Natural birth guide

Wanting a natural childbirth? Be informed with our guide to giving birth naturally.

There’s a lot about pregnancy you can’t control - strange cravings, inconvenient nausea and swollen ankles for example. But one of the areas many women want a say in is how they deliver their baby.

Depending on your medical circumstances and preferences, you might be considering a natural birth - a vaginal birth occurring with minimal medical intervention and pain relief medicines. In natural birth, the preference is to try to manage pain using non-drug techniques like relaxation and controlled breathing. A natural birth can take place in a midwifery unit or birth centre, in a hospital, or at home.  

Women who choose natural childbirth often have a range of reasons for doing so. This may include a desire to be in control of their body or want to have more of a say in the labour and delivery process. 

Weighing up the pros and cons of natural birth

The main advantages of a natural childbirth can include a feeling of empowerment, no loss of sensation, less medical intervention, and potentially greater participation for your partner.

There are, however, also disadvantages to giving birth naturally - apart from the pain, which may become more difficult to manage if your labour is prolonged, there’s an increased risk of danger to mother and baby if the birth becomes complicated. 

“There has been a shift - if you went back 50 years you had absolutely no choice in how you had your baby,” says obstetrician Dr Bernadette White from Melbourne’s Mercy Hospital. “But now women have more options. There’s a much greater sense of women having control over their birth experience, and provided they’re adequately informed, that’s a very appropriate thing.”

I want a natural birth, now what?

If you choose to have a natural labour it’s important to have the okay from your medical team before proceeding. Then, preparation is key. Make sure you have the support of your partner and loved ones and choose a birth environment where your choice is supported. You may also wish to hire a midwife, or a doula - a person who is not medically trained but is experienced in natural birth support. This can form the basis of a support team to stay with you throughout the process. Check that your birth location is able to accommodate your choice of natural pain techniques, such as aromatherapy, acupuncture or a TENS machine (a device attached to the skin which sends a small electric current through the body). 

If you want to have a natural delivery at home, you must be healthy, have a low-risk pregnancy and be within a short drive to a hospital. Usually, this requires a private midwife to be in attendance, but in some states, publicly funded homebirth programs are also available. 
Close up of mum holding her baby

To prepare for a natural childbirth, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about the delivery process as much as possible - it’s easier to work with your body if you understand what’s happening at each stage of labour. You’ll also need to learn pain-management techniques, which may include focused breathing and visualisation, and are typically taught during birthing classes.

We have created a guided meditation that can help you focus on your breathing when going through labour, check it out here and listen below.

Once labour has started, changing positions regularly rather than staying lying down has been shown to help make labour less painful and keep your labour progressing (gravity can help labour progress more quickly). Try sitting or lying on a fit ball, rocking back and forward on all fours and standing up. Taking showers or baths can also provide relief from back pain, and some women find massage and hot or cold compresses can alleviate or distract them from the pain.

Remember, even the best-laid plans can go awry during childbirth, so even if you’re set on a natural delivery you need to be willing to accept medical intervention if it’s required.  

“Particularly if it’s your first baby, go into it with an open mind,” advises Dr White. “Women who go in with very strong ideas about how they want it to be can be disappointed if it doesn’t go that way. Labour can be difficult - it can be long and painful and frustrating. To set yourself up to say: ‘I’m not going to have any pain relief’ makes it harder. 

“Sometimes interventions such as having your labour induced or augmented, having some assistance at the birth or an emergency Caesarean will lead to a better outcome for the mother and baby. To have a strong mindset that you’re not going to accept that isn’t doing yourself or your baby any favours.” 

Remember, once your baby has arrived there are no prizes for how they got here - a healthy, happy baby (and mum) is the aim. Keep an open mind and work with your medical professionals, and your little one will be safe and sound in your arms in no time. 

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