Natural birth free from unnecessary interventions has immense benefit for both mother and baby. There is no standard definition for natural birth, but in my mind it means the way nature intended birth to be.
Nature didn’t intend for us to give birth in the same place sick people go for care. Nature didn’t intend for pregnant women to be given a variety of drugs to speed labor up and reduce the associated pain. Our bodies have innate functions to mediate all of these issues. Nature didn’t intend for our babies to be taken away from us immediately after giving birth. Nature didn’t intend for the cord to be cut before oxygenated blood has stopped flowing.
To many, natural birth is scary. We’ve been indoctrinated with the belief that birth is extremely dangerous. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The truth is many women today feel that they had a traumatic birth experience because of the prescribed medical interventions they received, not in spite of them.
Birth is beautiful. It should be empowering, and it should leave a woman feeling deeply connected to the amazing strength of her body and to her baby. Instead, in the United States we’re seeing a rise in traumatic birth experiences and the worst infant mortality rates of any developed nation.
There’s a time and a place for medical interventions. There’s no doubt that they can be life saving, but this doesn’t alter the fact that our bodies were designed to give birth without the aid of modern medicine.
I want to be clear that the purpose of this article is in no way to shame anyone for how they choose to give birth. Your body, your choice. For many women, a cesarean section (c-section) is a necessary blessing. Others may be pressured into allowing their care providers to take the reins and make decisions for them. The aim of this article is to highlight the safety of nature’s design and provide insight into one of the medical communities most divided topics. With the right knowledge, you can feel empowered in your birth choice, instead of intimidated.
The Benefits Of Birth Without Drugs
1. Pain Relieving Hormones
A finely tuned hormonal orchestration is involved in natural birth, one so perfect that to interfere in one way almost always means interfering in a variety of ways. Each hormone plays an important role in our body’s innate responses to keep mom and baby safe. The most important hormones for pain relief are oxytocin and endorphins. There are few events beyond childbirth where these hormones show up in such high concentrations.
Oxytocin triggers our nurturing feelings and is released during lovemaking, breastfeeding, skin to skin contact, and labor. It’s often referred to as the bonding or love hormone. A woman will never experience higher levels of oxytocin then she does during labor. It’s an important preparatory step that helps the mother-child connection to blossom. Oxytocin is also involved in regulating contractions and helps prevent postpartum hemorrhage.
Endorphins are our natural pain relieving hormones. They’re released when the body is under great stress. During natural birth endorphins will steadily increase, whereas during a medicated birth the levels are much lower. Endorphins can lead to a state of euphoria after birth, leaving mom energized and happy to connect with her new baby.
On the other side of the hormonal symphony, is the guy who can’t play the violin and ruins the whole show: Adrenaline is a hormone that should be avoided at all costs during childbirth as it directly initiates the ‘fight or flight’ response. Being in a stressful environment with bright lights, in a situation where you’re not allowed to move around or eat and drink, has the potential to initiate the fight or flight response and lead to a higher risk of medical intervention.
2. Less Overall Risk For Mother And Baby
By avoiding the epidural, mothers save themselves and their babies from various associated risks. Studies have found the side effects of epidurals for mothers include increased risk of tearing, longer labor, increased risk of pelvic floor problems, increased use of synthetic oxytocin (pitocin) to induce labor, and increased risk of forceps being used for delivery.
For baby, it takes 4 times longer to eliminate the drugs from their systems (up to 36 hours), resulting in less alertness and a slower development of motor abilities in their first month of life. One study even indicated that the use of local anesthetics may have an adverse effect on a newborn’s immune system.
3. Shorter Labor
Epidurals have been shown to lengthen the final stages of labor. By removing a woman’s connection to the sensations in her body, how would she know when to push, or shift positions? Pain medications interfere with the natural hormone production that causes strong contractions, lengthening the entire process and tripling the likelihood of synthetic pitocin being given to speed up labor.
4. You’re Able To Listen To Your Own Body
Undoubtedly, a certain level of trust must be given to the natural process of birth. By avoiding pain drugs, a woman can really tune in to what’s going on. There’s no doubt that you will know when to push, when to move positions, and when to breath deeply and consciously relax.
5. Avoid Unnecessary Episiotomy
An episiotomy is a procedure in which the posterior vaginal wall is cut to widen the opening of the birth canal. Avoiding episiotomy is much more difficult when a woman can’t feel any sensation. One study showed the risk of episiotomy is tripled with an epidural.
6. Lower Risk Of Autism And Neurological Disorders
Induced and augmented labor has been linked to higher risk of autism. The incidence of boys with autism whose mothers had an induced labor was 35 percent higher than natural progression. With girls, only augmented labor, when women are given pitocin to speed things along, was associated with a higher incidence of autism.
7. Epigenetic Impact Of Childbirth (EPIIC) Hypothesis
Epigenetics is the study of genetic variations activated by our lifestyle and external environment. This new science shows that we aren’t defined by our genetics, and that there are ways in which we can alter our genetic expression, for better or worse. One such epigenetic factor is how we’re brought into the world. A study published in 2013 showed that unnecessary medical interventions can have lifelong effects, including lower levels of oxytocin, resulting in behavioral problems, and a higher incidence of Type-1 diabetes. After analyzing how medical interventions affect the epigenetics of a child throughout life, the researchers concluded:
“A fundamental tenet of clinical practice is to “do no harm”. The EPIIC group hypothesizes the routine application of interventions during a healthy childbirth event can alter physiological epigenetic remodeling, with the potential for negative health effects. This suggests that physiological labor and birth is finely tuned to generate optimal epigenetic effects for later wellbeing. It is paramount to the wellbeing and protection of mothers and babies to adequately explore this area of research and investigate patterns of methylation related to mode of delivery and birth. The implications as explored may carry significant implications and it is our obligation as scientists to provide the best quality care to patients while driving the state of the science to further heights.”
8. Lower Risk Of Hemorrhage And Blood Transfusion
Oxytocin helps to contract the uterus after birth and prevent hemorrhage. One study showed that birth induction increased the risk of hemorrhage and that c-sections increased the risk of endometritis, pneumonia, and the need for blood transfusions.
9. Lower Risk Of Cesarean
Unnecessary induction of labor increases the risk of cesarean by 67 percent. Rosalie Grivell, one of the main researchers in this University of Adelaide study, states: “We hope our findings will increase awareness of potential complications related to the common use of induction of labor in situations where there is no serious maternal or fetal problem.”
10. Avoid Antibiotics
The main reason women are given antibiotic drips during labor is because of a positive group B strep (GBS) test. But is it really necessary? Do the risks outweigh the benefits?
Antibiotics save lives, but their overuse is propelling a rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria. Beneficial bacteria, on the other hand, have been in the spotlight lately as the medical community learns more about their role in preventing disorders as varied as IBS and depression.
The fact that one third of all U.S. women receive intravenous antibiotics during labor needs to be called into question. There’s plenty of evidence to indicate that this precautionary measure might be doing more harm than good. The GBS test is also highly inaccurate, which means many perfectly healthy women are receiving entirely unnecessary antibiotics.
Naturally, it’s good to be cautious, but some midwives like Amy Tinney recommend getting rid of the GBS test and combating potential bacterial infections with natural compounds that don’t compromise beneficial bacteria, such as garlic, echinacea, vitamin C, and probiotics.
11. The Sense Of Accomplishment
Labor is like running a marathon, but the rush of hormones is more powerful than crossing any finish line. When you’re able to be fully present throughout the birth, you’ll come out on the other side in awe of what your body is capable of.
The Benefits Of Home Birth Or One At A Birth Center
12. Giving Birth At Home Is Often Safer Than At A Bacteria Laden Hospital
The myth that home birth is dangerous has officially been dispelled. Many studies from around the world show that home birth is just as safe, if not safer, than giving birth in a hospital. One study showed that obstetric interventions are making birth more dangerous, instead of safer. A study of 5000 women from the U.S. and Canada showed the outcomes of planned home birth with a midwife are not only just as safe as hospital birth, but have 10 times less medical interventions and a very low c-section rate of 3.7 percent compared to the U.S. national average of 33 percent.
13. One Thing Often Leads To Another
It’s rare that a woman will only require one medical intervention. Because of the nature of how our hormones work, interfering with one system increases the likelihood that more interventions will be needed. When you birth in a comfortable, relaxed setting, surrounded by those you love, the chances of starting this cycle of events because of a high stress level are reduced.
14. You Can Eat And drink As You Please
Most hospitals still have a policy that doesn’t allow eating and drinking during labor. Studies show there’s no good reason for this. Eating and drinking during labor is commonplace in many countries. It only makes sense that you should be able to nourish your body during such an intense period — especially when you consider the average length of labor for a woman having her first child is 12 to 18 hours!
15. You Can Move Around, Dance, Listen To Music, And Feel At Home
Another benefit of being in a soothing environment that you control is that you’re able to put on your favorite jams and move around. Music has a soothing effect on women during labor, and dancing and moving can help speed things along and make the experience all the more joyful.
16. Make Noise Without Inhibition
Scream, moan, groan, sing — and don’t think twice about bothering the person one curtain over from you.
Skin to skin contact helps strengthen the initial bond between mom and baby. Especially right after the birth, it’s important for a new mother to lay with her baby for extended periods, which might be more difficult in a hospital setting, where a mother’s access to her own baby is often restricted.
18. Birth On Your Own Schedule
Few health care practitioners would ever admit that there are time constraints when giving birth in a hospital. But you’re in an institution where your doctor and care staff won’t be able to stay with you for an entire day and night. Many women birth slowly, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but many hospitals will put pressure on to move things along (using pharmaceuticals such as pitocin) because of staffing rather than medical considerations. A woman should never have to feel rushed while in labor, but often the reasoning behind induction and c-section is more about scheduling (or a doctor’s weekend golf plans!) than what’s best for mom and baby.
19. You Control Your Environment
When you birth at home or in an equivalent relaxed setting, you can open a window, turn the lights down low, light some candles — and you have peace of mind knowing that your baby won’t be exposed to the kinds of bacteria in hospitals. A low stress birthing environment improves the outcome for both mother and child.
21. Have As Much Support As You Need
Hospitals often won’t allow more than two support people in the room during labor. It makes sense for the setting, but many women want their doula, partner, mother, friend or other children present to support them. It’s nice to have control over who is involved in your birth process and not be forced into making difficult choices.
22. Choice To Birth In Water
Water birth is becoming more popular and for good reason. It’s been shown to help with pain relief and reduce perineal tearing, and it’s a gentle way for a baby to come into the world since the environment’s so similar to the one they were just in.
23. Affordable Care
Most insurance providers cover care under a licensed midwife, so why not go for it?
24. Utilize Natural Herbs Prescribed By A Herbalist Or Naturopath
There are plenty of herbs that can help induce labour, relieve pain, and reduce stress. At home you can feel at ease drinking a soothing cup of medicinal tea or taking a tincture without question. However, always consult a qualified practitioner.
Benefits For Baby And Mom
Empowerment comes from making your own informed decisions and courageously following through with them. The after effects of a traumatic birth experience last a long time, just as the after effects of an empowering birth will last a lifetime.
Though health care providers have always assumed that a woman’s satisfaction with her birth would be directly linked to a lack of pain, one study has found that it’s actually the ability to maintain a certain sense of control over their experience.
26. Breastfeeding With Ease
There’s no doubt that after a major surgery, like a c-section, it’s going to be more challenging to breastfeed with ease. While momma is healing, she’ll have to get creative with different holds and positions, and it might be more challenging to co-sleep, which has been shown to promote a healthy breastfeeding relationship. One study even showed that women who had a c-section expressed less overall interest in breastfeeding, perhaps because of the lack of natural bonding hormones that are released during a natural birth.
The bonding process is a delicate one that should never be interfered with unless it’s absolutely necessary. There are many medical interventions (including epidural, pitocin, and c-section) and numerous hospital protocols which interfere with this process. Babies are often whisked away before even being able to rest after their long journey. Out of respect for both mother and baby, there should be ample time allowed to begin the breastfeeding relationship with plenty of skin to skin contact.
28. Baby Will Help
The baby is also working to wriggle out of his home for the last 9 months. Babies turn and twist in order to find the clearest path to the light. The more alert and aware the baby is when entering the world, the easier it will be on mom.
29. Improves Baby’s Brain Development
A 2012 study conducted at the Yale University School of Medicine showed natural birth initiates a specific protein expression of UPC2 in the brains of infants. This brain boosting chemical protects against brain damage, aids in digestion, and improves brain development and function well into adulthood.
30. Lower Incidence Of Maternal Morbidity
Modern medicine no doubt saves lives, but going against what nature intended also holds inherent dangers. Maternal morbidity is three times more likely with a c-section that with vaginal birth.
31. Higher APGAR Scores For Baby
Epidurals have been shown to cause maternal fever, which can affect a baby’s APGAR score (a test administered after birth to asses how well a baby is doing). A baby’s alertness can also be altered for its first month of life depending on the amount of bupivacaine (anesthetic) administered to the mother via epidural.
32. Lower Risk Of Fetal Distress
Synthetic pitocin increases the strength and frequency of contractions. This can cause a significant amount of stress for the baby because of a lack of recovery time from the reduced blood flow caused by these contractions. Epidurals have also been shown to cause a decrease in fetal heartbeat.
33. Strengthens Mom For The Challenges Ahead
Motherhood is a tough gig. It’s incredibly rewarding, but also very challenging. If you can birth a baby, you can do just about anything!
Benefits Of Delayed Cord Clamping
34. Prevents Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency is a big worry for young infants since breastmilk doesn’t have much iron. Fortunately, by delaying cord clamping a baby can receive an additional 27-47 mg of iron (see study). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that waiting 3 minutes to cut the cord can prevent iron deficiency for the entire first year of life.
35. Developmental Benefits
That one half cup of blood can make a big difference as a child grows up. Even waiting just 3 minutes affects a child’s development, says this study published by JAMA Pediatrics. The study compared 4-year olds who had their cords cut after 3 minutes and with those who had it cut at 10 seconds (such immediate cord clamping is the norm) and found the first group had higher social and fine motor skills.
36. Lowers Risk For Preemies
Premature babies arguably benefit the most from delayed cord clamping. They’re so fragile to begin with that any extra blood is going to be very important. Studies show that delayed cord clamping in preemies helps regulate blood pressure in the following days. In addition, fewer blood transfusions are needed and serious complications are more easily avoided.
37. Increased Blood Platelet Levels And Normal Blood Clotting
Normal blood clotting and blood platelet levels will be ensured when delayed cord clamping is performed. Because one-third of a baby’s blood is in the placenta, it’s incredibly important to allow the necessary time for the transfusion to take place. Imagine if we adults lost one-third of our blood stores — that would be a recipe for disaster!
38. Increased Levels Of Stem Cells
By clamping the cord too early, we deprive baby of vital stem cells that will be important throughout his or her life. Stem cells play a crucial role in the development of all bodily systems and as Mark Sloan, M.D. puts it, “The concentration of stem cells in fetal blood is higher than at any other time of life. ICC [immediate cord clamping] leaves nearly one-third of these critical cells in the placenta.”
39. Cutting The Cord Early Offers No Benefits
In his well researched article, Mark Sloan, M.D. debunks the flawed reasoning most medical professionals have for early cord clamping. Much of it is about speed, schedules, and habit. Concerns about hyperviscocity (thick blood), jaundice, and loss of blood volume back into the placenta have been disproved for the most part and there are no longer many legitimate reasons for cutting the cord prematurely.
40. Cord Blood Banking Isn’t The Miracle It’s Made Out To Be
Sarah Buckley, M.D., author of the book Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, explains why the logic behind cord blood banking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be:
“The likelihood of low-risk children needing their own stored cells has been estimated at 1 in 20,000. Cord blood donations are likely to be ineffective for the treatment of adults, because the number of stem cells is too small. Cord blood may contain pre-leukaemic changes and may increase the risk of relapse. Autologous cord blood is only suitable for children who develop solid tumours, lymphomas or auto-immune disorders. All other uses are speculative.”
Cord blood banking is a lucrative business, but overall a baby will be better off keeping what’s theirs at birth rather than saving it for later.
The Benefits Of Vaginal Birth
41. Lower Incidence Of Pelvic Floor Disorders
The idea that c-sections are safer for avoiding pelvic floor disorders seems like it might make common sense, which is one of the reasons its perpetuated, but this is not actually the case. A large study, conducted at the University of Adelaide in Australia, found that regardless of delivery method the chance of experiencing pelvic floor problems is similar, and not in fact higher as one might expect with vaginal birth.
42. Beneficial Bacteria
Healthy gut flora is so critical to a healthy immune system that some mothers who have to girth birth by c-section are practicing what’s called ‘seeding.’ This involves swabbing the baby with vaginal excretions so they can still receive this important beneficial bacteria.
What we know now about the human microbiome is that it literally affects nearly every bodily system. Babies born via c-section without being ‘seeded’ can go on to have permanent changes in their intestinal microflora. Repercussions range from asthma to more allergies later in life.
43. It’s Much Easier To Recover
Naturally, it’s going to be more difficult to recover from surgery, such as a c-section, than from an unassisted vaginal birth. But a study conducted by researchers in Canberra, Australia, shows the implications may be more serious than many women think:
“Compared with unassisted vaginal births, women who had cesarean sections reported more exhaustion, lack of sleep, and bowel problems; reported less perineal pain and urinary incontinence in the first 8 weeks; and were more likely to be readmitted to hospital within 8 weeks of the birth. Women with forceps or vacuum extraction reported more perineal pain and sexual problems than those with unassisted vaginal births after adjusting for parity, perineal trauma, and length of labor.”
According to another study conducted at the Boston University School of Public Health, the length of hospital stay for women who had cesareans is 77 percent longer than those who had a vaginal birth.
44. More Satisfaction With Overall Birth Experience
There are certain less obvious risks associated with delivery via c-section. Studies have found mothers who undergo c-sections have less overall satisfaction with their birth experience. Researchers at the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University in New York summarize this phenomenon by stating:
“[W]omen who deliver by cesarean section have more negative perceptions of their birth experience, their selves, and their infants, exhibit poorer parenting behaviors, and may be at higher risk for postpartum mood disturbance compared to women delivering infants vaginally. We also review evidence that suggests that cesareans adversely influence women’s moods and perceptions by restricting the control that they can exercise over birth and by violating expectations about childbirth. Based on these findings, we recommend ways to reduce the aversiveness of cesareans, offer recommendations for future research, and discuss implications of escalating rates of cesareans, including medically non-indicated cesareans by request.”
45. Baby Comes When They’re Ready
There are many hormonal benefits of going into labor spontaneously. In the report Hormonal Physiology of Childbirth, author Dr. Sarah Buckley lists the hormonal benefits for mother and baby when birth is initiated spontaneously:
- Central oxytocin elevations in labor counteract stress and pain and promote maternal adaptations and attachment. Postpartum oxytocin peaks may reduce hemorrhage risk.
- The fetal catecholamine surge of late labor prepares for newborn respiratory transition, thermoregulation, and glucose regulation.
- Maternal and fetal “eustress” of labor promotes alertness, bonding, and breastfeeding initiation after birth.
- Uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact promotes further activation of maternal and newborn oxytocin systems, enhancing breastfeeding and bonding.
- Prolactin hormonal activation following physiologic birth supports breastfeeding and attachment physiology.
46. Natural Labor Enables Babies To Cope With Stress Better Later In Life
Swedish researchers found that babies born via c-section have a completely different stress response than that of a baby born vaginally. This is thought to trigger changes to the DNA of white blood cells and can manifest as disease later in life (this is epigenetics at play!). Here the researchers explain why the difference in stress response is so extreme:
“We know that the stress of being born is fundamentally different after planned C-section compared to normal vaginal delivery. When babies are delivered by C-section, they are unprepared for the birth and can become more stressed after delivery than before. This is different to a normal vaginal delivery, where the stress gradually builds up before the actual birth, helping the baby to start breathing and quickly adapt to the new environment outside the womb.”
47. Baby Might Have A Lower Risk Of Type 1 Diabetes
Studies have found a connection between elective c-section and Type 1 diabetes. The reasons for this link are varied, but it’s clear through a meta-analysis of 20 studies on the topic worldwide that elective c-sections increase the risk of Type 1 diabetes by 20 percent.
48. Higher Beta-Endorphin Levels For Mom And Baby
These amazing feel-good hormones help us cope with pain and find the energy to connect with our offspring after birth. In a natural birth, endorphin levels gradually increase and it takes up to two weeks for these levels to return to normal. Perhaps this is one of the reasons women who get c-sections report higher levels of exhaustion after birth.
49. Baby Has Less Risk Of Respiratory Problems
Babies that pass through the birth canal have a lower incidence of respiratory problems. Passage through the canal stimulates the lungs to expel excess liquid that can lead to breathing difficulties.
50. Mitigates The Risk Of Complications With Future Births
One c-section often leads to another, and while VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) is gaining popularity, many women still don’t think they have much of an option. One study shows that following a c-section there’s often more fear associated with giving birth again. Researchers also found that c-sections affect fertility and that future pregnancies may carry more risk of the baby being breech.
There are many factors to take into account when making a birth plan. What must be considered is that since the dawn of time women have birthed a certain way and it’s only in the last two decades that we’ve so drastically deviated from these natural methods. Whatever you decide, you should feel empowered and confident in your choices as a woman and a mother.