As a doula—a labor support person—Penny Simkin, PT, has helped more than 11,000 couples prepare for childbirth in more than 43 years of practice. As a physical therapist, she was among the first to use her expertise in kinesiology to get the best birth outcomes possible. When Healthy Mom&Baby caught up with her, she shared how women can reclaim the incredibly empowering and amazing experience of having a birth from nature.

What exactly is natural labor and birth?
Natural birth is so much more than just no pain medications. Women who give birth naturally achieve an incredible sense of accomplishment—“since I could do that, I can do anything!” It’s birthing the way nature intended. Laboring while being able to move around freely. With the natural behaviors of birth, and with excellent support, both physically and emotionally. To have not only a partner who is there to support you, but also a doula who is there for your comfort needs.

You call natural birth an incredible gift…
You’re never going to forget the day you birth your child. No matter how many children you may have, you will vividly remember each birth. It’s a permanent memory, and it’s extremely important to have that positive lifelong memory. Whether it was an easy or difficult birth, women have shared that if they remembered feeling cared for at the time they have a good memory of that birth experience.

But this is not what birth typically looks like right now…
The money is not in natural birth; there’s money in lots of procedures and the very high-tech approach. We’ve passed the tipping point. Inductions are mostly unnecessary yet very common. Epidurals are the norm and cesarean birth is now more than 1 in 3. We’ve reached a point where people don’t know what natural birth looks like, much less understand its benefits. Women are so casual about induction today. They don’t know there’s a downside. There’s this “just get them out alive and they’ll be fine” mentality. But these interventions aren’t without risk.

The Listening to Mothers survey from Childbirth Connections gave us a good picture of how women aren’t informed when they give birth. They have more interventions than necessary. And 9% of all women who give birth have post-traumatic stress disorder after childbirth—1 in 5 have some of the symptoms. Whatever we’re doing with birth, we think we’re improving outcomes but we’re not.

How do we reclaim natural birth?
I was just in Iceland; they have the lowest infant morbidity and mortality rates in the world. Their cesarean rates are 17%, and they look just like us—ordinary women. Women need to know that their choice of caregiver and place for birth is key to the outcome. Look around your community; find a place where you feel comfortable, go where they have women-centered care. If the hospital or birthing center has midwives on staff, that’s generally an encouraging sign that it’s a good place to go.

Want more?

Check out Penny Simkin’s website which includes childbirth class listings and further articles and resources.

And also read: Natural childbirth doesn’t have to be a painful delivery


Carolyn Davis Cockey, MLS, LCCE, is founding editor of Healthy Mom&Baby, Senior Director of Partnerships & Publications at AWHONN, and a Lamaze-certified childbirth educator in Sarasota, FL.

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