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  • Writer's pictureBecca

How to Give Birth Naturally

A Birth Doula's Top 5 Tips for Having an Unmedicated Birth



Key Points:


  • What is natural childbirth?

  • how to prepare mentally and physically for childbirth

  • comfort techniques and labor positions

  • working with your support person


How to Give Birth Naturally

What is Natural Childbirth?


Natural childbirth, or unmedicated birth, is giving birth vaginally without pain medication.


Many people want to have a natural birth. But to define natural childbirth as something you do without pain medication makes it sound like it's something you have to endure, like roughing it out in a storm versus taking shelter.


But allow me to reframe this thinking:


Natural childbirth is not something you endure, it is something you are capable of! How does it feel to read that? Empowering, I hope!


As a birth doula, I offer many tools to help my clients get in touch with their own strength and feel empowered in their own birth experiences. That's really the big secret to natural birth: finding the power within yourself and learning the tools to tap into that power.


So how do you do that? I'll tell you!


How to Give Birth Naturally


1. Journalling and positive affirmations


Both of these practices work in the same way: they change our neural pathways. But why would we want to change our neural pathways to prepare for an unmedicated birth?


Because we live in a society that teaches us to see childbirth as something painful.


How many times have you or someone you know compared painful life experiences to childbirth? "That was worse than childbirth" or "Childbirth was worse than that." These common comparisons train our brains to think of birth as a painful event. And we naturally fear pain, therefor, we fear childbirth.


Don't get me wrong, childbirth is challenging and, yes, physically uncomfortable. It pushes your body to it's furthest limits and your body can certainly feel how far it's being pushed. But, intense bodybuilding and marathon running can be described in the same way. So many people train and push their bodies past its limits on a regular basis because they enjoy the results they get from it: the sense of accomplishment, the physical health benefits. And the result of childbirth is meeting your baby. That's a pretty amazing payoff!


But, me telling you this is not enough to work through the cognitive dissonance that most of us who want to have an unmedicated birth feel.


That's where journalling and positive affirmations come in.


Journalling allows you to unpack your feelings around childbirth. You might find yourself identifying very specific aspects of birth that you feel afraid of. This allows you to further explore that topic. It's like the saying: a problem identified is a problem half solved.


You can work through the aspects of birth that you fear most or put a plan in place that can help you manage those fears during labor.


And by combining journalling with positive affirmations you can actually change the way your brain thinks, and in turn, the way your body responds to the experience of labor. You are quite literally rewriting the narrative of what you believe childbirth will be like.


Rather than going into it feeling tense, afraid, and holding back your labor contractions out of fear (which makes them more painful by the way), you are able to relax your body and work with your contractions. This not only makes your contractions less painful, but also more effective.


2. Prenatal yoga and exercise


Disclaimer: it is always good to check in with your doctor before doing prenatal yoga or exercise, especially if you have any health concerns in your pregnancy. Most pregnant women CAN safely practice prenatal yoga and exercise.


The obvious benefit of prenatal yoga and exercise is that it tones your body so you can be more comfortable in supporting the weight of your pregnancy and prepares you for the physical strains of childbirth.


But, some of the less talked about benefits are that it allows you to explore your body's range of motion in pregnancy and it can align yours and your baby's bodies in a way that supports the natural birth process. This makes childbirth easier.


You will find yourself feeling more confident in your pregnant body and this can help you navigate how to move your body more effectively during labor.


If you want to take a prenatal yoga class, I personally know and love Bec Conant at Om Births. She offers in-person and virtual classes.


For some great prenatal exercises, check out FIT4MOM. They offer great fitness classes that you can start in pregnancy and continue throughout motherhood. If you are not local to any of their east coast locations, check out their virtual options.


I also suggest exploring the Spinning Babies website to learn more stretches and exercises that you can do in pregnancy to support physiological birth. After all, supporting physiological birth is what Spinning Babies is all about.


3. Practicing labor positions in pregnancy


Labor positions include:


  • Hands and knees positions with your legs wide. You can rest in this position by leaning over a stack of pillows or a birth ball.


  • Side lying positions are also great for resting. By putting a peanut ball or a stack of pillows between your legs, or even laying your top leg over a stack of pillows can bring comfort and help open your pelvis.


  • Sitting on a birth ball and doing figure 8s, circles, or rocking your pelvis back and forth. Just make sure the ball is inflated enough that your hips are higher than your knees.


  • Different variations of lunges. Here are a couple silly pics of me trying to hide my awkwardness around cameras while doing different lunge options:


kneeling lunge for pregnancy and labor
standing lunge for pregnancy and labor














Here, I am doing very shallow lunges, one in a kneeling position and one in a standing position. I recommend exploring movement in these lunges and in all the suggested positions above. See how they feel on your body throughout pregnancy.


All of these positions can help to open the pelvis, offer comfort in labor, and offer distraction in labor so you're able to focus on your movements rather than on the labor sensations.


Similarly to prenatal yoga and exercise, practicing labor positions in pregnancy can help you explore what feels good in your body and build confidence in using the different labor positions when the time comes.


Lunges, kneeling, and even side-lying positions are generally positions that our bodies would naturally go into if we were left alone to labor however we wished. Our instincts would guide us into them because they support natural birth, and your body knows how to birth!


But, like the fear we are raised to have about childbirth, we are fed so many images of women laboring in bed on their backs. So, while our bodies do have these instincts within them, we have learned to ignore those instincts because of the things we have been taught about birth our entire lives.


Maybe this is something you can reflect on in your journalling!


And that is why practicing these positions is so helpful. You are reminding yourself of your body's instincts. You are reinforcing your body's natural birthing knowledge. And when labor begins, you are more likely to naturally find yourself going into these positions and finding the ones that feel right for you in the moment.


And like I said above, explore in these positions! Don't just go into them and do them "right," but listen to your body. Because listening to your body is part of how you support natural labor.


4. Practicing labor comfort techniques in pregnancy


Comfort techniques are non-medical methods of coping with pain in childbirth. Just as the body is meant to give birth, it also has its own natural pain management hormone called endorphins which comfort techniques help the body to release.


According to Evidence Based Birth, there are two main types of non-medical pain management: gate control methods and central nervous system methods.


Gate control methods are essentially strategies to overwhelm the nervous system with other sensations. Because only so many signals can be sent to the brain at once, overwhelming amounts of sensations block the pain signals from getting to your brain.


Gate control methods are things like squeezing a comb in your hand, massage or counter pressure, being in water like a shower or a bath, using hot or cold packs, even eating ice chips.


The central nervous system method is where you control where your mind is focusing. Rather than focusing on the pain, you can do things like controlled breathing, visualizations, or listening to music or relaxation scripts. You are essentially not allowing your brain to perceive your pain, at least not as strongly as you may feel it if you were to focus on it.


By practicing these techniques during pregnancy, you can actually improve the effectiveness of them. The idea is that you practice these techniques in a calm, comforting environment when you are not in pain. This creates positive associations with these techniques and can bring your mind back to a time where using these techniques were nothing but pleasant.


5. Having a strong support team


Even with all this preparation in pregnancy, childbirth can still be so overwhelming and challenging. To try to take everything you've been working on--the positive mindset shifts around childbirth, the body preparations you did, and practicing laboring positions and comfort techniques--you may still find yourself going back to an old mindset or forgetting about what you prepared for.


Having someone there who can reinforce all that you've been working on can ensure that all your hard work makes it into the birth space in an effective way. You may even want to recreate the situations in which you practiced your comfort techniques by having someone who you practiced them with supporting you in labor.


This is where doula support is often helpful. Your doula can work with you and your partner during pregnancy to prepare you in all the ways listed above and offer guidance to you and your partner during labor.


Conclusion


Preparing for an unmedicated, natural birth is all about the preparation you do in pregnancy. You are unlearning centuries of over-medicalization and fear in childbirth. You are reminding yourself that your body is capable of birth and capable of managing the powerful sensations of birth.


Work through the mental blocks you hold in your mind and body about birth. Explore and strengthen your body through yoga and exercise. Practice positions and comfort techniques to bring your body back to its roots and promote your body's release of natural pain relieving endorphins. And find support that will guide you in using all the powerful tools you learned and worked on in pregnancy.


Disclaimer: it is important to note that childbirth is very unpredictable and different for everyone. While the above tips can help increase your chances of having an unmedicated and low intervention birth, they are not a guarantee.


References:

Adams, Kathleen and Ross Deborah, "Your Brain on Ink: A Workbook on Neuroplasticity and the Journal Ladder," 2016


Anyang, Mark, "The Power of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Journaling: A Pair for Mental Wellbeing," Umbrella Journal, https://umbrellajournal.ca/about/science


Daltrey, Debbie, What are neural pathways," Great Minds Clinic Blog, https://www.greatmindsclinic.co.uk/blog/what-are-neural-pathways/


Dekker, Rebecca PhD, "Pain Management during Labor," 24 January, 2018, https://evidencebasedbirth.com/overview-pain-management-during-labor-birth/


Feldman, David B., PhD, "The Power of Journaling," Psychology Today, 20 September, 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/supersurvivors/202009/the-power-journaling



Fit4Mom On Demand (https://ondemand.fit4mom.com)


Lythgoe, Andrea D., LCCE, "Peanut Balls for Labor- A Valuable Tool for Promoting Progress?," Lamaze International, 7 April, 2014, https://www.lamaze.org/Connecting-the-Dots/peanut-balls-for-labor-a-valuable-tool-for-promoting-progress




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