Updated: Apr 2, 2021
The term "natural" can be a bit confusing and ambiguous when it comes to childbirth. Some people use this term to indicate a vaginal birth in contrast to a cesarean, and others use it to describe a birth that uses no medications or interventions at all. Perhaps the most common meaning, however, is to describe a vaginal birth during which the mother uses no pain medications, and I will be using that definition for my purpose here. With that said, it is important to remember that ALL births are equal in beauty, and that bringing a child into the world is the most natural act in existence, regardless of the method or medications that are used.
Natural childbirth may not be the best choice for every mother, and it is important to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a natural childbirth with your healthcare provider. If you and your healthcare provider decide that a natural childbirth is a good choice for you, here are 10 ways that you can prepare your mind and body for a natural labor and birth.
Take a childbirth class - What we don't know CAN hurt us. When you take a childbirth class, you are giving yourself an opportunity to gain knowledge about what your body will be going through and the chance to prepare yourself for the obstacles that you may face. Being prepared for what to expect during labor and birth is one of the best ways to prepare your mind for natural childbirth.
Gain endurance - Whether it's butterfly stretches, squats, pelvic tilts, or going on a walk, exercise it a great way to prepare your body for labor and birth. In fact, one study showed that women who exercised regularly during pregnancy had labors that were an average of 53 minutes shorter than women who did not. Exercise is ok for most women during pregnancy, but when choosing a prenatal exercise routine, make sure that you discuss it with your doctor beforehand to ensure that you won't be endangering yourself or the baby.
Choose your healthcare provider wisely - Some healthcare providers are more supportive of natural childbirth than others. Make sure that you do your research ahead of time, so that when you are in the delivery room you know that you are with somebody who supports your choices
Research your birth facility - Location, location, location. This mantra is usually used in reference to real estate, but the meaning holds true here as well. You can be the same you, with the same beliefs and the same ideals, but the location that you decide to give birth at will have a big impact on your labor and birth. For many women, free-standing birthing centers or home births with a midwife offer their best chance at a natural birth. With that said, not everybody is a candidate for a birth outside of a hospital nor is that everybody's preference, and it is very possible to have a natural birth in a hospital. Either way, it's important to do your research and to know that the facility you choose will support your goals.
Hire a doula - I know, I know, I'm a doula so I have to say this. But women who have continuous support during labor by a trained doula are almost 10% less likely to request pain medication than a woman who does not have a doula. Doulas are specially trained to provide comfort measures during labor such as counter-pressure techniques, affirmations, relaxation techniques, positioning, and more, all of which can help you avoid pain medications.
Practice daily affirmations - This is not a technique that is specific to labor preparation. Everybody needs to hear how strong and wonderful they are each day from the person whose opinion matters the most - their own! Talk to yourself daily about how strong and capable you are emotionally. Tell yourself about how your body was MADE to birth this baby, and BELIEVE it, because it's true!
Avoid induction unless it is medically necessary - Picture this: you're nearing the end of your pregnancy and you're feeling tired and big and just DONE. At your 39 week appointment you go in, and you just look so bedraggled that your healthcare provider takes pity on you and says "Well, you're 39 weeks... If you would like, we could induce you on Tuesday." It is so tempting. You want to meet your baby so bad, and you're ready to be done with the Braxton Hicks contractions and the peeing every 5 minutes and the heartburn. I get it. I do. But before you make your decision, be sure to do your research. Pitocin, which is often used during induction, has the potential to be a very slippery slope that increases your chances of other interventions and increases your likelihood of requesting pain medication.
Determine your personal preferences - There are a lot of different ways that women handle contractions during labor. Some women want to be left alone during contractions while others want to be talked through their breathing. One mom might prefer to listen to classical music while another might want to bounce on a birthing ball. You won't truly know your own preferences until you are in labor, but to get a vague idea, you can try the ice cube test. During this activity, you hold an ice cube in your hand for one minute at a time and practice a different coping method each time, to deal with the discomfort. Your preferred coping method may surprise even yourself!
Make sure your support person is prepared and on board - You know that feeling when you're trying to eat healthy, and people keep offering you cookies or pizza? If you've been in that situation, you know that you do not want to be in the active stage of labor, trying to breathe through your contractions, while your support person is standing next to you asking if you want an epidural every five minutes. Have a serious talk with your support person before labor. Prepare them for what they should expect to see, make sure that they know not to offer you pain medication, and assure them that you will ask for it on your own if you feel like you need it.
Create a birth plan - Your birth plan is the map that your care team will use to determine your wants and needs during labor. Make sure that it includes your preferences for pain medication, as well as other natural pain relief techniques so that you do not need to convey these preferences while you're in labor.
The most important tip that I can give you is to be kind to yourself. There is no way to fail at giving birth. And no matter what, remember that the end goal is a healthy and happy mom and baby.