Natural Childbirth

For millennia women have been giving birth naturally, without the aid of modern medicine. Only at the beginning of the 20th century did birthing move from the home to the hospital, coming under the care of physicians and other medical professionals. But in the 1940’s women began to question the need for and safety record of hospitalized births. Physicians Michel Odent and Frederick Leboyer, and midwives such as Ina May Gaskin, promoted birthing centers, water birth, and homebirth as alternatives to the hospital model. And over the intervening years research has borne out that low-tech midwifery provides labor outcomes as good as or better than those found in hospital settings with fewer interventions, except for a small percentage of high-risk cases.

Besides understanding that childbirth may not require the intense medical interventions that are so common, there are some important psychological components to natural childbirth that one may want to consider. Many women believe natural birth to be empowering. A woman who is supported in labor as she instinctively wants to, is a woman who will likely feel positive about her birth experience and future parenting skills. Her baby is more able to be alert and placed on her skin (promoting maternal bonding), and breastfeeding is more likely to be enjoyable. Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her newborn immediately after birth is beneficial for both mother and baby. A review done by the World Health Organization found that skin-to-skin contact between mothers and babies after birth reduces crying, improves mother-infant interaction, and helps mothers to breastfeed successfully. The WHO recommends that newborns be allowed to bond with the mother during their first two hours after birth, the period in which newborns tend to be more alert than in the following hours of early life, a practice seldom done when birth occurs in a hospital setting.

Research has estimated that up to 95 percent of women can safely give birth without medical interventions (including, but not limited to, epidurals, caesarian sections, vacuum extraction, and forceps). Therefore, the midwifery model of care, which usually holds a more holistic approach to labor and delivery, tends to avoid such routine medical procedures (which can lead to complications for both mother and infant) when used for the sake of convenience. Thus, the midwifery model relies on medical tools only when they are deemed absolutely necessary to ensure safety.

Another important aspect of natural childbirth maintains that pain is a normal and necessary part of the labor process, and should not automatically be regarded as entirely negative. In contrast to the pain of injury and disease, natural childbirth proponents believe that the pain of childbirth is a sign that the female body is functioning as it is meant to. Some methods used to augment labor without medication require that the woman is an active participant in the birthing process. They include frequently changing positions and walking. Birth positions favored in natural childbirth – including squatting, hands and knees, or suspension in water – contrast with the popular lithotomy position of a modern obstetrical birth (woman in a hospital bed on her back with her legs in stirrups), which has consistently been shown to slow and complicate labor.

In summary, home births have increased more than 20% over the last decade and continue to rise. Even though only about 1% of all births are home births, they represent a significant number, more than 400,000 births a year. Ergo, if one can intuit that pregnancy is not a disease or illness, but a natural occurrence and process, then why would it be necessary for it to take place in a hospital environment under the care of physicians and other medical personnel? Why shouldn’t it take place in familiar surroundings, in a warm and nurturing environment, with the support of caring friends and a loving family. It’s an alternative choice that women can make, especially those that are of low risk, who are wanting to be fully awake and present for such a once-in-lifetime momentous event.

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