In today's world of endless options, moms have choices when it comes to how they want to bring their children into the world. From scheduled C-sections to homebirths and everything in between, women are making their desires known and attempting the birth experience they want.
Many women want pain medication during labor, and that usually comes in the form of an epidural. An epidural is given by an anesthesiologist and involves a needle being place in mom's back. A tube is left behind so medicine can be administered as needed, and mom will lose feeling in her bottom half as well as the ability to walk while the epidural is working.
While epidurals are now extremely common with most moms planning on receiving one as soon as the doctor allows, medicated birth is not the only choice. In fact, new studies are revealing that women who are at low risk for complications should consider natural birth their first option.
Natural, unmedicated birth occurs when mom has a delivery without the assistance of pain medication. There's no epidural and no other pain medication offered or taken, and mom simply finds other ways to work through her pain.
There are people who find the idea of natural birth without medication controversial. They believe a woman should have every option at her disposal during the pain of labor. While it's true women should make the right choice for their situation, natural birth has proven benefits that can't be ignored.
What goes into mom's body goes into the baby's body, and that's why we spend so much time during pregnancy making sure we don't expose ourselves to anything that might endanger our child. However, the same rules apply during labor, so if we receive an epidural or other pain medication, our child will receive it as well.
While research on the effects of epidurals on babies is minimal, we do know a few reasons to be concerned. Babies exposed to medication during labor often have a harder time being aware and alert after birth, making breastfeeding difficult to establish. Trouble can even start before baby exits the womb if the medication makes them too tired to move into the proper position to birth.
Epidurals can also cause issues with a baby's respiratory system, and mom may notice a baby's heart rate drops when the epidural is administered. A low fetal heart rate over a period of time will cause doctors to intervene and possibly land mom in the operating room for a C-section.
Receiving an epidural means signing up to be horizontal throughout birth. While mom may not see why this is a problem, research shows that trying to deliver on our backs or harnessed to a bed may be one of the worst ways to give birth.
Women who are able to stand, squat, or get on all fours will be able to help move their baby down the birth canal, and walking is also magic for moms in labor. Not only can changing positions and staying in motion help the baby find his way out, but it can also help mom deal with pain.
There are receptors in our brains that make us feel like our pain is less. Movement causes these receptors to activate. That means as we move, our brain will help us deal with contractions that grow stronger and harder because it will lessen our perception of the pain.
Being able to move can also help if the baby is lodged into a position that is not conducive to birth. Certain labor positions can help mom encourage the baby to move into another position.
Pitocin, a drug that is meant to move labor forward when it stalls, is often introduced when mom has an epidural during labor. The reason is that epidurals combined with IV fluids sometimes slow down the labor process, and Pitocin is a way to get it moving again before mom is exhausted from days of labor and baby is in distress from the strain.
Unfortunately, Pitocin can make contractions more intense for mom and baby, causing mom to want more medication and baby to have an erratic heart rate.
Other interventions that may occur with an epidural are vacuum or forceps assisted deliveries. Though these are not first choices for most doctors, they are sometimes necessary if the baby has been too affected by the drugs to assume the right birthing position, or if labor has slowed but baby needs out and everyone wants to avoid a C-section.
These kind of deliveries come with risks for baby and mom and can lead to injuries for both.
There's a saying that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. It wouldn't be surprising to find out the person who coined this phrase was talking about making it through natural childbirth!
There's no denying that birth without an epidural or other form of pain relief is going to hurt. In fact, the pain can hit mom in several waves and increase during certain times during the delivery, so mom really never fully knows what to expect. That's why she will view herself as the ultimate superwoman when the labor experience is over and she has a precious baby in her arms and no drugs in either of their systems.
Moms who make it through labor without drugs often look back on that experience and draw strength from it. Whatever pain they are going through in life, physically or emotionally, they can look back and see that they overcame labor pain naturally, and that is a gift that will last a lifetime.
Most women don't ask too many questions about the side effects of epidurals. If mom knows she wants one, what's the point in knowing how awful they can make her feel?
Though this is an understandable state of mind, it's important for mom to know the side effects and decide if she wants to deal with them. Choosing natural birth means she won't have to.
Epidurals may make mom's blood pressure plummet, leaving her feeling dizzy, sick, and disconnected from everything going on around her. It can also mess with her breathing, causing her to feel out of breath. Severe headaches are also sometimes reported if spinal fluid makes its way out of the site of the epidural.
These side effects don't go away the minute the baby arrives. Since the medicine from the epidural has to wear off, mom may still feel nauseous and out of breath as she tries to welcome her child into the world.
Though it's rare, nerve damage and paraplegia can occur with an epidural. Even though the risks are small, they are still present.
There are a couple of reasons that epidurals are blamed for longer labors. One is that they are often given to women too early. While the contractions that a mom has at only two centimeters can hurt tremendously, a woman needs to keep moving and trying position changes to keep labor going and keep those contractions coming. When it's given too early and mom is then tethered to the bed, her labor may slow down substantially.
Another reason is that mom will need an IV before her epidural is given. IV fluids can dilute the hormones in the body that cause contractions, meaning mom's contractions may slow down, grow weaker, or stop completely. If they don't pick up again, labor can drag out even longer.
Interventions, such as Pitocin, may be given to move things along, but the best choice would be for mom to get up and let gravity work with her body to move baby down the birth canal. Unfortunately, once the epidural is in, this option is off the table.
Breastfeeding is important for babies, and moms milk offers babies everything they need to grow and thrive. Breastfeeding is encouraged the first hour of birth when a baby is most aware and awake after birth. However, a birth that involves an epidural can make a baby less aware when they enter the world.
There is some information that links babies exposed to drugs from an epidural to latching issues. That means that these newborns may want desperately to nurse, but they are not aware enough to figure out how to latch properly to mom's breast and get the milk. Latching is not as easy as some people think, and though breastfeeding is a natural process, it's not particularly an easy one for mom or baby.
The more awake and alert a child is after birth, the better chance they will be able to latch without difficulty, and that will start a breastfeeding relationship that will likely last.
Recovering from birth is difficult no matter how mom brings her child into the world. What can make it even harder is also having to recover from the effects of an epidural on our systems.
The drug has to wear off afterward, and that can take a while. In the meantime, mom may struggle with headaches, nausea, and the presence of a catheter since she won't be able to feel when she needs to go to the bathroom. While all of this is manageable, having an infant to take care of while mom is still trying to recover from the effects of medication adds a certain level of difficulty to adjusting to being a mom.
Moms who don't take the epidural will find that they will have pain to deal with, but they will be less groggy and less likely to have to figure out a way to fight nausea while also nursing a baby.
Every mom is happy when she delivers a child, no matter how that child comes into the world. However, many women express regrets over their labors when one decision causes their whole plan to derail. Oftentimes, that one decision is the choice to get an epidural.
Since epidurals are often gateways to other interventions, like Pitocin, forceps and vacuum deliveries, and C-sections, mom's desire to not feel pain may end up costing her the delivery she longed for.
A woman who ends up with her child's heart rate falling or with her baby injured from being pulled out by forceps will likely look back on her labor and wish she had made some changes, even if it was never her intention for those things to occur.
Women who end up with C-sections and feel the epidural is what caused that to occur have an especially hard time recovering from their births. Letting go of the epidural can open mom up to embracing her ideal birth situation.
Nobody loves being in pain, but it is a part of life and serves a purpose in many circumstances. When it comes to labor, pain can be a guide for mom to follow, but if she receives pain medication to shut down feeling the pain, she won't know what her pain is trying to tell her.
Though the brain helps us tolerate pain, it still lets us feel it so we know what our body is going through and how we need to respond. When this happens during labor, mom can let her pain lead her to change positions or move her body in a way that relieves pain and allows the baby to move further down the birth canal.
Mom is also able to track her labor progress using pain. As she moves from active labor to transition and to pushing, she can feel the changes taking place, and that helps prepare her to face the pain.
If mom wants medication for pain, her choices of where to birth are limited. In fact, her only choice is a hospital since they are the ones with the equipment to administer IVs and epidurals.
While giving birth in a hospital is fine, many women are starting to question the reason for it. A pregnancy is not an illness, it's a natural part of life. Plus, women risk infections or catching illnesses in hospitals when all they want to do is deliver their child.
If a woman decides to take the natural route, she has the option of delivering at a birthing center, a popular choice for women who want a midwife-assisted birth in a comfortable, non-hospital environment. There's also the option of giving birth at home.
Though this option is only available for women who are low risk and have little chance of needing medical assistance, it's a comfortable option for moms who want to be in an environment they recognize.
Moms who use pain medication during labor often report feeling foggy or confused. They don't feel as alert as they normally do, and this can cause them to be in a disoriented state when their child arrives. It can also cause bonding and breastfeeding to be more difficult.
Though mom will regain her ability to focus, the medication in an epidural can stay in the body for days, so mom will not automatically feel alert as soon as the baby arrives. She will likely still be crawling up from a groggy state just as an infant is placed in her arms.
While it's possible that this feeling won't affect bonding, it can because mom may feel too tired or dazed to focus in on the moment. Her child will obviously still feel loved and nurtured, but mom may have a hard time feeling completely connected to those moments, and this can lead to guilt later on.
A partner who wants to be an active part of the birth can, no matter how mom births her child. However, many partners feel that when mom takes the natural route, they have a more hands-on role that requires them to stay engaged and help mom pull through the experience. This can bond mom and dad's relationship even more and help dad bond with the baby from the start.
When mom's partner acts as her advocate during birth, he is the one who makes sure her birth plans are carried out. He stands between her and anyone who tries to disregard mom's wishes, and he also knows what techniques mom prefers when she is stressed or in pain.
Is this a big job? Yes, of course, but dad having this role can give him confidence. If he can help mom through birth, he may have more confidence in his abilities as a father.
It's also a bonus for mom since she will see her partner as a competent partner capable of performing under pressure.
The C-section rate in the United States is high, with one third of all women welcoming their children into the world through a surgical birth. While many people debate the reasons for this increase, epidurals may play a major role.
When a woman receives an epidural, her baby is likely to experience some immediate changes in the womb. A baby's heart rate may fall, and they may show signs of distress because of the medication. Since women are often asked to wear fetal heart rate monitors throughout labor, doctors will pick up on the heart rate change, and many will start the process of intervening.
If nothing works and doctors are concerned about the safety of the baby, a C-section will occur.
While C-sections are sometimes needed to keep mom and baby safe, they are oftentimes a response to epidurals. Even if a doctor understands that the baby's heart rate may drop when the drugs hit mom and baby's system, they still can't let the heart rate stay too low for too long. The effects of an epidural can force a C-section to occur.
Epidurals and other medications are not the only ways to manage pain. Most of us consider them the easiest, and it's true that they work faster than other methods. However, our bodies are built to endure pain, so we can use our own, natural methods to make it through labor.
Lamaze classes, Bradley Method training, and HypnoBirthing are just a few options available to women who want to learn how to handle pain naturally. All of them focus on using our minds to survive what is happening to our bodies, and since our brains are already wired to help with our perception of pain, these methods can give us the extra push to make it to the end.
In our world where drugs have become the go-to answer for everything, it's refreshing and beneficial for women to learn their bodies were built to endure whatever labor has to offer.
Sources: Fit Pregnancy, American Pregnancy, Just Mommies, Baby Center