Tips for Surviving Natural Childbirth
Every woman wants the best for her children. When it comes to childbirth that means a happy, healthy mother with a pleasant and memorable labor experience that ends with a happy, healthy baby. But what makes a happy, healthy mother may differ for each woman and each birth experience.
Some women prefer to have an epidural or other acceptable drugs. Without this the experience would be miserable. For other women, like me, the experience is enhanced by going through it without drugs. Is it difficult? Absolutely. Does it hurt? A little bit. But for me it was worth it. I did it not once, but twice because I could and for a few other reasons too -
1) I liked knowing what was going on with my body. I had educated myself pretty thoroughly on the stages of labor so as contractions worsened I knew where I was in the process. And when it got really bad, I knew that there wasn't much longer to go.
2) I bounced back afterwards. My first child was a cesarean section, so it was a HUGE contrast. But even compared to a simple epidural, I felt like I had better experiences than some. There were no drug aftereffects and, in contrast to the pain of childbirth, any subsequent pains were nothing. I was ready to leave the hospital within 24 hours of giving birth. I felt a little tired but clear-headed and strong. I was amazed at what my body could do and handle.
3) My two natural childbirth babies were alert and healthy. Now, now - I know that babies that are born with drugs are healthy too. My c-section baby was healthy and she's one of the smartest and healthiest kids I know. But AT BIRTH there was a substantial difference with my second two children. And the hospital staff made sure we knew it too.
Evidently, my hospital doesn't have a lot of natural births. The nurses were amazed at how alert my kids were. My daughters were each quite the attraction when they were born. The nurses all wanted to see what a drug-free baby looked like. Crazy, huh?
But from what my nurses and doctor observed, there is a difference. Maybe that difference doesn't have a long-lasting effect (as evidenced by my first child), but I was still proud that two of my three kids started their time on this earth with clear heads.
So how did I survive natural childbirth and, more importantly, how can you?
Start by educating yourself. Early in my pregnancy I read Dr. Robert Bradley's book "Husband-Coached Childbirth". His techniques and advice just made sense to both me and my husband. He advocates a more relaxed approach to childbirth.
He talks about how tensing up during contractions only fights what your muscles are doing and how "hee hee hoo hoo" kind of breathing can deprive your body of the oxygen it needs at such a critical time. It was very different from what I was hearing in other places.
But the most important things I learned from Dr. Bradley's book were the stages of labor. Knowing what you are going to be going through takes a lot of the fear out of it and helps you better prepare yourself.
Husbands are a key part of getting through the stages with Dr. Bradley's techniques too, as the title suggests. During the most difficult part of labor it is great to have a supportive voice reminding you that the hardest part is also the shortest part. It means that your baby is almost born!
A supportive partner is a key part of natural childbirth. Because it is going to be one of the hardest things you'll ever do, it is so important to have a comforting and strong (but not annoying!) voice there to keep you going. If you can find a childbirth class that teaches the Bradley method or your chosen technique, make sure your partner is present and attentive.
Although mom does most of the work in birthing a child, you really can't discount how important good support can be. This is especially true when your partner has been trained to support you in ways that really will support rather than distract or get in the way. The Bradley method teaches partners to help mom get through each stage of labor through various exercise, massage, and relaxation techniques.
Practice, practice, practice! Whatever techniques you and your partner decide to use, practice is key. If you walk into a delivery room and contractions are going strong, you probably won't appreciate your well-meaning partner "trying out" some new techniques on you.
On the other hand, if you know what your partner is doing and are expecting it, then his efforts will get a much better reception and result. If you have been practicing what it feels like to be relaxed, your mind and body will more easily get to that state when faced with contractions and everything else. If you've never tried it before and if you haven't educated yourself on what to expect, it will be very hard to relax on delivery day.
My husband and I practiced relaxation techniques throughout each of my three pregnancies. It worked very well for me. I stayed relaxed and my husband talked me through each contraction. He would watch the monitor and tell me when the contraction peaked so I'd know I had made it through another one.
I took them one at a time and sometimes visualized the pain leaving me or being used to get the kid out! With our third child I relaxed myself so well that I even fell asleep between contractions! And this was at the point when they were only a few minutes apart.
Be realistic! Don't think that relaxation techniques will make your experience pain-free. It is painful and it helps if you have a pretty high threshold for pain. Unfortunately, that's not really a tip that you can do anything with since you either have it or you don't.
If you're a wimp about pain, then you may already be much more okay with the idea of an epidural. And that's okay. Just try to be realistic about how you handle pain before you get your hopes up too high about natural childbirth.
Finally, be flexible! Every birth is different and none are immune to complications or hiccups. With my first child we were well-prepared for natural childbirth. But she had different plans for us. When we arrived at the hospital after my water broke, we found out she was breech. Within an hour I was scheduled for a c-section.
Try to work with your doctors and nurses and they will usually work with you. Not all of them are supportive of natural childbirth (some tend to be quite skeptical) but try not to be offended. Just stick to your plan unless the situation deems otherwise.
All in all, be flexible and smart enough to do what's best for you and your baby, even if it may not have been what you had in mind. The doctors are the experts and, when it comes to your health and that of your baby, it's usually best to defer to them.
In summary, here are my tips for surviving natural childbirth:
- Educate yourself on the stages of labor and techniques for handling them.
- Rely on a supportive and informed partner.
- Practice relaxation (or other) labor techniques. Don't wait until the day of!
- Be realistic about your threshhold for pain.
- Be flexible! Don't expect anything to go as planned.
So if you have thoroughly educated and prepared yourself, if you are aware of the potential pain involved, and if you have a great partner to get you though it, go for it! Natural childbirth is a truly incredible experience.
If, on the other hand, you're not prepared or can't or don't want to deal with pain, then don't. And don't stress about it! The best thing for baby is going to be a happy mom with fond memories of a great experience. You'll have a beautiful baby either way!