Childbirth is a painful but powerful experience. Many women opt for drugs that can dull that pain and some are able to power through and skip those medications. There is an impact either way, as medications and natural processes have different effects on the body.
There are benefits to both, but somehow nature has given women some amazing attributes that come through in the process of giving birth before the medical interventions existed. These natural instincts and hormones allow the body to do things that many don't believe is possible in the middle of the pain. But the body is amazing, and these are surprising gifts that come at the perfect time.
Unmedicated birth also has some impacts on the body of the baby. They can yield results in terms of alertness and breastfeeding. There are even some long-term impacts in the digestion and brain development that research has proven.
Many women fret about the decision to have an epidural or to try for an unmedicated birth, so we wanted to give the facts to help in making that decision, while affirming that there is no shame in choosing to have an epidural or in following a doctor's recommendation for a C-section.
Here are 15 ways having an unmedicated birth affects the body.
15 Quicker Labor
There are definitely a lot of benefits to an unmedicated birth in terms of getting the baby out. Although it will hurt — a lot — going without pain meds will allow the labor to progress quickly and that can mean at least that pain won't last as long, right?
There are many reasons that the labor goes more quickly, including the fact that the body is able to go forward without interruption, so nature takes over. Also, gravity can give things a hand since a woman is allowed to move around and be in a more comfortable position than laying or sitting. The contractions are working to move the baby down into the birth canal, so gravity can work with the contraction to get the baby into position sooner.
Many times after an epidural is given, labor slows and even stops, so that a labor can take as much as four or five hours longer, albeit less painful. So if you want to get it over with, skip the epidural.
14 Pushing Prowess
Not only does the contractions continue with speed and regularity, but skipping the medication can also help in the most trying phase of childbirth: the pushing phase.
For some women, the act of pushing a baby out of the birth canal is very tricky. The muscles involved are a bit hard to locate, and it can be difficult to figure them out when they aren't used for many other occasions. It can be especially difficult to figure them out when you are feeling numb below the waist.
Women who have epidurals often have to spend much longer on the pushing phase. That time period can feel like an eternity, because while they aren't really feeling the pain, they aren't feeling much of anything. It can take up to four hours for some women to find success, and some end up in a C-section because they can't get the motion going.
For a woman who has gone medication-free, it's a lot easier to feel what works and what doesn't. Even some first-timers can have the baby out in three pushes.
13 Tearing Question
Some people swear that one benefit of going medication-free is that there will be less tearing down there when the baby comes out. But that doesn't mean that you won't experience it.
There are several factors that go into whether or not you tear, including the baby's size. Women who don't use pain medications can move around and deliver the baby in a different position, such as squatting or on all fours, and sometimes that can help avoid a bad tear, as can being able to feel the body and changing the pushing strength. But at the same time, a natural labor means that the baby comes fast, and that can mean a woman has less of a chance for her vagina to stretch before the baby comes out, and that can lead to tearing.
Women with epidurals are more likely to have episiotomies, although the incision is being phased out by many doctors. But overall, the likelihood of tearing doesn't necessarily change a lot.
12 Energy Burst
One amazing benefit of going medication-free is the way that you will feel in the moments after the baby is born. Going through natural childbirth may be torture during the labor and delivery, but when the baby is out, the mom feels a rush of endorphins like no other. The hormone rush is enough to lift the mood and help her forget the pain of the past few hours for the incredible rush of exhilaration and empowerment that comes in its wake.
There is a high that comes after delivery that allows the brand-new mom to feel like she can lift a car off her baby if she ever had to. She feels super energetic, and that can bode well for those first few hours of bonding with the baby.
The energy burst that comes from skipping the pain medication is a feeling like no other. It's an amazing way to start out as a mom.
11 Walking Warrior
Most women envision having to be stuck in bed on their backs or sitting up slightly, but that image is ingrained in our brains mostly because of the historic aspect that most women in the United States for the past generation or two were given epidurals to dull their labor pain. That image is what is mostly in the media as well, but it doesn't have to be the reality if you go medication-free.
With an epidural, a woman can't feel her legs so she has to be confined to a bed, and with it and other pain medication, continuous fetal monitoring is required, so movements are restricted. But women are allowed to walk and let gravity help labor along if they skip the medication.
They also will be out of bed and walking around much sooner after the delivery than women who choose to go for pain medication. The ability to get around means a lot toward allowing her to feel like she can accomplish the job of motherhood, so it is a tremendous benefit.
10 Pelvic Floor Problems
One issue that can come up for women, unfortunately, is problems with the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor are the muscles that control pushing out a baby as well as urinating and defecating, and those can be damaged during labor and delivery. It's not necessarily going to be any worse for a woman who skips her pain medication. However, the natural hormones that are released during a natural delivery can loosen the muscles and tendons and make things go out of whack a bit.
There is a possibility that it could impact bladder control after birth, especially in the first two weeks when the hormones are still raging. Ladies who have delivered vaginally are wearing pads at this point anyway, but it can still be embarrassing. And if there is real damage going on, it can take a while to get everything working right. The pelvic floor problems may not be lasting, and they can happen to any woman who goes through vaginal childbirth. But they are worth asking the doctor about.
9 Milk Production
Those endorphins that we mentioned earlier that come after an unmedicated birth have another benefit that many women may never expect. They actually help with milk production. The natural hormones stimulate the release of prolactin, the hormone that begins the start of milk production.
It can take days — sometimes even a week or so — for a new mother's milk to come in. She has colostrum, a thick, immunity-rich liquid that provides enough for the first few days of life, but it can take a while to get the regular milk in. Yet, natural childbirth speeds that along.
Many women give up breastfeeding in the first week or two because of their concerns about milk supply, especially if the baby isn't gaining weight. So to have a natural boost to the production can mean a lot to beginning the breastfeeding relationship without worry and allowing the baby to gain weight.
8 Blood Benefit
The benefits of an unmedicated birth go toward both the mom and the baby in many ways. One thing that helps the little one involves the blood supply.
Epidurals can be great at helping the mom get through the pain, but they can also cause issues with the mom's blood pressure. It can drop, and that can mean less blood — which brings oxygen with it — during the baby at a time when that supply is really needed. Many times that loss of blood and oxygen can cause the baby to have problems when he or she is working so hard to get through the birth canal. Many times that can trip the monitors and it tips off doctors that there is fetal distress, and when the baby is in distress, many doctors recommend a Cesearean.
That's a wrought that many women don't want to go in, and of course, it's essential that the baby isn't deprived of oxygen during the birth, so in that way, staying away from the epidural can have the benefit of continuing that good, healthy, blood flow.
7 Liver Works
A newborn's liver has a lot to handle immediately after birth. In the womb, the placenta takes care of the work of filtering out toxins in the bloodstream, but once the baby is born, the liver takes over, and one advantage of an unmedicated birth is that usually the liver works better.
With an epidural or other pain-control medication, the baby's liver has to get rid of the residual parts that end up in the baby's bloodstream. That isn't always a big job, but it can be taxing for a little one who is just getting use to working on its own.
Doctors attribute that job to a reason why babies whose moms get epidurals are less alert and less able to control their movements for the first month of life. The body is catching up, and until that happens, it's going to be slower at getting over those other hurdles.
6 In Sync
As we mentioned, it can be hard for a baby with an epidural to get things going in the first month, but there are other side effects that could hurt the baby as well. So with an unmedicated birth, the baby's body works more properly in many ways. The central nervous system is more in sync, and the neurological system works well. The baby is alert and more able to control its bodily functions.
For a little one who only has a few tasks to get a handle on in those first few weeks, that means that functions such as breathing can be a lot better after an unmedicated birth. The baby can also do a better job at keeping the body temperature regulated, which is something that a lot of little ones struggle with for the first month or so, causing moms to panic that the baby is too hot or too cold.
5 Healthy Gut
Delivery via the birth canal has a lot of benefits for the baby, and because epidurals can make it more likely to end up in the operating room, it's important to mention a couple of those ways that it impacts the baby's body.
The first is through the gut bacteria, which exists in every body in order to process the food that we ingest. When babies are born vaginally, they come into contact with a more diverse set of flora that can help start off with better digestion. The healthy bacteria can also help build a strong immune system and help the baby be more healthy overall. According to research, the strong start to gut health can help a baby avoid issues from obesity and type 1 diabetes to asthma and even some forms of cancer, which are more prevalent in adults who were born via C-section.
The epidural or pain medication doesn't necessarily stave off these benefits, but if they delay labor and cause stress, it could mean a trip to the operating room that can lead to a less healthy gut.
4 Brain Development
The natural hormones and proteins that are released during an unmedicated birth are pretty amazing for many reasons, and one little known benefit to skipping the epidural involves a trigger that helps brain development in the baby that is actually proven in adulthood.
According to Mama Natural, researchers have found that an unmedicated delivery includes the release of a protein that regulates many parts of the brain related to memory, learning, stress response and more. The hippocampus is stimulated during a vaginal delivery in a different way than it is in a Cesarean birth, and that can help in metabolizing fat and in promoting that development in the brain. It also happens in women who have epidurals, as long as the baby goes through the birth canal, but we know that the use of an epidural makes a C-section more likely, so it does have more of a guarantee if you skip the drugs.
3 Breastfeeding Success
In addition, the baby can get a better start at breastfeeding. That's because the baby is more awake and often more willing to feed in that first golden hour that can help establish the nursing relationship for a successful season.
Both epidurals and narcotic pain relievers can leave the baby feeling groggy — and the mom too — and that can make it hard to do anything other than sleep. But the baby's natural instinct to nurse and latch only lasts for a short period of time, so it's important to let them get the routine down early so the mother isn't constantly trying to work on the latch so that it doesn't hurt and the baby gets a lot of food to help get rid of the jaundice in the first few days of life.
Those first hours and days of breastfeeding are important to having success, although don't fret if you miss out on the opportunity. Many can still establish a good relationship if they start later on.
2 Happy Baby
There is one more way that a medication-free birth can impact the baby, and that is through those endorphins that we mentioned earlier. They can help the baby just as much as the mom in those first couple of weeks after birth.
The endorphins are passed along to the baby in the breastmilk, so that same natural high that the mother experiences can also happen to the little one. It can make the little one feel happier and more energetic and satisfied. That can go along way at a time when many parents wonder why they can't keep their little one happy and feel like rotten parents during sleepless, unhappy nights.
The endorphin release can help both mom and baby feel better in the weeks following delivery so that they can get a good start on the mother-child relationship and get in the groove of their new lives together.
1 Post-partum Blues
Plenty of women end up with birth regret if they don't get the experience that they want, and usually that means that a woman ends up with an epidural or a C-section when she wanted to have a more natural birth. But the truth is postpartum depression isn't only for the epidural moms.
In fact, research from 2016 found that epidurals can actually lower the risk of postpartum depression. The study revealed that the pain of childbirth can have a psychological impact and some women feel more anxiety because of it. The more relief that the woman felt from the epidural, the less likely she was to have postpartum depression, the study revealed.
The researchers still saw the possibility of becoming disappointed in getting an epidural and that causing depression, so it's hard to determine what the best course of action would be in every case. But it's interesting to know that an epidural could help with more than just pain relief in labor, if you are willing to try it.