Ask someone their opinion about pain management in childbirth and you might get some heated responses. Particularly if you’re an advocate for natural childbirth and you’ve just asked a woman who began her birth plan by penciling in an epidural.

Birthing naturally is often misunderstood. It doesn’t mean birthing without pain management; it just means birthing without pain medications—using coping skills to navigate and work with the waves of contractions and birth.

According to the CDC, more than half of all laboring women use medications during labor, such as a spinal block, epidural or some combination thereof. But those interventions aren’t without risk as they can slow your labor, lower your blood pressure, potentially reducing oxygen to your baby. They may also increase the likelihood you’ll need medications to boost your labor along as well as continuous fetal monitoring, increase your risk for an emergency cesarean, and even delay mother/baby bonding or starting breastfeeding post-birth.

Experiencing natural birth

Today, moms who chose to give birth without an epidural are in the minority. But you should know your body has the innate ability to give birth with minimal intervention. Childbirth isn’t painless, but preparation in relaxation, breathing, movement and education about the birth process can help you cope effectively. Moms who experience natural birth often describe it as a “natural high” and find the experience very empowering—“If I can do this then I can do anything!”

With a natural birth you’ll be awake, alert, and able to move, choosing positions that are comfortable for you. You can shower or labor in a tub; water is a proven pain reducer, helping you relax. When it’s time to birth, many moms choose squatting, side lying or reclining positions so that gravity can help push the baby out.

Benefits for you and baby

Research shows that moms who choose natural childbirth are less likely to need medical interventions such as Pitocin (to make contractions stronger) or need assistance with delivery (such as forceps or vacuum). Natural birth benefits your baby too—he will be born more alert and be more able to start breastfeeding.

To plan a successful, natural birth, make sure you have the support of your partner, healthcare provider, a facility that supports natural birth, and a staff that will support you.

Be clear about your plans and be prepared for those who may react with negative attitudes—after all, birthing as nature intended is no longer the norm, even though it’s best for you and baby.

Supporting moms and their choices

Choosing how to birth is a very personal and enduring experience; often, people judge other mom’s choices from their own values. Regardless of a woman’s choice, use these options to replace potentially hurtful comments with supportive thoughts.

Instead of this… Say this…
Why even try, you’ll never be able to do it. That is an important decision; I think it would be great if you do that.
Wait till the first contraction, you’ll change your mind. Tell me more about what you plan to do when the contractions get intense.
You don’t get a medal for suffering; you’ll be begging for an epidural. I have heard that it’s a really powerful experience that you’ll remember forever.

Helen Hurst, DNP, RNC, APRN-CNM, is a nurse expert adviser to Healthy Mom&Baby.

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