What Is a Natural Birth: the Process, Pain, Advantages and Risks

There are many ways to give birth, so what exactly is a natural birth and how is it different from a vaginal birth? A natural birth refers to how expectant moms give birth “naturally” – but how? What about the process, the cost and the risks involved?

A natural birth is different from a vaginal birth?

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A natural birth refers to the progression of labor without the need for medical assistance or intervention and is a birth that is spontaneous and overseen by health-care professionals. The infant is born through the birth canal in the vertex position.

A vaginal birth is the delivery of an infant via the birth canal and does not take into account whether there were complications during labor and the delivery. For example, if a woman is given painkillers during the labor, these drugs could have been administered because there were complications during the labor and delivery and hence a need for medical assistance. Therefore, in this case, it is not a natural birth.

So, have you figured out what exactly is a natural birth? Although it sounds simple, to understand what a natural birth is like, we’ll have to look at the process of labor in order to find out.

How does labor start when it’s a natural birth?

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The process of labor can be very different. How labor starts for everyone is different, so let’s look take a look at the different starting points of labor.

 

Starting point #1: Bloody show

The bloody show refers to vaginal discharge tinged with blood. After you spot signs of your bloody show, your contractions might just start. It might take a few hours, or a week, until the birth.

Starting point #2: Contractions

Contractions that are similar to menstrual cramps hit you and they come regularly. Keep count of the intervals that lapse in-between the contractions. When the pain gradually becomes stronger, the intervals between the contractions decrease. If this is your first pregnancy, contact your hospital when the intervals are about 10 minutes long. If this isn’t your first pregnancy, call them when it’s about 15 minutes long.

Starting point #3: Waters breaking

When your waters break, you might feel like you’re peeing, only you’re not. The fluid might trickle out or gush out. There is a possibility of an infection setting in after waters break, so contact your hospital right away. When your waters break, don’t panic and remember to put bath towels on your car seat so that it doesn’t get on your car seat. The amniotic fluid is easily mistaken for urine, so monitor the fluid more carefully before coming to a conclusion!

If you go into labor spontaneously starting from any of the aforementioned 3 stages and there is no need to induce labor in any way, then it’s start of what could be a completely natural birth. In other words, a natural birth begins with one going into labor spontaneously and naturally.

How to overcome labor pain in a natural birth

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A natural birth means that throughout the whole entire labor process, you don’t use any painkillers to reduce the labor pain.

Even if you’re a very pro-natural mom, you might have been shocked – no painkillers! Yes, once you take painkillers, your birth is actually not considered “natural”. Painkillers or any drugs that help you through the labor process are considered medical assistance. So, what can you do if you want a completely natural birth, but are afraid of the pain? There is a way to still go “natural” and reduce pain.

The following are methods you can use to lessen the pain of labor:

 

Lamaze method

Invented by Dr. Fernand Lamaze and known for its “hee, hee, hoo” breathing technique, the Lamaze method focuses on relaxation through breathing. It’s difficult to stop breathing and push when the contractions are ongoing. In order to give the fetus more oxygen, the Lamaze method helps moms concentrate on breathing. There are variations of the Lamaze breathing method, and they might be along the lines of “hee hoo hee hoo”, or “hee hee hoo hoo”. Use the one you’re most comfortable with.

All you have to do is to catch the rhythm of the contractions and get into the groove of it.

 

Change positions: Use the most comfortable position for birth

Must you really be lying down on the hospital bed when you go into labor? No, you don’t have to. This is all thanks to a moment in history in 1982 when a women tried to give birth on all fours but was coerced not to do so. Janet Balaskas then organized a rally which is now known as the active birth movement, and now women have the right to be able to give birth in the position of their choice. You can lie down on your side, sit, be half-sitting and half-lying down, squat or even be on all fours.

It doesn’t really matter what position you’re in as long as it helps you deal with the labor pains and there is no potential risk to the baby and they can still be delivered safely.

 

Massage

Have a birth partner ready on stand-by? You might want to consider “making full use” of your birth partner during the labor process. Instead of them standing around and feeling helpless, you might want to ask them for a favor and get them to help you massage your feet, hands, temples – anywhere! Massages can help distract you and help you relax, taking your mind off the pain.

 

Wheat bag or bottle or warm water

When you keep your body warm, your body naturally relaxes and your muscles loosen up. This can help ease labor pains. You might want to consider getting a wheat bag for use during the labor. They are heated up after a few minutes in the microwave. An alternative to the wheat bag would be a bottle of warm water. Be careful not to scald yourself by accident if you’re using a bottle.

How much does a natural birth cost?

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This might differ depending on the types of insurance plans you have, but according to an article in 2015 by the BBC, a natural birth costs about $10,000 in the United States. That’s the most expensive in the world.

What are the advantages of having a natural birth?

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A natural delivery means a faster recovery in comparison to, for example, a recovery after delivery via a cesarean section, or a recovery from a normal delivery where painkillers were administered. This is the biggest advantage of a natural delivery and works well for moms who want to be up and about quickly after delivering.

Another advantage is that, in a natural delivery, you will get to meet and hold your baby immediately – in the case of a cesarean section, for example, that might not always be possible.

What are the risks of a natural birth?

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There are instances where contractions in the mother are weak and fail to bring about cervical dilation and effacement (hypotonic uterine inertia) and labor is unable to progress.

To pass through the birth canal, the baby must change their positions, but the inability to the fetus to do so can stall the progress of labor. If the fetus is unable to perform 2 of the 7 cardinal movements to right their own position, then labor cannot progress. The specific 2 movements are called the “internal rotation” and “external rotation”:

  • Internal rotation: The baby has to rotate so the diameter of the head matches the pelvic diameter and the baby’s head can pass through. Sometimes the baby might be unable to do so.

  • External rotation: The baby has to rotate their body so that their shoulders can pass through, but the pelvis is too small and the baby’s shoulders are not able to fit in (shoulder dystocia).

Also, cord entanglement or changes in the fetal position can make labor difficult. Insisting on a natural birth when labor stalls and cannot progress naturally can put the baby’s life in great danger. Complications can develop mid-way even though the labor started naturally.

Previous check ups by your OB-GYN might not have detected any possible problems, but things can change during labor and put both you and your baby in danger, so acknowledge that the possibility of complications arising and the possibility of having to switch to an emergency cesarean section to deliver your baby instead even though your labor started spontaneously.

Natural is good but you need backup plans

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A natural birth – this might be the method in which you wish to deliver your baby, but remember that no one knows what the future holds. Should the need for medical assistance during labor and delivery arise, the doctors will have to intervene to help you and your baby. If you’re planning to have a natural birth, it’s best to think about the possible risks and complications, and indicate to your OB-GYN in your birth plan what kind of assistance or intervention you’re willing to receive in the event that an emergency arises.