Announcing plans for an unmedicated birth is a lot like announcing you’ve planned to change your name to Rumpelstiltskin. Okay, not completely. But it’s alike in that you might be met with some amount of criticism, questions, alternate advice, or just utter confusion. There will surely be people telling you that you should alter your plans because you won’t be able to handle labor without pain medication. Some might even suggest you don’t attempt your plan at all, but get an epidural as soon as you are able. Like: gown on, needle in. Better yet, just head in at 40 weeks, get your epidural and set up camp until labor kicks off. Better to do that then experience what you know is going to be the most horrible pain of your life, right? I mean, why would anyone want to do that in the first place unless you’re a glutton for punishment. In fact, the sentiment Just Get the Epidural is so common, there was even a book written under that title recently. Bottom line is, start making plans for a natural birth and you may receive some blank stares and a lot of questions.
But why do we feel that women’s bodies are ill-equipped for giving birth in this way or that it isn’t actually a productive way to have a baby?
The truth is, epidurals are much more common in America than most other counties. Many women aren’t given the option of pain medication at all, and women are still just as able to give birth with support from generations of women who’ve done it before. It’s certainly not viewed as an impossible feat everywhere, the way we’ve been trained to think of it here. The Americanized view of unmedicated birth is that it is very scary, unnecessary and maybe even a bit dangerous. But the fact is, there are a lot of reasons women choose to have unmedicated births. Some women are just uncomfortable with an idea of a needle in their spine. For others, it has to do with wanting the birth to maintain the birth as as natural event as possible, or preventing possible side effects, or the possible need for more intervention after that first intervention takes place. But understanding what’s going on during labor and how to cope with the pain and discomfort can help to quell some of those fears and make for a much easier labor and delivery. Proper support is crucial for an unmedicated birth is crucial. But what does that support look like?
When planning a birth without an epidural, here are some important things to remember:
The uterus is just one muscle in the body- Yes. Contractions can be painful. They are painful because the uterus is the largest involuntary muscle in your body. That means you can’t stop the contraction or tell it when to start. But it’s important to remember that your uterus is just one muscle that is contracting the same as any other muscle in your body would. If you were at the gym, working your legs or you biceps, it’s likely you would anticipate pain and feeling sore as a result, but you probably wouldn’t have the same fear surrounding it as a contracting uterus. Part of this is because those contractions can be big and dominating. But they are meant to demand our attention so that we can get to a safe environment in order to give birth.
Tensing the rest of the body can actually make the uterus need to work harder- If we have too much fear and anxiety surrounding our birth, adrenalin can interfere with our body’s ability to let the birth happen on it’s own. When all of the other muscles in our body are also tensed, the uterus needs to work harder to do the work of moving the baby down. It becomes extremely important to shift your thinking from needing to control every feeling that’s happening in the body to simply allowing the birth to happen. Letting go is easier said than done, but letting the body do it’s work is the woman’s most important job during delivery.
Reducing adrenalin is key to reducing pain, so set yourself up for a calm birth. While in certain environments, there might be a lot of triggers for anxiety, like bright lights, lots of hospital staff walking in and out and machines that beep, in any birth there are ways to create calm and reduce tension. First, choosing the environment that is most comfortable for you, whether that be the hospital, a birth center or at home, is extremely important. But you also want to make sure your birth team is one that will give you the utmost support throughout your delivery. Helping your to shift your thinking so that you can relax and let the body open can be crucial. Using pressure points or massage can also help many women find comfort during even the most intense parts of labor.
Trust is the key- Above all, trusting in your body’s innate ability to give birth, will serve you immensely during an unmedicated labor. Your body was uniquely designed to give birth, so sometimes we just have to remember that we already have all the tools we need within us. For this reason having a birth team in place that also trusts in your body’s ability to deliver your baby in a way that is most desirable by you is not only helpful, it’s necessary so that you can hold onto that confidence throughout delivery.