Wanting a natural birth is simply another way of saying you want the least amount of medical intervention as possible. Giving birth naturally has many rewards for both mother and child: The mother feels a high sense of accomplishment, her rate of recovery is often faster and she is quickly able to attend to her baby. At the same time, the baby is alert and ready to begin feeding. Any possible unwanted side effects due to the medication have been thwarted. But with every important decision, it’s best to arm yourself with the facts first.
Do Your Research
The first step towards having a natural birth is wanting one. Complications aside, you should be convinced of your reasons for wanting a birth that is intervention-free. Once you have made your decision, it is important to be well informed about the natural birth process. Knowing what your body is capable of is crucial and you must be confident in your ability to give birth without the use of pain medications. It is also important to maintain optimal health during pregnancy through proper nutrition, stress management and physical activity. This will support the body’s natural ability to give birth. Bronwyn Smith is a trained midwife and lactation consultant who currently provides breast-feeding support for women in Beijing. Smith worked for many years in Australia, helping mothers who wanted to deliver naturally. There, she saw firsthand the benefits for moms and newborns alike. "A natural birth allows the baby to have a drug-free start to life, which helps to facilitate early bonding and a more natural breast-feeding relationship," says Smith.
Your Cheering Squad
Having a support person is vital when giving birth, more so when giving birth naturally. Studies show that women who have a continuous birth companion during labor experience fewer Caesarian sections and shorter labors, and they require less medication, and fewer induction and augmentation interventions. The benefits for newborns include lower rates of fetal distress and fewer admissions to intensive care units. Women who have support report greater self-esteem, less depression, as well as an increased ability to care for their newborns. This support person is not necessarily a husband or partner. Doulas providing continuous social support for birthing women. They do not have a medical role; their job is purely to support the mother before, during and after labor.
No Pain, No Gain?
In movies, the typical scenario for a woman in labor is to see her screaming in pain, gripping her partner’s hand, desperate for that epidural. This association between pain and birthing is a very negative one and not necessarily true. Each woman’s body and experience is different. For some, labor is unbearable while for others it’s painless. Stephanie Rocard falls into the latter category. When talking about the birth of her son Noah, Rocard says, "It was only three-and-a-half hours and I was not in pain at all. I was using [a]breathing technique while relaxing music [played]."
JulieAnn Davis had two Caesarean births before giving birth to her son Roran naturally. "While the sensations of labor were certainly intense, they were not painful," says Davis. Women are highly sensitive during pregnancy, and being exposed to negative images or information about pregnancy and delivery can cause unnecessary fear and stress. Even books about what to expect during pregnancy can make you focus on all the things that could possibly go wrong. While it is important to be informed, try to avoid information that is fear-based. Remember, your mind is a powerful force that can easily influence your physical state of wellbeing.
Natural treatments such as homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and herbal remedies can be helpful for women who want to have a natural birth. These therapies help the body achieve optimal balance, harmony and health during pregnancy by treating the root cause of pre-existing conditions and fending off potential problems. A healthy pregnancy often leads to a healthy delivery.
Davis and her husband (both TCM practitioners) run Eight Treasures, a small Beijing-based TCM clinic. "From a Chinese medicine perspective, it doesn’t take invasive tests to know whether a woman and her baby are healthy. The body is very clear, and tells us when it is out of balance by showing tangible signs of illness. Treating things like morning sickness, acid reflux, indigestion, constipation, food cravings, back pain or varicose veins throughout the pregnancy with Chinese medicine gives good results and will not harm the baby," explains Davis.
Davis practices what she preaches. She managed her diet, exercised and used TCM before conception and during pregnancy with positive effects. "My body opened and birthed naturally," she says.
The Good Oils
It is well documented that the state of the cervix plays an important role in the induction of labor. The cervix must be fully dilated for pushing to begin. If this does not happen in a timely fashion, women are often given medication to speed up the process. One such intervention is the application of prostaglandins (hormone-like substances that play a role in the contraction and relaxation muscles) gel to help "ripen" the cervix. It has been shown that consumption of omega-3 oils during pregnancy is actually more effective at helping the cervix dilate during labor, resulting in an easier birth experience. This has also been observed with Evening Primrose Oil, which can be taken in capsule form to be inserted vaginally or applied directly to the cervix. Omega-3 oils include DHA and EPA which are later converted to prostaglandins found naturally in our body. Fish oil and flax seed are good sources of omega-3s, but care should be taken to avoid eating fish high in mercury such as tuna. To ensure the fish oil you consume is free of contaminants, it is best to use a reputable fish oil supplement. Omega-3s are also required for healthy brain and eye development of the fetus. Studies show that fish oil supplementation in pregnancy helps reduce the risk of pre-term delivery and low birth weight in babies. Importantly, fish oil is safe for both mother and child. Caution should be taken if you’re taking blood thinners, medication for schizophrenia and manic depression, or epilepsy drugs. Consult your doctor if you fall into any of these categories.
Location, Location, Location
A natural birth without medication can be accomplished in the hospital or in the home. Giving birth at home has many advantages, most importantly that the mother is in a comfortable, familiar setting in which her body can relax. Many countries, including the UK, regard home births as a feasible alternative to birthing in the hospital. Unfortunately home births are not a viable option in Beijing, as there is no support system in place that allows a woman to deliver her baby outside of a hospital. Midwives are generally not available, and no health care provider is legally able to participate in a home birth.
There are many hospitals that are willing to respect your no- or low-intervention birth plan. A hospital environment does increase the possibility of unnecessary medical intervention; therefore it is imperative for mothers to be informed about the natural birthing process. It should be noted that Beijing United Family Hospital (BJU) is the only international hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit. For more information, see p53.
Take It Easy
Lamaze courses are offered at a number of hospitals across Beijing and teach moms-to-be breathing and relaxation techniques. Rocard used Lamaze techniques during labor and offers this advice to other moms: "Exercise, keep yourself busy and fit, be careful with your diet, and use Lamaze breathing techniques if you want to have a natural birth." She did exactly that, working up to the very day she went into labor.
Hypnosis techniques are also becoming increasingly popular for managing childbirth. These techniques focus on calming and relaxing the mind using affirmations or suggestions such as, "I am healthy, I am happy, I am whole" or "My baby is in the perfect position for a calm, comfortable, and easy birth." These affirmations are used throughout pregnancy and during delivery, not only to create a peaceful state of being, but to also replace negative thoughts.
When delivering both of my children naturally, I personally experienced the benefits of self-hypnosis. To the surprise of the nurses and the midwife, even when given pitocin to increase the strength and rate of my contractions, I was able to stay focused and calm, and avoid the use of any pain medication. Self-hypnosis works by inducing a deep state of relaxation, which takes the mind away from any uncomfortable sensations, decreasing the perception of pain. Antai Maternity Hospital provides childbirth hypnosis classes in both English and Chinese.
Birthing in water can also ease the sensations that accompany labor and can help make you comfortable. Currently the only Beijing hospital that allows babies to be delivered in water is Antai Maternity. Other hospitals, such as BJU, allow the woman to labor in the water until the baby is ready to be delivered, at which point the mother must come out of the water to give birth.
You Can Do It!
Confidence in your abilities as a woman to birth your baby naturally is of utmost importance. Women have been giving birth without the use of pain medication for far longer than modern science has existed. If it is something you want to do, you can most definitely achieve your goal. A few key points to remember: Knowledge is power, every birth is different, and if things don’t work out the way you envisioned them, it’s okay. Keep an open mind – you can only try your best.
Dr. Melissa Rodriguez is a Naturopathic doctor who lives with her family in Beijing, www.drmelissarodriguez.com
Antai Maternity Hospital
Bronwyn Smith, lactation consultant
Eight Treasures TCM clinic
World Health Store
Hypnosis for childbirth