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5 Things to Know About Having an Unmedicated Birth

When it comes to childbirth options, there is no one-size-fits-all birth plan. These days, you have many choices in how and where you’d like to bring your baby into this world.

In the U.S., most pregnant people opt for an epidural to help with pain during labor and delivery, but some desire to have a “natural birth” free of pain medication.

What is a natural childbirth experience?

What does “natural” really mean when it comes to having a baby? The term “natural” as it is used in childbirth means many different things to different people. To some, natural means a vaginal delivery, whether that’s with medication or not. Others think natural childbirth is only when there is no medical intervention.

“The term ‘natural’ can carry some judgment that other methods aren’t natural, and this isn’t the case,” said Tricia Nast, CNM, a midwife at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. “All birthing methods are natural processes, whether you have a cesarean section or a medicated or unmedicated vaginal delivery. For this reason, a better term would be an unmedicated birth.”

If you’re wondering if a natural birth is right for you, here are some important things to know from a Banner Health labor and delivery expert.

5 things to know about an unmedicated birth 

1. Find a care provider who supports unmedicated births

If you’re planning an unmedicated birth, bring this up to your health care provider early on in your care and gauge their response. If you don’t feel that your provider is supportive of your plans, it’s OK to find a different one who is.

“You and your provider are partners in your care, so it’s important to choose a provider who you trust and whose input and expertise you respect — it’s a two-way street,” Nast said. “Find out what the expectations are surrounding your provider’s presence at your birth. Do they share call   with a larger group where a group of providers share coverage for “after-hours”? Will they honor your preferences as well?”

When trying to decide on an unmedicated birth, it’s also important to understand the circumstances surrounding your pregnancy. Certain conditions, such as a high-risk pregnancy, could make an unmedicated birth harder or unsafe to achieve. It’s best to talk to your provider to figure out if an unmedicated birth is achievable given your individual situation and medical history.

2. Put together a birth plan

Once you have an idea of your ideal birthing experience, create a birth plan that details what you want to happen before, during and after. This can include who you want in the room during delivery and that you want an unmedicated birth.

“Birth plans are a great way of helping you understand loosely what your expectations and wishes are for the birth,” Nast said. “I like to think of the birth plan as more of a preference since labor birth can be unpredictable.”

Once you have your preferences in place, bring your written preferences with you to an appointment so you and your provider and your care team can review it together.

“I’ve found that many of the things patients have on their birth plans are already part of my routine care, such as immediate skin-to-skin contact, delayed cord clamping and avoiding episiotomies,” Nast said. “That being said, a birth plan isn’t always necessary. If you have a supportive team who will be with you in labor, you’ll have discussed your preferences in advance and they can advocate for you without anything needing to be written down.” 

3. Consider where you want to deliver

The vast majority of babies in the U.S. are born in hospitals, and most pregnant people who have a hospital birth will choose to have an epidural. That said, it is absolutely possible to have an unmedicated birth in a hospital setting.

“Hospitals can provide you with a birth experience similar to what is offered in a home or birthing center setting,” Nast said. “Many people choose to have their babies in hospitals versus a home birth because that way medical professionals are readily available if necessary.”

Here are some questions you can ask to ensure the facility is aligned with your birthing preferences:

  • What comfort measures do you encourage? Do I have to labor in the hospital bed? Do I have access to birth balls, music, etc.?
  • Are IVs required? Are there alternatives?
  • What fetal monitoring or surveillance methods do you use? Doppler or fetoscope? In what situations do you divert from those practices?
  • Do you encourage freedom of movement during labor? Am I able to deliver in positions outside of the bed?
  • What is your hospital’s induction rate?
  • Do you support me having a doula?

“If the hospital has certain policies that you are curious about or are considering declining, ask what the reasoning is for them and any alternatives that can be offered,” Nast said. “You often hear about things being allowed or not allowed in the hospital, but you always have the right to decline any interventions offered.”

4. Enroll in childbirth classes

“Preparing for birth with childbirth education is especially helpful if you’re planning an unmedicated birth,” Nast said.

Pick a prenatal education course that focuses on planning for an unmedicated birth. This can include hypnobirthing, the Bradley method or Lamaze. It’s also important to include your support person in this education as well, whether it be a partner, friend or labor coach.

“People often think they have to have a high pain tolerance to have an unmedicated birth, but that’s not always true,” Nast said. “Childbirth education is important because it helps you learn what the normal course of labor and birth looks like and what coping techniques can help at each point in the process.”

5. Consider hiring a birth doula

Your health care provider’s job is to safely deliver your baby, and a doula’s job is to be there to support you throughout your pregnancy and cheer you on. Doulas provide nonmedical physical and emotional support in addition to being a designated support person you plan to have present.

“Doulas have shown to reduce cesarean rates, reduce the need for induction of labor and reduce the risk of patient’s perceived negative birth experiences, among other benefits,” Nast said.

Prepare your body

Staying physically active during your pregnancy will help you prepare for the marathon of labor. It will also prevent you from gaining too much weight

“Simple exercises like daily walking, stretches and squats help your body adapt to the physical changes of pregnancy as well as prepare for movement during labor and birth,” Nast said. “However, if you’re not physically fit before becoming pregnant, check with your provider to find a safe cardio plan for you.”

What if you change your mind?

Labor might hurt more than you expected. If the pain is too much, don’t feel bad about asking for pain relief medicine. This doesn’t make you less brave or committed to your baby or the labor process.

Final word

Unmedicated childbirth, or natural childbirth, involves giving birth without the use of medications and instead focuses on letting nature take its course.

There is no right or wrong way to give birth. Sometimes a C-section or medical pain relief is necessary. “Labor and birth, much like parenthood, can be unpredictable,” Nast said. “All that matters is the health and safety of you and your baby.”

To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit www.bannerhealth.com.

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