A Quick Guide to Defining Natural Birth
As noted, we will be discussing Natural Birth this month.
To make these conversations easier, let’s define Natural Birth by first explaining what it is NOT.
✗ Hospital Birth
We are not going to consider hospital birth as natural birth, although you can have natural birth at a hospital. Most hospital deliveries are done on a bed connected to IVs and monitors.
There is some controversy over this as excluding hospital birth from natural birth has been considered shaming but that’s far from true. Natural as an adjective does not signify good or bad, it means it adheres closely to nature.
And because women have given birth outside of hospitals for thousands of years, we associate out-of-hospital birth as following a natural model. Hospital births started happening around the early 1900’s which means that they have only been happening for the past 100 years or so. This is interesting because now hospital births make up more than 98% of all births yearly while out-of-hospital births make up less than 2% of all births nationwide.
Common concerns are related to setting ambiance, doctor workload, pressure on the mother to birth quickly, and low flexibility in birth plan (such as in umbilical clamping or mandatory newborn medicines).
✗ Medicated Delivery
Medicated births involve taking drugs during labor or delivery, usually to dull the pain associated with childbirth.
Pain relief medications for birth fall under two categories: anesthetics and analgesics. Anesthetics block pain and most feeling altogether, they are usually delivered locally. Think of an epidural which is injected into the spine to numb the area without causing the mother to lose consciousness. Possible side effects are nerve damage, heart problems, blood pressure issues, and allergic reaction.
Analgesics are opioids that lower your awareness of pain and calm you. Side effects may include changes in breathing and heart rate in both mom and baby, baby drowsiness interfering with initial breastfeeding, itching, nausea, vomiting and inability to concentrate.
Nitrous oxide may also be used to reduce anxiety and improve mood so the mother can tolerate pain better. Dizziness is a common feeling that passes quickly.
Pitocin, a synthetic oxytocin, is used to speed up labor in some cases by both doctors and midwives.
Medicated births won’t be considered natural because they involve unnatural substances. The female body naturally produces hormones, such as endorphins, during childbirth to help with pain relief.
✗ Cesarean Section
C-Section deliveries involve the highest level of “intervention” as the child is born by surgery and not vaginally. Cesarean births are often utilized when vaginal delivery poses health risks to the mother and/or baby. However, some believe they have become routine, optional, and even implemented unnecessarily.
An incision is made on the mother’s abdomen and uterus. There are many possible complications such as displacement of placenta, organ injury, infection, and excess bleeding/blood clots. Some believe that vaginal birth after cesarean surgery is dangerous so this may pose risk to future child deliveries.
We’ll include in this category other interventions such as forceps and vacuums that are used to forcibly pull or suck out a baby out of the birth canal.
Ancient history records the role of Midwifery in childbirth. Because midwives do not typically use exorbitant interventions/medications and adhere closely to the patterns of the natural body, Midwife-Assisted Birth will be considered natural. It is not new to history for birth attendants to assist and coach a woman through labor and birth.
Midwives are sometimes seen as birth “experts” because they are trained to support, care for and assist a mother throughout pregnancy and child delivery. Midwives often come to the home of the laboring mother in home births but many modern midwiferies operate as birthing centers. These birthing centers are designed like homes with comfortable furniture, decor and wall paint, and access to showers and bathtubs (yes, even kitchens).
Midwives, more often than not, offer assistance and resources for water birth, which involves labor and child delivery in a large water basin. We will not use water birth as a category because it is an optional feature of home/birth-center methods and also available through some hospitals.
Midwiferies often limit risk to mother and child by having an emergency plan through their network of ambulance services and direct hospital referrals.
✓ Free Birth & Home Birth
Free Birth is a growing trend in the home and natural birth community. Home Births, as they suggest, take place at home where the mother tends to be more comfortable and prepared for rest after all is done. Home birthing mothers are usually assisted by family members, midwives and/or a doula(s).
Free Birth takes place in the home and is unassisted by medical/health birth attendants such as doctors and even midwives. Free Birth typically involves just the mother and father, sometimes a close relative is included in the birth process.
Possible concerns include distance from hospitals or doctors in case of an emergency.
For the purposes of this blog’s future discussion on birth,
Natural Birth will be used to address vaginal, unmedicated labor and delivery that takes place outside of the hospital.
*(Hospital births can technically be natural by way of vaginal and unmedicated delivery so we don’t have to be a stickler here. However, natural birth is generally associated with out-of-hospital birth.)