Read on for tips to increase your chances of having a natural labor and childbirth.
The idea of getting an epidural freaked Jane out. So while pregnant with her daughter "B", now 3, the Greenwich, Conn., woman took a natural-childbirth class, practiced yoga and switched from an obstetrician to a midwife. But when Jane's water broke, her labor did not progress, even after she was given Pitocin at the hospital to try to jump-start it.
Twenty-three hours of contractions and another round of Pitocin (which causes more intense contractions) later, Jane agreed to an epidural. "I'd tried as hard as I could," she says, "but by then, I said, 'Just give it to me.'"
Like Jane, many women hope and plan to have a drug-free labor and delivery, but only 10 to 20 percent actually do. Though there's no guarantee, with the proper preparation, many more women could probably succeed. There aren't a lot of hard statistics on natural childbirth, but certain techniques and approaches are known, at least anecdotally, to help.
Keeping in mind the importance of staying flexible to ensure your health and safety, as well as your baby's, read on for tips to increase your chances of having a natural childbirth.
1. Use a midwife
Studies have shown that using a properly trained, licensed midwife rather than an obstetrician can increase your chances of having an unmedicated delivery by as much as 95 percent.
"There's a huge emotional factor in the relationship between a midwife and her client," says Susan Moray, a Portland, Ore., childbirth educator and certified professional midwife who has attended births for more than 20 years. "A direct-entry midwife (one who goes into the career directly, rather than working as a nurse first) spends an average of 45 minutes to an hour with her patient at each prenatal visit; obstetricians average only six minutes," Moray explains. This extra attention pays off in less anxiety for you, whether your baby is born in the hospital or at home.
Less anxiety can mean less pain—and, thus, less need for pain medication.
2. Hire a doula
A doula provides emotional, physical and educational support during pregnancy and labor. Studies show that her presence reduces the use of epidurals by 60 percent and cuts the chances of a Cesarean section in half. Because of the cost savings, insurance companies are becoming more interested in paying for doula services, says Jennifer Nunn, president of Doulas of North America.
3. Learn self-hypnosis
"A lot of women tense up during labor, and that's the last thing you want," says Kylie Mikuta of Ashburn, Va., who delivered her son, Titan, and daughter, Zoe, without the use of pain medication. She used self-hypnosis instead.
"For a gentle, natural birth, the muscles of your uterus need oxygen-carrying blood," explains Marie Mongan, founder of HypnoBirthing, a program that teaches pregnant women self-hypnosis techniques for use during labor. "Fear directs blood away from the uterus, and the result is more pain," Mongan says. What worked for Mikuta was practicing relaxation techniques, such as focusing on the image of a warm bath.
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4. Do perineal massage
By relaxing and stretching the area around the vagina during pregnancy, perineal massage can safely help shorten labor and speed delivery, lessening the need for painkillers. While a correlation between perineal massage and natural childbirth is not proven, many midwives and doulas recommend the technique. You should do this for six to eight minutes daily, beginning no earlier than 34 weeks into your pregnancy; warm olive oil, soothing music and an agreeable partner may all help.
5. Take a class
Several childbirth-education courses focus on unmedicated deliveries. The following are the best-known:
The Bradley Method (800-422-4784, www.bradleybirth.com). Fran Hill, a Bradley instructor in Orange County, Calif., says her course teaches techniques to avoid unnecessary pain. She boasts that more than 90 percent of women who complete the program have drug-free deliveries.
Lamaze (800-368-4404, www.lamaze.org). Debby Amis, chairwoman of the Lamaze International Education Council, says the organization is committed to promoting "normal" birth.
In the end, do what you can to "go natural," but remember that there is always the chance factor. If the need for intervention arises or if you decide that you want pain medication after all, don't beat yourself up; perhaps there will be a next time.
Jane believes the hospital setting placed time constraints on her labor, which led to her being given Pitocin. "Had they just let me progress naturally, I believe I would have given birth naturally," she says. "Next time, I'd try hypnosis and look into having my baby in a birthing center, where the setting might be more relaxed."