If you have decided that you are going to give birth to your baby without taking any painkillers or having an epidural, you may find yourself bombarded by questions and comments like, “Oh, I just couldn’t tolerate the pain of labor, I was begging for the anesthesiologist after an hour!” or, “Why would you want to feel all that pain when you can just have an epidural?” With cesarean rates soaring at nearly 30% in the USA, many mothers have not experienced a vaginal birth, let alone a drug-free birth. Even though drug-free vaginal births may be in the minority now, women have been giving birth without the aid of drugs or surgery for thousands of years, and your body is perfectly able to birth the baby who has grown within it. Preparing for a natural childbirth involves familiarizing yourself with the physical, emotional and spiritual process of birth.
Learn About Natural Birth
The first thing to do when preparing for a drug-free birth is to read as much as you can about natural childbirth. A good place to start is New Active Birth [Harper Collins, 2001] by Janet Balaskas and Spiritual Midwifery [Book Publishing; New Millenium Edition, 2003] by Ina May Gaskin. Surround yourself with stories of healthy, normal, active birth instead of the gory horror stories that everyone seems to delight in sharing with you once you are visibly pregnant. Natural, drug-free birth is normal and completely achievable, and the more stories you hear of women who had normal, intervention-free births the more you will believe this to be true for yourself.
Choose a Birth Attendant Who Supports Natural Birth
Whether you choose an obstetrician or a midwife depends on many factors, such as your health insurance, the location you want to give birth in, and your philosophical beliefs about childbirth. Obstetricians are generally trained to deal with complications in childbirth, whereas midwives are trained in the natural, unobstructed process of birth, and tend to be non-invasive in practice. It is a good idea to interview several birth attendants before making a choice.
Practice Pain Management
Birthing a baby is hard work, physically and mentally. Prenatal yoga is excellent exercise and helps a woman prepare for a natural childbirth. Movements which open the hips and tilt the pelvis, such as the butterfly and the cat poses, help prepare the body, and relaxation exercises help you find a place of quiet stillness inside. Practicing pain management techniques, such as deep breathing and focused awareness, while you are pregnant can help you recognize their effects when you use them during labor. Birthing From Within [Partera Press, 1998] by Pam England and Rob Horowitz has several excellent pain management exercises to try.
Believe in Yourself
Confidence in your ability to birth your baby is the single most important tool to have in your natural childbirth preparation kit. Think of all your female ancestors who have birthed their babies successfully, whether alone on the savannah or in a room with sisters and wise women beside them. They could do it, and so can you. Prepare yourself mentally for all outcomes, including a cesarean birth, but believe in every cell of your being that you are strong enough to birth your baby by yourself, without the aid of drugs or surgery. It can help to ask a trusted friend or family member to light a candle for you when you go into labor. Knowing you have the support of your loved ones can be a great help when the going gets tough.
No matter how much preparation you do before going into labor, the one and only thing you need to remember to do during labor is to breathe. Pain can cause us to tense up and hold our breath, but breath-holding increases our perception of pain. So focus on exhaling through each contraction, moaning or making noise if you feel like it helps. When the contraction passes, rest and gather your energies. Confidently tell yourself, “Yes, yes yes! I am giving birth to my baby!”
Originally Published on Suite101 on September 14, 2007