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From family planning and when to conceive to delivering your baby and postpartum, the entire journey of pregnancy and childbirth is full of personal choices. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people receive epidural or spinal anesthesia to relieve labor pain. Whereas others are more focused on the benefits of natural birth, that is, without any drugs and pain medications.
There is no right way or wrong way when it comes to welcoming your baby into the world. Whether you choose to have an unmedicated birth, medicated with an epidural, or via C-section– it’s important to know what they actually mean. You must not only take into consideration the benefits of natural birth and medicated birth but also keep in mind the potential drawbacks.
Learning about the pros and cons of birth with and without pain medication can help you make an informed decision about your labor and delivery plan.
Natural Birth Vs Epidural Birth: What Is The Difference ?
What Is Natural Birth ?
Firstly, there is no such thing as an unnatural birth. What is meant by natural birth is that little-to-no pain-relieving medication is used in this process of giving birth.
Natural birth or unmedicated birth generally refers to vaginal labor where labor starts on its own, rather than inducing it, and letting the process run its course with minimal intervention. In simple words, natural birth is about giving birth at your body’s pace.
What Is Epidural Birth ?
Epidural and spinal anesthesia is an injection of anesthesia in your lower back that numbs your nerves from the waist down. They can relieve the worst labor pains for pregnant people and are one of the most common pain medications that are used during childbirth.
Choosing between natural or medicated birth is your personal choice. Both the processes have their ups and downs. To make this choice easier for you, we have listed the benefits and drawbacks of both natural birth and medicated birth for you.
Natural Birth: Benefits and Drawbacks
Natural childbirth can make you feel empowered, but there are certain pros and cons that you need to consider before opting for an unmedicated birth.
Benefits Of Natural Birth For You
The benefits of natural birth for you are
- Shorter labor
- Faster recovery
- Ability to move freely
- Ability to change birthing positions
- Avoid epidural related side effects
1. Shorter labor
- While giving birth naturally, oxytocin signals the uterus to begin contraction and signals the brain to send endorphins, nature’s painkiller.
- Epidurals interfere with this normal cascade of labor hormones and can slow labor significantly.
2. Faster recovery
- Postpartum recovery is different for every woman. But most women feel significantly better after an unmedicated birth compared to a medicated one.
- The main reason for this is the oxytocin hormone, which provides pain relief as well as provides a feeling of euphoria.
3. Ability To Move Freely
- Some mamas find it helpful to walk and move around to ease the labor pain.
- Walking, taking a hot shower, or swaying on an exercise ball are some of the common pain-relieving methods followed by moms-to-be.
4. Ability to change birthing positions
- Epidurals numb your body from your waist down, and you’re most likely confined to your bed.
- Women who walk and change position during labor experience increased comfort, are can change their birthing position or try alternative delivery positions like squatting, all fours (hands and knees), kneeling, or leaning against something (a chair or your partner)
5. Avoid epidural related side effects
- Natural births can help avoid the harmful side effects of epidural and other pain relief medications.
- The use of epidurals can cause a sudden drop in your blood pressure.
- This leads to less oxygen-rich blood pumping to the baby, leading to fetal distress.
Benefits Of Natural Birth For Baby
Natural birth is not only beneficial for you but for your baby as well. The benefits of natural birth for babies are
- Enhances baby’s brain development
- Proper Development of lungs
- A healthy gut and immune system
1. Enhances Baby's Brain Development
- Helps in increasing the production of proteins in the baby’s brain
- Helps in brain development and brain function.
- A C-section delivery does not prompt the body to release these proteins.
2. Proper Development Of Lungs
- Hormonal changes that happen during labor help in the proper development of the lungs.
- This allows the lungs to function optimally.
3. Healthy Gut
- Natural childbirth protects babies from asthma, allergies, and infections.
- Plays an important role in the immune system of a child.
- Natural birth gives babies a higher chance to combat health complications.
- Gives them the healthy bacteria they need to fight other diseases.
Drawbacks Of Natural Birth
Apart from the many benefits of natural birth for babies, unmedicated birth carries some risks that should be considered.
- Manage all the pain without assistance
- May need medical intervention
- Anxiety and stress
1. Manage all the pain without assistance
- For some women, the pain is more than they had anticipated.
- To manage all the pain without medical assistance is challenging for some women.
2. May need medical intervention
- In case of emergencies, such as if your baby’s heart rate drops, or the cord prolapses, you may be put under general anesthesia.
- This is done for your safety since at this point C-section will likely be necessary.
3. Anxiety and stress
- Feeling anxious, stressed, or tired can make labor a longer process.
- Sometimes your baby’s positioning can add more time and discomfort to your labor.
It is important to note in this case that natural birth may not be suited for all. If you have been deemed high risk, or have any pre-existing medical condition, your doctor (OB-GYN) may recommend you against natural childbirth for the safety of you and your baby.
Medicated Birth: Benefits and Drawbacks
Your doctor can recommend you against natural birth at times. This is mostly because of prior pregnancy-related issues, increased pregnancy weight, diabetes, or if you are preterm. In these cases, you might have to go for a C-section, for the safety of you and your baby.
Let’s learn about the benefits and drawbacks of medicated birth.
Benefits Of Medicated Birth
Even though not 100% pain-free, medical births have many advantages over natural birth.
- Pain relief during labor
- Stress-free birth experience
- A backup plan
1. Pain relief during labor
- Epidurals take about 10-20 minutes to come into action.
- This makes the birth experience smoother and easier.
2. Stress-free birth experience
- Most women have a relaxed, alert, and stress-free childbirth.
3. A backup plan
- In case you change your mind about unmedicated birth during labor, you can opt for an epidural.
Drawbacks Of Medicated Birth
Like other pain medications, epidurals have side effects as well. Most people worry about the side effects while making the decision. These include
- Limited mobility
- Difficult pushing
- Lowered blood pressure
- Additional side effects
1. Limited mobility
- Medicated births include procedures such as having an epidural, IVs, or continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EFM)
- This means you will be confined to bed, unable to walk or change positions when it would be beneficial to do so.
2. Difficult pushing
- The strong effect of epidural can make it difficult to feel contractions and push during delivery for some women.
- An epidural can make it difficult if your baby is in an abnormal position.
- This can imply needing intervention to help the labor process.
3. Lowered blood pressure
- Epidural can cause a drop in blood pressure during labor.
- This can lower your baby’s heart rate.
4. Additional side effects
Narcotic pain relief medication and epidurals can cause additional side effects in your baby as well. These include:
- Central nervous system depression
- Respiratory depression
- Impaired early breastfeeding
- Altered neurological behavior
- Decreased ability to regulate body temperature
- Takes longer to get rid of drugs and toxins in their system.
Is Natural Birth A Good Option For You ?
Even though deciding how you want to give birth to your little one is a personal choice, you should always consider consulting your doctor about your options and whether your birth without medication is safe for you.
How will you know if you are a fit candidate for natural childbirth ?
You are most likely to be a suitable candidate for a natural birth if
- You are expecting one baby
- You are considered full-term (at least 37 weeks along in your pregnancy)
- You have no chronic health problems
- You have experienced no prior pregnancy complications
On the other hand, there might be a condition where you may be at risk for complications during birth. So your doctor (OB-GYN) will ensure you receive extra medical attention to be on the safe side of the delivery process.
How will you know if birth without medication is not for you ?
Birth without medication is probably not for you if
- You’re expecting multiples
- You’re preterm (less than 37 weeks pregnant) when you go into labor
- You’re considered overweight or gained too much pregnancy weight
- You’ve other pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia
- You’re a group B strep carrier (you’ll be tested during week 36 of pregnancy); you’ll need IV antibiotics during labor to decrease the risk of neonatal infection
- You’ve diabetes or gestational diabetes, since you may need an IV and insulin drip during birth
- You’ve got a baby in the breech position when you go into labor — for your safety and your baby’s you will likely require a C-section
How To Prepare For Natural Birth ?
Now that you know the pros and cons and whether you are suitable for a natural birth, is there any way you can prepare yourself for a natural birth?
Here are a few steps you should consider before you go into labor:
Talk to your doctor
Make sure you’ve informed your doctor regarding your choice. Also, let them know in advance if you’d like to opt for an epidural in case you change your mind about natural birth.
Consider hiring a doula
Your doula will talk to you about a birth plan during your pregnancy and will work hard with you to execute labor.
Get help from family and friends
It’s always great to talk to people who have undergone natural births in your family and your friend’s circle. You can also take classes, too, to practice exercises and techniques that can be useful in the delivery room.
Pain management techniques
Towards the last few weeks of pregnancy, try a variety of unmedicated pain management techniques with your birthing partner. These can include
- Massage therapy
- Relaxation and breathing exercises
By practicing these techniques over and over again, it will become second nature when you need it most.
Tips On Natural Birth
Apart from your preparation, once you actually hit the delivery room, a few concepts can really increase your chances to make it all the way to the final push without any medical interventions:
One minute at a time
Once you time your contractions, you’ll see that they mostly last one minute, and then you get relief. Focus on things minute by minute, and try to keep your mind off the journey ahead. By doing so, you’re more likely to make it through without pain medication.
Visualize a successful delivery
They say: Believe you can, and you’re halfway there. The same applies here as well. Picture bringing your baby to this world smoothly. Visualize a successful result, and believe in the power of positive thinking. You are strong, and your body will get you through this.
Don’t overcrowd the delivery room
Well, it might seem pretty encouraging when you have all your closest family members and friends by your side. But research shows that too many people can end up being more of a distraction than assistance. This can lead to a slower pace of labor and can make it hard for you to stay unmedicated.
Benefits Of Natural Birth Final Conclusion
Giving birth and being part of the birth experience is an unforgettable feeling. But you must also remember that every labor is different and everyone experiences pain differently. There’s nothing wrong with asking for pain relief if you need it — don’t be too hard on yourself. No matter how you deliver, you will soon be holding your bundle of joy!