The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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6 ways to increase your chances of a natural birth
Though statistics are scarce, some approaches are known, at least anecdotally, to increase the odds of having an unmedicated delivery:
1. Use a Midwife
Studies show that using a properly trained, licensed midwife rather than an obstetrician can greatly increase your chances. The extra attention pays off in less anxiety and pain. For referrals: American College of Nurse-Midwives, 202-728-9860, www.midwife.org.
2. Hire a Doula
A doula is a woman trained to provide mothers and their families with encouragement and information through late pregnancy, labor and delivery. A review of six studies of more than 2,000 women found that with the continuous support of a trained doula, epidural use decreased by 60 percent, C-sections by 50 percent, oxytocin use for labor induction by 40 percent, forceps use by 40 percent, and average length of labor by 25 percent. For referrals: Association of Labor Assistants & Childbirth Educators (ALACE), 617-441-2500, www.alace.org; Doulas of North America (DONA), 801-756-7331, www.dona.org; International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA), 800-624-4934, www.icea.org.
3. Practice self-hypnosis
“For a gentle, natural birth, the muscles of your uterus need oxygen-carrying blood,” says Marie Mongan, founder of HypnoBirthing (603-798-3286; www.hypno birthing.com), 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.” The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis reports that for about two-thirds of women who use hypnosis, it is their sole analgesic during labor.
4. Learn perineal massage
By relaxing and stretching the area around the vagina during pregnancy, perineal massage may safely help speed delivery, lessening the need for painkillers. Do this for six to eight minutes daily, beginning no earlier than 34 weeks into your pregnancy. (For information: Prenatal Perineal Massage brochure, ICEA, 800-624-4934, www.icea.org.)
5. Take childbirth ed
Several courses focus on unmedicated deliveries. Enroll as early as possible; classes fill up fast, and some, such as Bradley (see pg. 84), run 12 weeks, so you need to start them in your second trimester.