Is Natural Birth a Possibility For You? 10 Tips to Help You Achieve One

To inaugurate (yay, I’m a domain owner!), what better topic to write about than natural childbirth?

It’s been a while since I’ve written about this, but for those who have read my earlier posts, you know that this was a goal of mine throughout my entire pregnancy. I wanted to make sure I was beyond prepared to give birth without an epidural, and without medical intervention if possible: I took a childbirth class with the incredible Katherine Anderson, meditated and practiced deep breathing throughout the duration of my pregnancy, walked a few times per week, met with a chiropractor to align and balance my pelvis, drank raspberry leaf tea three times a day… I mean, all of it.Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 9.01.58 PM

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with one of my readers, six months pregnant with her first baby. She reached out to me because of her desire to have her baby naturally,  but also because of the fears holding her back. She envies the women in “The Business of Being Born”, but is afraid that she won’t be able to handle the pain of childbirth like they did. That she isn’t capable of it, although deep down, she has a really strong feeling that she can do it.

If you’ve thought about natural childbirth, even briefly, but don’t think you can do it – both mentally and physically – I am hoping that this post will give you a little more confidence and faith in yourself. I am not Superwoman, believe me. And no, I do not have a very high pain tolerance. I was simply ready for it… and stubbornly determined 🙂

Now that’s not to say my birth was 100% natural. I was given Cervidil overnight to ripen  my cervix and a low dose of Pitocin to kickstart my contractions the next morning. Although a gentle induction was not a part of my birth plan at all, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Who knows how much longer it would’ve taken me to fully dilate… which may have potentially led to either an epidural or a C-Section (although Phelps Hospital is well known for having low rates in both.) I’m thankful that I was open to these last minute decisions.

Nonetheless, I did give birth without an epidural, episiotomy, or much help from my midwife until the very end. I wanted to experience my son’s birth by myself, letting my body do its work. I succeeded in doing just that, and it is the biggest, most humbling accomplishment of my life.

So without further ado, here are 10 tips to prepare for and accomplish natural childbirthand yes, you are all capable of it!

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I think this one is my number one piece of advice, based on my own experience. I had such incredible faith in myself… I surprisingly wasn’t scared, like many of my mommy friends were (and I was the one planning on the drug-free birth!)

I think that a lot of it is in your head. If you tell yourself, “well, I’ll see how it goes, I might ask for an epidural if it gets hard…”, then you probably will. If you tell yourself, “regardless what happens, I will breathe, I will accept the contractions, I will move around, switch positions, but I will not ask for an epidural”, then you probably won’t. Before saying “I’m scared”, tell yourself that billions of women have given birth naturally, and as far as I know, they’re still alive today. What makes you incapable of it? Have faith in what your body is meant to do.

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My second piece of advice is to practice your breathing. Before being pregnant, I was familiar with yoga and meditation (my mother is a certified yoga instructor and it has always been a part of my life.) I knew how to breathe deeply. For moms who are unfamiliar with deep breathing techniques, I would suggest taking a Lamaze class or looking up breathing videos like this one (which has the ice cube exercise I did during my birth class!) I also think meditating often over the course of my pregnancy helped me cope with the pain of contractions. There are amazing podcasts out there – just pick one that works for you!

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I think that I felt so confident about natural birth because I had really done my research. I didn’t let anyone (including doctors) tell me what I should do because I wasn’t clueless. I made sure I knew all the negatives associated with episiotomies, epidurals, nonemergency C-Sections, as well as all of my rights (those that doctors/hospitals won’t tell you about: like declining the glucose tolerance test, walking into the hospital instead of being wheeled in, postponing baby’s first bath, etc…) If you feel educated on the topics of pregnancy and childbirth, you will be more likely to stick to your guns on the day of delivery.

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This brings me to prenatal education. When I found Katherine Anderson’s prenatal class online, I thought it was too good to be true. Her philosophy was so similar to my own! That is what you should be looking for: finding a class that matches your philosophy and needs.

I cannot begin to express how thankful I am for all the tools that Katherine gave me. She initially sparked my curiosity about midwives and the many myths associated with natural birth. I encourage you to learn about the stages of labor ahead of time as well: what early and active labor are like (including the signs to look out for) and how to tell you are in the transition phase of labor, right before pushing. Knowing this made me feel grounded, somehow, despite all the chaos happening in the delivery room.

Katherine was also a great resource throughout my pregnancy. I must’ve e-mailed her a dozen times about my pregnancy and childbirth concerns.

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I was lucky that my midwife was very “hands on” in her approach. Thank you, Robin! If you are in a hospital setting, especially without a midwife, you should look up positions ahead of time. Trust me, you will want to move around many times throughout labor. Once I was 4 cm dilated, I couldn’t sit still and needed to change it up. You want to have a wide array of positions to choose from; it will make a huge difference in your comfort level and pain tolerance. If you want to know the ones we practiced, do not hesitate to ask.

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The Bradley Method is all about this, and I couldn’t agree more. You need to really involve your partner in your birth plans. This will not only ensure that your wishes are respected during childbirth (if you get overwhelmed, he or she can remind you what your birth plan is) but you will have someone there to support you through the difficult moments of childbirth.

Every woman’s needs will be different: some might need a partner to guide them through the process, others might need occasional, gentle reassurance. I needed silence to really focus on my breathing, but really appreciated being able to hold Joe’s hand. His reassuring words also pushed me through the most difficult contractions. Phrases like “you’re doing an amazing job” and “you’re so strong” can really go a long way.

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If you’ve read my articles on the subject, you know how important this one is. I switched providers at 32 weeks pregnant and although it was the best decision of my life, it was also very stressful. Make sure you do your research on hospitals (their C-Section and episiotomy rates, for example, or if they allow co-sleeping) and find a provider who has a similar philosophy to yours. Midwives tend to be more on board with natural births (although you still need to make your birth plan clear to them) than doctors, so do not hesitate to interrogate your provider about his or her way of doing things.

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Staying active is key to a healthy pregnancy and birth. I was low in iron throughout my pregnancy and was very tired so it was a struggle to get to the gym. I did take many walks throughout my pregnancy (loved taking strolls in the woods!) which I’m sure helped me prepare for childbirth. During the last week (Liam was 6 days late!), I really stepped it up and took daily walks in the neighborhood.

I also did yoga at home (Youtube videos are amazing!) and saw a physical therapist, then a chiropractor, because of my lower back pain. She gave me 3 or 4 positions to do three times a day and they made me feel a lot better (if you are interested in these positions, comment and I’ll share them with you!) helped me align my pelvis to facilitate childbirth, which I’m sure was one of the reasons I had a quick labor.

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Because my water partially broke and I was a week late, my situation was a little different. But if your labor starts with mild contractions, make sure you labor at home as long as possible. Eat a good meal, take a nap, shower… do everything you can to relax ahead of time – you have a big day ahead! Go to the hospital when you are very uncomfortable and unable to sit still. This will help prevent any unnecessary medical intervention. Remember: once you check in to the hospital, the clock is ticking… and most doctors don’t like to wait unnecessarily. So the later you get there, the better.

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This moment is crystal clear in my mind: contractions were 30 seconds apart, taking over me with such intensity I felt like my bones were stretching apart. I was in the birthing tub, arching my back with each one. Sensing my discomfort and pain, Robin whispered, “now I want you to let go. Let your entire lower body go limp.” Once she said that, I stopped tensing up. I focused all my attention on loosening my lower body, and within seconds, I was ready to push. When childbirth becomes almost unbearable, you know you’re at the very end… meaning you have about 5 contractions to go. You can do this!

Remember that each contraction means you are one step closer to your baby. Contractions are technically a “good” thing! Fighting them makes labor more difficult and last longer. The most important part is to accept them, breathe through them (visualize your little angel coming into the world!), and realize they come in waves: an incline, a peak, and a decline. If you make it through the peak (usually no more than a few seconds), you’ve experienced the worst part of the contraction. Now on to the next one! Positivity is key 🙂

And a final note…

Be open-minded about your birth and proud of yourself, regardless what happens! My biggest fear, when I was pregnant with Liam, was what I would do if I had an emergency cesarean birth. I couldn’t face the possibility of not delivering naturally. I was afraid of how I would cope with the disappointment after the fact. Knowing how important this was to me, it was also my husband’s greatest fear throughout the whole thing.

Luckily for me, I had the birth I wanted, but many do not get this chance… and it’s not their fault!

I think we all need to be proud of ourselves for delivering our babies, regardless of how it is done. Getting an epidural does not make you less of a mother, just like having a cesarean birth does not mean you didn’t give “birth” to your child. We all carried our babies for 9 months, didn’t we? As mothers, we are all incredibly strong and should be proud of ourselves for the miracle that is childbirth, cesarean or not.


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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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