by Dr. Nicole Calloway Rankins
Do you plan on having an unmedicated birth in the hospital? (a.k.a natural birth; all birth is natural so I refer to birth without medication as unmedicated). Well then you’ll definitely want to read this. It’s 9 things you’ll want to know about unmedicated birth, especially if you plan to give birth in a hospital.
1. What is your motivation for having an unmedicated birth?
Do you want an unmedicated birth because it seems to be popular? Do you have certain beliefs about women who use pain medication in labor? Like that they’re weaker? Or beliefs about women who don’t use pain medication in labor, like that they’re stronger? Is your decision being influenced by people around you, like your mother or sister saying you should (or shouldn’t) get an epidural?
Having an unmedicated birth is YOUR decision to make. Although you may seek the opinion of others, it’s ultimately your choice. Don’t let a blog, friend, or Instagram post decide for you. Also, understand that a woman’s strength is not determined by how she manages pain in labor. So don’t do this because you think it’s a testament to your strength. You’re strong regardless of how you choose to manage pain in labor.
2. What is your level of commitment to having an unmedicated birth?
Do you mean that you want an unmedicated birth as long as it’s not too difficult? Do you want to play it by ear and see how things go? Or do you mean that you’re ready to dig deep and give everything in your being to have an unmedicated birth? There’s no right or wrong answer to this. The point is that your level of commitment becomes important if your labor gets tough. Will you be ok with getting an epidural, or will you need your support people to help you push through because it’s so important to you? Think about it and let your support people know so they can assist you accordingly.
3. Unmedicated birth requires preparation.
The level of preparation varies, but you do need to prepare for unmedicated birth. You may read books and watch YouTube videos. Or you may take a class specifically for unmedicated birth. Do what you believe will work best for you, but know that you need to do something to prepare. If you don’t prepare, the pain can quickly become overwhelming. And when you’re in the hospital, it’s easy to ask for medication. So if you want to give birth without medication, be sure to prepare.
4. Stay at home as long as possible.
Your contractions should be 5 minutes apart or less AND all strong enough that you’re having to work to manage them for at least TWO hours before you go to the hospital. It can be longer than 2 hours if you live close to the hospital. If your contractions are sometimes 5 minutes apart and sometimes 8 minutes apart, it’s not time. If your contractions are sometimes strong and sometimes not, it’s not time.
If you go to the hospital too early you may get sent home (which is actually good). Or you may be offered interventions like pitocin or breaking your water to “get things going”. Or you may be offered pain medication. So to have the best chance of having labor unfold on its own with minimal intervention, stay at home as long as you can. You’ll also be more comfortable at home.
The average active labor is 8 hours. If it’s going to be a lot shorter than that, the intensity will ramp up FAST and your body will tell you that it’s time to go in. You’re not likely to have your baby at home or in the car if you stay at home in consistently strong labor for 2-3 hours for your first baby (1-2 hours if you’ve had a baby before).
If you have a doula she can be a great resource to help you with this. If she’s had experience, she knows what a laboring woman looks like. She can come to your home and give you an idea of whether or not it’s time to go in.
5. Don't fight pain in labor, surrender to it.
This can be challenging because pain is usually a sign that something is wrong. So it’s counter intuitive to not fight it. But it’s important that you DON’T fight pain during labor.
When you’re fighting contractions, you’re thinking they’re bad and all you want is for it to stop. Each contraction can bring on a sense of panic and dread. This leads to tension and more pain, which can then amplify the dread and panic with the next contraction. You get overwhelmed and start looking for escape routes, which means medications and epidural.
Let’s contrast that with what happens when you surrender to the pain. When you surrender to the pain, you recognize that pain is not the enemy. It has a purpose-which is to open your body and birth your baby. You understand that the pain is not permanent. You know that it is not damaging your body, even if it is intense. You’re able to flow with the pain, accept support to help you cope, find a rhythm and decrease the perception of pain.
So don’t fight the contractions, surrender to them.
6. Approach labor one contraction at a time.
When you surrender to labor you take it one contraction at a time. You don’t think about how much labor is left or how long it’s going to take. You get through one contraction and then the next contraction and then the next contraction, realizing that each contraction gets you closer to meeting your baby.
7. Request a nurse who has experience caring for women who want an unmedicated birth.
Your nurse is the one who’s with you during the majority of your birth, not your doctor. Having a nurse who’s experienced in caring for women who have an unmedicated birth can make a HUGE difference in your birth. She can help you try different techniques to cope with the contractions, support you during difficult parts, and advocate for you if needed. So definitely ask for a nurse who has experience caring for women who want an unmedicated birth.
8. Politely request that no one offers you pain medicine.
You want to be in control of the decision to accept pain medication, not your doctor or nurse. Kindly let the people caring for you know that you will ask for pain medicine if you need it.
9. If you change your mind and decide to use pain medicine, that’s OK.
You’re not a failure. You’re not weak. You’ve grown a human being inside your body and that is pretty spectacular. How you manage labor doesn’t take away from that. So if you decide that you want pain medication or an epidural - it’s perfectly ok.
That’s it! If you found this useful let me know in the comments.And if you want more holistic, evidence- based information to help you during your pregnancy and birth, sign up below to receive my weekly newsletter.
I wish you a healthy and happy pregnancy and birth!