What are the benefits of having a natural birth, and what does that mean?
Most people, when they say natural birth, mean unmedicated. Sometimes, you will hear people refer to natural birth, and they really mean vaginal birth.
It’s important to recognize that birth doesn’t always go as planned, and sometimes natural vaginal delivery is not possible. However, even if you’ve had a previous c-section, there’s a lot you can do to prepare for a successful VBAC.
If you opt for a scheduled cesarean, you can also plan to make it a gentle, family-centered c-section — it doesn’t have to be traumatic or stressful.
Remember, any birth experience you have, it’s an incredible achievement bringing a new life into the world.
Now, let’s dive into what natural birth looks like, and the benefits for both the birthing parent and the baby, so you can make an informed decision.
Why choose natural birth?
When it comes to giving birth, doing it naturally and unmedicated can be daunting. However, there are many benefits to a natural birth.
Deciding whether or not to have an undedicated birth is totally up to you. If it’s something you want to try, it’s a commitment you should make as you plan for your birth. However, there are always other options if you decide to change your mind.
Many birthing couples love the freedom that comes with going unmedicated. If you receive an epidural, you will have limited options for movement during labor.
Being able to walk during labor can help not only cope through the labor discomfort that contractions bring but also help progress labor along nicely.
For example, at a birth I attended as a doula, a birthing parent was contracting quite regularly. However, the intensity was not strong enough to progress the cervix. After walking around the block for fifteen minutes, the contractions picked up in intensity and duration, bringing the baby just a few short hours later.
When you choose to go natural, it is highly recommended that you prepare before going into it. As you plan your birth, think about how to mentally prepare for labor.
There are many natural childbirth education courses available both in person and online. One of our favorite childbirth education courses is Hypnobirthing, and we’ve rounded up more of the best online birthing classes here.
If you want to try a natural birth after a previous cesarean, we have a VBAC course you can take online, to help you prepare.
Are there risks to natural childbirth?
Before we get into the benefits of a natural birth, as with anything in life, there are also risks. The risks however, are very minimal for most healthy low-risk pregnancies.
We want to break it down to help you decide if natural childbirth or going unmedicated is the right choice for you.
Pain and discomfort during labor and birth
The thought of feeling pain during birth is not desired by everyone, and that is totally okay. Childbirth is no walk in the park — unmedicated or medicated.
Our bodies work hard to get these sweet babies here. Labor comes with uterine contractions that can happen every 2-5 minutes in the end, lasting up to 60-90 seconds.
Some describe these pains and discomforts as severe period cramps and some describe them as sharp stabbing pains that don’t let up. In addition to labor pains and discomforts, after birth, the uterus continues to contract back down to its normal size. That tends to get worse in intensity with each child.
Contractions can happen in the abdomen area as well as the back or even hips. When there is no medication in place these pains are felt 100% while they are happening.
Possible birth trauma
The pain and discomfort that natural childbirth can bring can leave us feeling traumatized, especially if labor was quick, and an unmedicated birth was not planned or desired.
Childbirth can also include a lot of unknowns that can bring unexpected procedures and interventions. For example, although it is rare, if the placenta does not detach, the provider may have to go internally to help it come out. A severe tear also may cause unexpected pain, even when they use a local anesthetic to numb it.
Feeling these things can leave trauma because it can be intense. If you’re still healing from a past birth trauma, you may be more likely to have fear and stress around repeating it.
If these things were to happen, I would highly suggest getting the anesthesiologist to come in.
During the crowning stage of pushing there can be a lot of stretching and burning. As the birthing person gets to this point, it can feel intense, and they may want to push past the burning sensation.
This can lead to more tearing in the vaginal and rectal area, than if the sensations and pushing were more controlled by pain medication.
Urinary or fecal incontinence
This risk of urinary or fecal incontinence is increased with vaginal birth in general. According to the National Association for Continence, up to 63% of birthing people with bladder stress incontinence say it began during or after pregnancy.
C-section parents do have a lower risk of incontinence because the baby does not pass through the vaginal canal.
Inability to stay present
Labor takes a lot of mental focus, and it is possible to pull out of that at certain points. Some people report not being able to be present in their labor because of the strength of the contractions.
An epidural can help people feel more present during labor. It is important to be able to look back at your labor experience with a positive view.
Mental and emotional support, which can also help, is one of the many benefits of a doula.
Remember that no matter what, there is no failing in labor and it’s most important for you to feel empowered and view it as a good experience overall.
Benefits of having a natural unmedicated birth
Many people believe the pros of having an unmedicated birth outweigh the cons, and they really are correct on many levels.
Back in the late 1950’s early 1960’s, birthing people became more aware of the consequences associated with receiving anesthesia during labor and delivery, along with the other interventions that may come into play when anesthesia is in place.
Since then, the idea of going unmedicated and having a natural birth has become more and more popular. But what are the benefits of having a natural birth?
Freedom of movement
Moving in labor is a very natural response to coping with uterine contractions. When you are going natural, you are free to move about as needed.
In addition to helping with comfort, moving during childbirth can encourage the baby to get in a more optimal position, decreasing the overall time that labor may last.
If there is an epidural in place, it can take 3-6 hours after birth to be able to walk. It is really nice to get up sooner after the birth, to shower and walk around.
Better connection with newborn
Just like labor can make it hard for us to enjoy the moment, a lot of people report having natural labor and birth can help them feel more connected with their newborn.
When you are in labor and going unmedicated, you really work hard with both yourself and your baby, creating a deep bond and empowering experience when they arrive.
I personally felt a deep connection to my VBA2C baby after 42 hours of labor. We worked hard both before labor began, and all throughout our labor. I felt so empowered through every contraction that came.
Water birth is becoming more and more popular. It has been said by providers in our area that water is nature’s epidural, and allows the birthing person to continue to move, stand, and walk.
A lot of childbirth education courses will talk about being submerged in water and how it can help the birthing person cope with labor, relax, and enter into the transition point of labor more easily.
Although any vaginal birth comes with a risk of tearing, having a natural unmedicated birth may reduce the risk and severity. The benefit of a natural birth is that you are able to feel the baby coming down and can control the way the baby comes out.
Techniques during delivery, like using small grunts as you push, can help prevent tearing and pelvic floor damage. We also suggest visiting with a pelvic floor therapist before giving birth, so you can learn effective ways to push and help protect the pelvic floor area.
As mentioned above, labor takes a great deal of preparation and coping. Epidurals are offered to help eliminate the discomfort, but many people are not aware that it can actually affect the natural hormone flow.
Our bodies release a hormone called oxytocin during labor, and when an epidural comes into play, it can prohibit our body from functioning as it normally would. This interruption can slow down labor, and necessitate another intervention with a synthetic version of the hormone, Pitocin, to get labor moving.
In addition to our hormones, studies have shown that an epidural may cause a baby to go into a poor position such as Posterior, which can cause labor to be more difficult and take longer.
Avoiding other interventions
When the body is laboring naturally, there typically is little need for other interventions, such as Pitocin, or extra monitoring.
Natural oxytocin, the lovely hormone that kicks in during labor to help us get our babies here, also continues producing to encourage an easier postpartum recovery.
Recovery from an epidural also has risks of spinal headaches, shaking more than you would after an unmedicated birth, and even itching as the medicine exits the body.
Reduce the risk of a C-Section
Studies have shown that people who receive an epidural are 2.5% more likely to have a c-section.
When an epidural comes into play, it does increase the chances of other interventions. These interventions can lead to the fetus not handling labor well, failure to progress in labor, or the birthing parent not coping well — any of which can lead to a c-section.
I can remember vividly the euphoria that I felt in my body after my unmedicated birth. I felt so empowered and almost “high” on life. I couldn’t stop screaming, “I DID IT, I DID IT,” and looking at my baby, telling him what a good job he did.
Easier to breastfeed after birth
Birthing parents who have received many interventions such as epidural, fentanyl, and extra fluids may have sleepier babies than those who go unmedicated.
Benefits of a natural birth for babies
There are many benefits that natural childbirth brings to the birthing parent, and I also want to talk about some benefits for these sweet babies of ours.
Many parents report seeing a difference in their newborns after experiencing both natural and medicated births. My first baby, who was delivered via c-section, came out super floppy and was not as quick to respond as they would have hoped. Breastfeeding took her a little longer to start because she had so much medication in her body that she was drowsy.
Better heart tone readings and post-birth respiratory
Babies transition from breathing through the placenta to breathing normal air after birth. “Fight or flight” hormones, called catecholamines, help the baby breathe when they are born. Natural uterine contractions can help work the fluid out of the baby’s lungs through the birth canal.
However, babies who are born with an epidural in place may have extra stress, causing heart rates to drop. C-section babies are less likely to have this happen, leaving it harder for them to transition after birth.
Just like labor is hard on us, it is hard on our babies. They are getting big bear hugs from the uterus every 3-5 minutes in the end, lasting a full minute and sometimes more.
When they receive medication like fentanyl and fluids, this may cause drowsiness, like I mentioned my daughter experienced.
Better immune systems
When a baby is born via c-section, they are unable to receive the birthing parent’s natural microbiome through the vagina. Studies show that babies who don’t receive the natural microbiome due to c-section are at higher risk for asthma, respiratory infections, and more.
If the birthing parent is unable to have a vaginal birth, whether it be unmedicated or medicated, it is encouraged to look into vaginal seeding.
Is natural birth for you?
Going unmedicated and having a natural birth must be a personal decision. As you can see, it comes with a lot of pros and cons, and it is important to prepare in the best ways possible no matter what route you take.
We always tell clients in our doula practice how important it is for them to know that there is no wrong way to birth. We provide information on both sides so that they can make the best decisions for themselves.