Natural Birth vs. Medicated Birth

woman kissing baby

Weighing the benefits of natural childbirth versus using pain medication.

How do you decide whether natural childbirth is best for you?

There is little doubt that one of the most heated debates among mothers and childbirth professionals continues to be one of using pain medication versus the benefits of natural birth. It is a topic that very few mothers are indifferent about and when asked, they often have a very passionate response.

The pro-medication side says, “Oh, I used epidurals with all of my births. It’s the only way to enjoy the experience. There is no reason to feel the pain.”

The pro-natural side says, “Going natural is the best. I have never been so empowered by anything I have ever done and I felt so good afterwards.”

So who is right and who is wrong? Is the answer that black and white? One thing we can all agree on is that it is a big decision. Choosing natural birth or pain medication is a decision that should be taken very seriously since it can have undesirable consequences if you are not informed.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of natural childbirth as well as why mothers might choose pain medication:

Benefits of Natural Childbirth

1. Mothers who labor naturally can move freely, go to the bathroom, walk and change positions throughout labor. According to the Cochrane Review, recent studies have shown that getting medication makes changing positions even after birth more difficult.

2. Since you can feel your body’s reflexes in natural childbirth, mothers can push better and generally faster. In fact studies show that getting an epidural prolongs your pushing time.

3. The pain during labor serves a purpose by guiding the mother to seek certain positions. For example, if her back hurts, she will naturally seek positions off her back which can help to turn her baby. Having back pain is one sign that the baby might be posterior and needs to rotate.

4. Mothers often describe that their recovery after a natural childbirth was faster and easier since they could get right up and walk and shower. Usually they eat right away and their appetite is normal.

5. Endorphins secreted during a natural childbirth have been found in the placenta and umbilical cord. This may serve a purpose to help the baby adjust to life outside as well as make the journey more comfortable for baby.

6. Research has shown that in mothers who have natural childbirth, babies are more alert and show more interest in pre-breastfeeding behaviors such as sucking and massaging the mother’s breasts, as well as the actual length of time they spend nursing within the first 90 minutes.Benefits of Medicated Birth

1. Mothers who are having a very long labor can benefit from using pain medication to get some rest before the pushing stage.

2. If the mother is tensing up during contractions, pain medication can help her relax so that her body is not fighting against the labor.

3. If the mother has a lot of fear about birth or issues from her past, it may affect the progress of her labor. At times, medication may help to ease her anxiety.

Additional Thoughts

On a personal note, I can share my own experiences of natural childbirth twice. The pain was intense, but it was not impossible to manage. My obstetrician was very supportive of natural childbirth and his encouragement had a great impact on me.

I have also attended over 300 births as a birth doula supporting women during labor in the last 11 years. About 70% of those women had natural childbirth. In no specific order, I want to share some of my additional thoughts with you based on what I have seen and experienced.

Mothers have the ability to give birth naturally. Very often the things done or said to her inhibit her ability to do this very important job (i.e., restricting her movement, restricting food/fluids, lack of support or encouragement as well as a lack of non-medical pain relief techniques.)

Pain medication is a wonderful resource in very difficult and long labors when the mother simply has no energy left to birth her baby. I have seen several births like this and would have used an epidural myself had I had active labor last for days.

Pain medication, such as epidurals, carry with them hefty sacrifices and intervention such as restricting movement to bed, IV fluids and increasing her need for pitocin. Epidurals also increase the mother’s need for instruments to be used such as vacuum extractors or forceps, since pushing is more difficult.

I very seldom have clients in my doula practice who have natural childbirth with a first baby, choose to use pain medication with the next birth. Once they have realized the benefits of natural childbirth, they do not tend to go back.

From what I have seen, pain medication solves one big problem – pain. However I wonder when we take the pain away, if we are also removing helpful feedback for the mother. (see #2 above – Benefits of Natural Birth) Is it not like a person who takes medication for headaches (ie.. treating the symptom) instead of finding out why they are getting headaches?

Though I firmly believe that women have the ability to have natural childbirth, it should never be used as a scale to judge the woman either as a person or as a mother. How she lives her life, treats others and raises her family tells us much more about who she is than whether or not she used pain medication in labor.So, this author and mother wishes to simply encourage every mother to take this decision seriously and evaluate for yourselves the benefits and downsides to both natural birth and medicated birth before you jump to any hasty conclusions.

I firmly believe that there are two valid sides to consider and that you should discuss this issue at length with your spouse or birthing partner, family, doula and primary provider as well as factor in the circumstances of your own labor before you decide.

Do you plan to have a natural or medicated birth? Share your plans with us.