This post is for all those that wonder: why bother with a natural birth and going through all its physical and often emotional challenges? What are the benefits of a natural birth?
Plus, at the end of this post you will also discover: The 4 things to do post-natally if you have had a medicalised birth.
Now let’s jump into the reasons
Why A Natural Birth
Baby’s Immune System, The Micro-Biome
This must really be the number one reason to choose a vaginal birth.
Autoimmune diseases (asthma, allergies, lupus, diabetes, celiac disease) are on the rise, and increasing medicalised birth practices around the world are turning out to be a big part of the problem.
Obviously this is something you don’t see at birth. These diseases develop later in life but science is finding out that there is a link to birth practices, as well as how the baby is fed.
(note: breastfeeding has a huge scientifically proven link to better immunity. For the sake of keeping this article short and to the point, I am not writing about breastfeeding, even though I am giving a little more away in a section below. But let’s focus on the birth.)
“Babies born vaginally receive protective bacteria as they pass through the birth canal. Left on the baby’s skin, these bacteria colonise the intestine and help protect newborns against bugs. Gut flora is also crucial for developing a balanced immune system, from childhood right through to adulthood.” As stated by Professor Patricia Conway
Other Physiological Benefits:
Baby’ s lung development
Babies born vaginally have a considerably lower risk of respiratory problems. The compression of the baby’s thorax expels the amniotic fluid during the birth process and helps to prepare the lungs to breathe air. There is a high risk of respiratory distress syndrome in babies born by cesarean section and a high risk of asthma. (CC Buhimschi, MD and I.A Buhimschi, MD, Advantages of Vaginal Delivery, Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, Volume 49, Number 1, 167-183)
Baby’s stress response
The endorphins, nature’s feel-good hormones, which are secreted during an unmedicated childbirth have been found in the placenta and umbilical cord. These hormones may help the baby adjust to life outside the womb as well as make the birth passage more comfortable for baby. Also, the process of labor is reported to enable babies born vaginally to cope with stress better than those born by cesarean. Cesarean birth triggers a dramatic stress response which could set up the child to always over-respond to stress. (Hannah Dahlen, Australian College of Midwives).
Mum And Baby Alertness – Bonding and Apgar Score
During a natural birth, both the mum and baby are more alert, this in turns promotes bonding.
Additionally during vaginal birth, the baby benefits from the abundance of hormones (oxytocin, opioids, endorphines, vasopressin, prolactin etc.)
flooding mum’s body which, among other things, help to foster a strong connection between mum and baby.
When an alert, un-drugged baby is placed on the abdomen of an alert and un-drugged mother, amazing things happen within the first hour after birth: they are able to make significant and deliberate eye-to-eye-contact and the baby is ready to follow its instinctive stages that leads to establishing good breast feeding: crawling, familiarizing, searching, and eventually suckling.
These physiological processes are partly why some mothers who had difficult, medicalised births and/ or suffered separation often say that it took them weeks to start loving their baby, or ‘feeling it was their baby’, as they missed out on that initial infatuation and love hit that comes from having all the hormones flowing uninterrupted.
Lastly, babies born naturally, without medication, have higher Apgar scores thanks to the higher state of alertness and responsiveness.
The Apgar score evaluates the newborn baby on; skin color/appearance, heart rate/pulse, reflexes/grimace, muscle tone/activity, breathing rate and effort/respiration.
Better Start To Breastfeeding For Both Mum And Baby
Natural birth promotes a hormonal reaction to kick start optimal milk supply; as well as providing optimal mother and baby alertness that allows breastfeeding, crawling and imprinting to take place.
Breastfeeding in turn greatly helps your baby to build a strong immune system. A balanced, neither underactive nor overactive, immunes system is what protects us all from diseases throughout life (including cancer).
Quicker Recovery For Mum
Generally, compared to an assisted birth (epidural, ventuse/ forceps) or a major operation like the C-section, natural child-birth is the easiest type of birth from which to recover.
After a natural birth a mother is usually able to stand up, walk and take care of herself completely unassisted within just few hours.
Hospital stays are much shorter with a natural birth. The implication of this on rest and general well being can be huge, as usually post-natal wards are not a comfy, calm and private environment that mums and babies enjoy!
Additionally, with a natural birth, the exhaustion after birth is naturally replaced with a new found energy and sometimes even a state of euphoria, created by adrenaline and endorphin-high at the end of the natural birth process. I have personally seen mums experiencing this lasting even a couple of weeks. This is nature’s way of supporting you in establishing breast-feeding and taking care of your baby.
Avoiding Post-Operative Complications
Another overlooked benefit of a natural childbirth is that there are no attached risks of complications post-intervention (e.g infections, retained placenta, post-operative pain etc) as well as no attached risks for a second pregnancy and birth; which would be the case with a medicalised birth, and C-section.
Prepares for the Challenges of Motherhood
The physical, emotional and temporal journey a natural birth requires: patience, strength, self-belief, acceptance, trust, and as many more emotions as there are women giving birth, is what also allows the passage to take place.
Natural birth can challenge you into stepping out of your comfort zone, empowering you in achieving and doing more then you have ever considered possible. Many women believe this is what prepares you, and gives you strength to face the challenges of motherhood.
Of course in life there are many opportunities to do this and women that choose, or end up having a different method of delivery, or indeed women that don’t have children (or man for that matter) also have many other opportunities in life to achieve this state of empowerment and capabilities in their own self. Childbirth is one of those opportunities, but not the only one in my opinion. But of course, giving birth to a baby can potentially be a special one!
I also would like to mention that I have supported couples that had a natural, positive birth experience but struggled in the post-natal period, and vice-versa. Couples that had a c-section but went on to have a good recovery and a positive post-natal period, including breast-feeding successfully (in both scenarios).
I, too, had clients that chose to have a C-section for very good reasons and went on to have a good post-natal recovery and bonding time with their baby.
Just a confirmation that ‘everybody in life chooses their own battles and journeys’.
From my experience as a doula, what helps in having a good birth experience is awareness of your wishes, as well as understating the NHS system and your choices.
Most of all it helps to stay focused but flexible at the same time. Having a team of people around you that you really trust and can rely on, your caring partner (if present) or a birth-companion, can make all the difference to you feeling vulnerable, scared, overwhelmed and alone, or feeling safe, secure, empowered and grounded.
It is also worth knowing that women say that it is not experiencing pain that negatively affects the birth experience, but it’s rather feeling alone and confused.
So having the right support and being able to make your own decisions along the way is key for a positive experience.
4 THINGS TO DO
IF SOMETHING DOESN’T GO ACCORDING TO PLAN
AND YOU END UP NEEDING INTERVETIONS
After all, no one can predict how labor will progress and sometimes interventions are inevitable.
Being flexible and going with the flow may be your best emotional investment! There are no reasons to beat yourself up, or feel guilty or inadequate if you haven’t had the natural birth you, may be, wished for. You are a very capable mum, and still retain all the abilities to give birth naturally another time.
On this occasion, the chances are most probably two: either the system failed you due to mis-management, or something genuinely needed medical support and you had great help!
If somehow you feel you had little control and you wished you were ‘more prepared’; I invite you to find strength in the knowledge that, from now on, you know more. In life we can only do our best in each given moment, and with each subsequent time and gained experience, we will do better!
So let’s look at what you can do for you and your little precious baby’s health from this point onwards.
1. Do as much Skin-to-skin as you can (24/7 if you can, see kangaroo care)
The benefits of skin-to-skin are widely proven: more successful breastfeeding rates, better temperature control and breathing patterns, better weight gain, shorter hospital stay etc.
Try to do skin-to-skin straight after the birth and, depending on the circumstances, either at every feed (8 to 12 times in a 24 hour clock) or 24/7 for the first 4 to 6 weeks of life.
2. Choose breastfeeding (and if in doubt, stick to it for only 6 to 8 weeks before making your mind-up).
Sometimes the begining of breastfeeding can be a little difficult, try to keep it up for few weeks if you can as it can improves with time as you and your baby learn. The World Health Organisation state it takes 6 to 8 weeks to establish breastfeeding. Profesional support ups your chances of breastfeeding for longer.
In the first two weeks, latch on your baby between 8 and 12 times in a 24 hour period. This will ensure your breasts are stimulated to optimally kick start milk production.
Make sure it’s not painful to avoid nipple damage. While some tenderness is normal in the first week, breastfeeding should not be painful. It may mean that the attachment and position needs improving.
Ultimately don’t hesitate to call for professional support; this may be the other best investment for your family’s health down the line. There is just so much scientific research on the incredible health benefits of human breast milk that is difficult to keep it short. See some links below in ‘further reading and resources’ if you want to explore this topic.
If for some reasons breastfeeding dones’t work, remember it’s most probabily the system that failed you and not you failing!! The lack of support and conflicting advise post-nataly is scary! If for whatever reasons breastfeeding has’t work, be aware of epigenetcis and nutritional therapy as this can have incredible health benefits.
3. Be aware of epigenetic and nutritional therapy. Today science tells us that life style and environmental factor affects how our genes are switched on and off. This means that we have more control over our health than we ever thought possible.
Hippocrates said it: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Nowadays, more and more doctors agree on the importance of nutrition for optimal health.
Unfortunately many traditional doctors know little about nutrition; the topic is not part of their studies and their experience goes on to be about drugs. Functional medicine, on the other hand, is based on the principles of good nutrition, and treating the cause of the problem rather than its symptoms.
Focusing on a healthy and sustainable lifetime nutritional plan for you and your family may be just the medicine you need.
4. Last but not least, be kind to yourself. Sometimes, in the internal monologue of our brains, we treat our self with lots of criticism; way more than we would ever give a friend or a loved one in a moment of crisis. We would, instead, be compassionate and kind with them, try to understand them and lift them up.
Neuroscience experts suggest that being compassionate and kind to yourself unlocks what criticism and self doubt holds you back from, and frees you up to be happier and achieve what you want.
Further Readings And Resources:
Immune system and the microbiome:
- The human microbiome: considerations for pregnancy birth and early mothering
- Your baby microbiome podcast with Dr.R.Dietert
Chemistry of love and bonding:
Scientific Benefit of Breast-feeding for life long health
- How breast milk protects newborn
- Other resources on the benefits of breastfeeding
- A link to a library of research and studies
- How birth practices affects bf outcomes
- Simple educational activities to do to learn about bf and breast-milk
- All about the ‘breast crawl’
The scientific benefits behind compassion and kindness to yourself