When people ask me about my birth experiences and I tell them I had natural births with all three of my children, there are typically two responses:
- “I don’t think I could do that!”
- “Wow! Good for you! I could never do that.”
It’s funny–although I am meeting more and more mothers who are birthing naturally, the majority of women don’t consider it an option. They may be interested in natural childbirth but don’t think that they could ever have one. Many women do not have any experience with a natural birth, other than what they see in the movies, and I’ll tell you, I have seen very few accurate representations.
When I became pregnant with my first child, I decided I would not have an epidural. I made this decision, not with the noblest of reasons. To be honest, I was simply scared to death of the procedure. I began to do a bit of research on epidurals and what began as a fear of a needle in my back grew into a fear of the risks that came with the epidural. My mind was made up. I would give birth naturally.
You may be wondering what I read that frightened me out of having the kind of birth that so many women assume is safe–and normal for that matter. There is a time and place for interventions, but they should not be used as the norm, rather as a back up, and always with the mother’s consent. Here are several of the risks of having an epidural, things that your doctor may not tell you:
- An epidural brings an increased cesarean section rate. An epidural at 2 cm dilation increases your chance of a c-section by 50%! At 3 cm your chances increase by 33%. At 4 cm they increase by 26%. At 5 cm, there doesn’t seem to be a statistical difference between those who do and don’t receive an epidural.
- Epidurals lead to prolonged labors in the 1st and 2nd stages.
- 20-26% of labors with an epidural result in abnormal presentation of the baby, or failure to descend, which is an indication for c-section.
- Hypotension (low blood pressure) occurs among 1/3 of women who have an epidural, serious hypotension in about 12%. This results in a lack of oxygen to the baby, which is a major risk to the baby, often ending in fetal distress.
- Your likelihood of having delivery by forceps or vacuum extraction is 5x greater with an epidural.
- Some women have pain at the site of the injection for weeks, months, and even years.
- Nausea, vomiting, maternal fever.
- Severe headache from a punctured dura.
All this for a method of pain relief that is not even 100% effective! Believe me when I say that this information scared me more than the pain of a natural labor. For me, the benefits of a natural birth, one without an epidural or Pitocin (which is used to induce labor), far outweighed the risks of the epidural.
So what are the benefits of a natural birth? Well, for starters you have none of those terrible risks that come with a medicated birth. That in itself is a huge benefit. Besides that…
- Natural labors are often shorter.
- Women who birth naturally have a better breast feeding success rate. Their babies are more alert and show more interest in the initial feedings, aiding in the bonding process that is so crucial in those first couple of hours.
- Natural birth is better for the mother and baby.
- Recovery from a natural birth is faster. I walked to my post partum room!
- The mother feels a greater connection to the birth experience when she is alert and aware.
- Natural childbirth is empowering and what a wonderful way to begin the journey of motherhood!
There are so many more benefits… too many to mention in this short article. You can have a natural birth at home, in a birthing center, or in a hospital… yes, in a hospital! I had all three of my children in the hospital with the support of my husband, family, and a doula. There are steps you can take and tools you can use to cope naturally with the pain of labor. Preparation is key when approaching birth naturally. One of my favorite books on natural childbirth is Active Birth, by Janet Balaskas. I recommend it to every mother I teach.
The important thing is to remember that God made a women’s body to do this! You’d be surprised at how instinctual birth is. Go with the flow, trust your instincts and listen to your body. You will be empowered!
(research on risks of epidural from the article “The Medical Risks of Epidural Anesthesia” by Lewis E. Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph. D.)