During your doula training, you learn about the many birthing options, the stats surrounding each one, and the benefits and risks of each. In the US, over 80% of women utilize epidural pain relief during labor, and over 30% give birth via c-section.
While medicated birth is the most common way US women give birth, other options exist including unmedicated birth – often referred to as natural birth. With medicated birth being the current norm in the US, many women aren’t aware that unmedicated birth is a viable option for many. However, while it isn’t currently the most common way to give birth in the states, there are benefits to natural birth.
When considering birth preferences, it’s important for women to be fully aware of their options so they can weigh up the benefits and risks. Here are 6 benefits of natural birth (unmedicated birth):
- Labor Is Often Shorter
Many women opt for epidural pain relief because they struggle to cope with contractions. Understandably as labor can be quite intense. However, some women aren’t aware that while it takes support and preparation to cope with unmedicated contractions, there are benefits to working through them without an epidural.
The medications in an epidural can interfere with the body’s natural release of hormones, especially oxytocin which is responsible for triggering labor contractions. The interference with oxytocin, the inability to be up and active (you must remain in bed after an epidural) and an inability to feel the urge to push can prolong labor.
Women who give birth without medication may experience a shorter labor and shorter second stage (the pushing phase) when compared to women who birth with an epidural. Without medication, women can work with their body’s natural labor hormones and be up and active which can help labor progress.
When epidurals and other pain relief methods are used during labor and delivery, they often interfere with the body’s natural way of laboring, resulting in slower contractions. Additionally, when the pain medications take effect, many women are no longer able to feel their contractions, therefore, they don’t know when it is time to push. By not pushing at key times with adequate strength, the laboring process can be prolonged. A natural birth allows women to work with the rhythm of their bodies, resulting in a shorter labor.
- Breastfeeding is Facilitated more Easily
While the risk of labor medication for babies remains low, babies born to mothers using epidurals might experience a bit more drowsiness. Babies born after a natural labor tend to be more alert which creates a heightened interest in breastfeeding.
While babies can still establish breastfeeding at any point in the early days and weeks, immediately after birth women’s bodies are most receptive to hormones such as prolactin. Early initiation is associated with improved long-term breastfeeding rates. An alert mother and baby are also more likely to be able to establish a good latch and reduce trauma to the nipple, an obstacle many new mothers experience.
Epidural pain relief also requires a higher volume of intravenous (IV) fluids to ensure blood pressure remains stable. The excess IV fluid can create edema (swelling) even in the nipple. This swelling can make it difficult for baby to latch.
While these potential difficulties (remember, not everyone experiences side effects) can be overcome with support, it’s important for mothers to be able to make informed decisions about their birth interventions. If establishing breastfeeding is very important to someone, they may take these potential side effect into consideration and opt for an unmedicated birth.
- Faster Recovery Time
Women who choose an unmedicated birth may benefit from an easier postpartum recovery. While every labor unfolds uniquely, some women find they feel significantly better after an unmedicated birth compared to a medicated one. One reason for this is the impact of natural hormones. While oxytocin triggers contractions, it also provides some relief and euphoria, and it encourages the release of natural endorphins. These endorphins have a cumulative effect, meaning they increase throughout labor. Shortly after birth, many women who labor without medication will experience a rush of euphoria. It’s believed these hormones aid in recovery.
Women who give birth without medication also have no concerns for epidural side effects such as back pain, injection site reactions, itching from medication, etc. You are also less likely to experience a perineal tear, and if you do, it’s less likely to be severe. With unmedicated labor, you can feel what your body is doing and what is happening. This means you’re feeling a variety of sensations including ones which help you slow down and not push so hard you experience a severe tear.
Being able to be up and moving shortly after birth can also aid in recovery. We know movement is an important part of recovery. While rest is vital, being stuck in bed can cause aches, pains and increase the risk of blood clots.
- Increased Connection with the Experience
When no drugs are used during labor, mothers are more alert and aware of the experience, providing them with an increased connection with their baby. Additionally, these women are connected to their bodies in a profound way. When medications are used, a women’s senses are dulled which can result in a physical detachment from the experience.
- Natural Childbirth is Empowering
Women who go through childbirth without the assistance of medication, experience feelings of empowerment and confidence. The ability to give birth naturally and conquer the harsh demands of labor often causes women to feel stronger and less fearful about facing other challenges in life.
Giving birth and being part of the birthing experience is an unforgettable experience. As a part of your course study on how to be a doula, you’ll not only learn about the different types of birth, you’ll also get to experience live births in-person.