I feel like I really accomplished something! With my first I felt very disappointed in myself because I was induced, had an epidural, had vacuum assist to deliver and it took me at least a month to heal from all the tearing!

  14. This is a great list, but makes mamas like me who know all of this and *wanted* a natural childbirth but could not have one feel more than a bit guilty.

    My water broke at 36 weeks, and despite trying all the ‘tried and true’ tricks to get labor started (walking, sex, acupuncture…you name it), 30 hours later there were still no contractions and we were given no option but to start pitocin. Everything else went pretty smoothly and thank goodness we didn’t need any more interventions, but it really wasn’t a ‘natural’ birth given how much pitocin I had. I know it was not your intention, but lists like this just make me feel guilty that I couldn’t figure out a way to get things going naturally.

    • Sweetie there’s a difference in choosing to do it and having no other option. You did what you had to. I wanted a natural birth my first, we went 2 weeks over. I had 2 weeks of light contractions 90% thinned and still couldn’t dilate. My Dr was more concerned about my daughters well being and I was induced. It wasn’t my plan but it was for her safety and that far more important. Now my son I was blessed enough to have him all on my own. I understand how you feel I stuggled with feeling like I’d hurt my daughter by not going on my own… But then I realized I’d hurt her a lot more by not doing it. We don’t always get to do things as we planned but putting the baby first is the most important thing even if it’s not our way. You sound like a wonderful mom whod do anything for your baby. Please don’t do like I did and waste time feeling guilty. Your baby is here and safe 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • At least you didn’t have to have a c-section first time out like me. 🙁 trying for a VBAC this time… But terrified I’ll end up having to have *another* surgery

      • I’m in the same boat as you. I lived in Alabama, where midwifery is illegal, and so I had to go to the hospital. Once I got there, my body shut down… I did NOT want to be there! After 24 hours of labor and not dialiating, my Dr. said he respected my wishes to have a natural, drug free birth, but my baby was showing signs of stress… and I thought I was about to die, so we had a c-section. it sucked. I had her at 11 p.m. and didn’t see her until I woke up, from having no sleep for two days and maybe the spinal tap, until 4 a.m. I always wonder what they did to her without me knowing. My Dr. was great and stitched me up so I could vback the next time… which is now in March. I’m in Tennessee now and I have a midwife and I’m doing a home birth with a water tub. Honestly, I’m just afraid that I’m not going to be able to push and I’ll have to go into a hospital again. I swear though, If that happens, we’re leaving as soon as I can function! We won’t stay there for three days, or whatever it is… I want to be at home! Good luck to you! I’m sure we can do it… self-doubt go away!!!

    • I understand lists like this might make you feel guilty but as a soon to be first time mother, lists like this are very helpful for me and I need to read these things. I doubt the writer posted this list to make you feel guilty, rather she posted this more for women like me who are debating pros and cons of natural childbirth, epidural use, etc. If everyone felt uncomfortable for published reasons to go natural, I’d have no information to make my decision.

  15. With my first I had a natural hospital birth. The only thing that may not have counted as natural would be that the day I went into labor I had my normal checkup where they did a vaginal examine and therefore stripped the membranes. Can you shed some light on how that could effect the things you listed?

  16. Feeling my daughter help push herself out was amazing and was something I missed with my son’s medicated birth. The recovery with her was AWESOME compared his labor. I can’t even compare them.

  17. I went natural with my first because our state has horrifying cesarean rates, and I was terrified of the prospect. I ended up with a midwife at a free standing center for that reason alone. The post-birth high and super easy recovery we’re added bonuses. And my brief stint in the hospital after our accidental homebirth was enough for me to realize that I would hate giving birth there unless absolutely necessary.

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