Pushing a little human out of one’s body is no easy task and if you want to attempt it without an epidural it can seem even more intimidating. The good news is that it can be done! I have had three all-natural births myself (of pretty gigantic babies I might add – my middle child was 10 pounds 8 ounces!) and over the years have gleaned some gems that have been very helpful in helping me to achieve the birth I had hoped for. I wanted to share a few of these tips and tricks, but before I do that, wanted to be sure to preface that a birth can be successful no matter how a baby comes into this world…with or without an epidural…vaginal or C-section. This isn’t about shaming women who choose other options, but for those that are hoping to have a drug-free birth, these tips are meant to encourage and empower.
1. Choose a safe space
Did you know that many mammals giving birth will go off to find a quiet place away from others to deliver their babies? Perhaps the chaos and commotion doesn’t feel like a “safe” space for them to deliver their young. So it is with human mammals as well. While some women may feel safest in their own homes, surrounded by their own things during labor, others find the thought to be terrifying. Drug-free birth can happen anywhere – home, hospital, birthing center, parking lot of a 7-Eleven (seriously I had a friend deliver in their parking lot!) – so long as it is a place where you feel safe and are able to relax and let your body do its thing.
2. Find your person
I firmly believe that one of the greatest predictors of a successful labor and delivery (no matter if interventions are employed or not) is having at least one person that you know and trust on your birth team. For me, that meant choosing a team of home birth midwives that I knew and trusted implicitly, but for others maybe that means an OB they really love. Even if you’re in a hospital setting where your OB or midwife won’t be predictable, you can still hire a doula so you’ll be sure to have one person who truly knows you and is there to encourage and advocate for you.
3. Prepare your body
Birth is one of (if not the) most physically intense/exhausting experiences a body can go through and as such it is an experience that should be prepared for. Exercising and taking good care of your body during pregnancy can make a big difference in labor and delivery. During my first pregnancy I was much more healthy and active than I was with my second pregnancy and my labors were proof. My second labor was far more difficult and I truly believe it was at least partially due to how little I prepared myself for it physically.
I have had many people talk about natural birth with me from the perspective of “hoping” it works out. In my experiences and observations, simply “hoping” for a drug-free birth isn’t enough to make it happen. I don’t care what those orgasmic (yeah right!) birthers tell you…pushing a tiny human (who doesn’t actually feel so tiny) out of one’s nether regions without so much as an aspirin hurts like a mother. At some point you WILL want the drugs…believe me, I asked. If you have a wishy washy resolve you will not last. Commit to having a natural birth – telling others and yourself this. And if it doesn’t end up happening? C’est la vie. But the mental aspect of committing really does go a long way.
5. Require positivity
There is something about birth that brings out the nay sayer in others. Everyone will want to tell you their scariest stories about their friend/sister/neighbor’s birth and how things went awry, but I would encourage you to stop them in their tracks. When I was pregnant and people tried to scare me with birth stories, I would tell that that I knew that birth was challenging, but that I was up for the challenge and that I believed in my body and its ability to birth. I also spoke only positive affirmations about birth during my pregnancy. The power of the mind is strong.
6. Prepare coping strategies
Read books, pick the brains of other mamas who have gone before you and listen to positive birth stories to glean positive coping strategies for pain management in labor. During my pregnancies I perfected blowing horse lips a’la the recommendation of Ina May, practiced pain management techniques using the ice cube test, and memorized mantras like, “I can do anything for one minute,” and “My body is strong and capable and I can do this.” I basically just stockpiled any potential coping strategy to have at the ready in my bag of tricks come labor. Do whatever you want to prepare – everyone’s coping strategies are different – but whatever you do, do not go in blindly.
7. Tag team it!
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a supportive birth partner. Whether your person is your husband or your mother or your next door neighbor is of little importance – it just needs to be someone whom you trust and who believes in you and your body’s ability to birth. Prepare your birth partner as much as possible – maybe take a birthing class or read a birthing book together and sit down and talk about the things that are important to you during labor.
8. Ignorance is bliss
As wonderful as it is to be informed about birth and all of your options, at a certain point ignorance is bliss. What I mean by that is that during labor, for some women, the less they know, the better. For example, during labor I had no clocks in the room and dark curtains so I couldn’t tell what time of day it was and wouldn’t get hung up on the time. I didn’t receive cervical checks either, since labor can progress at such wildly varied rates and they can often be nothing more than a source of false hope or frustration. Sometimes not knowing all the details can help you relax and settle into your body and letting it do its own thing.
7. Stay open
If there was one mantra I could attribute to having a successful birth, it would be to stay open…open to different birthing positions…different techniques…and simply being open (relaxed throughout your body) in general. The more relaxed you can be in your approach and your body, the more freedom you give your body to take over and get that baby out.
8. Let go of expectations
At the end of the day the most important thing to know about birth is that every baby and every birth is unique. My mom had two C-section births, so I often worried that my experience would be the same. I had a friend whose mother who had home births for all five of her children and assumed she would have the same experience and ended up with a C-section. Birth truly is one of the last great surprises in life and it’s important to hold onto our plans and ideals with a light hand. Drug-free birth is a wonderful option, but it is by no means the end all, be all of getting babies to this earth. Be optimistic and plan ahead, but try to let go or as many expectations as possible. If you are able to do that then you despite any challenges that may occur, you can still feel like your birth was a success.