By: Iman Gatti Have you forgotten... Who you were before the chaos? Before everything you did was questioned and scrutinized. Before the stakes were so high. Before all of this emerging and transforming. This tearing down and rebuilding. Before you became a mother....
If you’re thinking about giving birth without an epidural, then you’re in the right place. Some people might try to talk you out of planning for a natural childbirth, but with the proper mindset and plan, it is totally doable for most moms! (I gave birth without an epidural to my twins!) In this article we’ll talk about five steps to setting yourself up for the best chance for giving birth without an epidural.
1. Mindset and Owning Your Choices
From the moment you tell other people you’re pregnant you’ll be getting lots of opinions… but…
Let’s get something clear right off the bat. YOU are in charge of your birth. Not your doctor. Not your midwife. Not your partner. Not your doula. Not your mother. Not your in-laws. YOU.
This is YOUR body mama. YOU get to choose what happens. If you ever feel pressured into making any decisions then take a minute to refocus and remember. YOU are in charge. NO ONE else.
Yes your partner’s wishes might want to be taken into consideration TO A POINT. But ultimately if their feelings conflict with your own, remember YOU are the one either pushing this baby out of your vagina, or if the situation warrants it, having a major surgery to birth that baby.
Doctors, midwives, doulas, partners, friends, family… these people are all hopefully trusted allies to us in this process. The choices that need to be made, will be made by you and no one else.
So let’s own this power.
Remove this from your language, “the doctor is making me…” “my doctor said I have to…”
You don’t HAVE to do a damn thing. You might CHOOSE something based on your doctors or midwife’s recommendation, but these are your choices to make. You can say no and ask for alternatives.
2. Define your goals and visualize your dream birth
Why are planning on giving birth without an epidural? What does natural childbirth look like to you? Does that mean no medication? Epidural free? No interventions? Are you looking to have a home birth or be in a hospital? Have you considered a birth center?
The very first thing to do before anything else is to define your birth goals and visualize what your ideal birth would look like. Your ideal childbirth is probably different than it is for others moms.
When we talk about not having an epidural, most people think of that as natural childbirth, but for some a natural birth simply means a vaginal birth. For others it could be a totally unmedicated birth. For others it isn’t just an unmedicated birth but also in a serene setting outside of a hospital.
In general, a natural childbirth means that you didn’t have any interventions or medications, though it is how the mother defines this idea that matters more than any other person’s definition, in my opinion.
For example, I had an epidural-free birth with my twins, though it was in a hospital and I induced with pitocin. So it may not be a 100% totally natural childbirth, but in my book, I popped two babies out, giving birth without an epidural, so I’m gonna go ahead and count it.
I knew from the beginning that although I would have loved to have a home water birth, a hospital setting would probably be safer considering twins do create a somewhat higher risk and make the birth slightly more complicated. I was however very committed to having as natural of a birth as possible for the situation.
So my goals were to avoid as many extra interventions and medications as I could while keeping many elements of a natural birth that were important to me, like skin-to-skin and establishing breastfeeding immediately. I created a list of my must-haves for my births, and I also had a list of things I would like but were like a second tier of priorities.
Before you meet with any medical professionals and choose your birth team, think about what kind of birth you desire and then write that down.
You aren’t necessarily creating a whole birth plan at this point. You’re just getting clear on your top goals and also what you absolutely want to avoid if possible.
People say that things change in birth and you can never be certain what will happen. This is true, and I believe in preparing yourself for potential changes in plans.
However if you don’t also plan for the birth you want, then the odds of it happening are slim to none.
Having a natural childbirth is normal and natural, but unfortunately many medical professionals and hospitals are not very supportive of it. Many doctors have never even witnessed a natural childbirth, and don’t know how to actually support a mother who chooses to birth naturally.
This is why the next step is super important.
3. Choose your birth team and/or prep them on your desires
Your birth team is probably the most important aspect of planning for a natural birth without an epidural, or really any birth outcome you desire.
Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
When it comes to your birth, I believe this to be 100% accurate. You need a team that is on board with your goals and will support you in those goals.
Not all healthcare providers are going to be supportive or helpful in your goal of a natural childbirth. So if a natural birth is what you’re going for, then you will want to research and interview doctors and/or midwives who have a history of successful natural births.
In general, midwives are more familiar with and more support of natural childbirth. Doctors are trained to deal with emergencies, to perform surgery, and always be ready for worst case scenarios. Midwives usually will be more likely to be acquainted with the natural flow of birth, and will engage in fewer interventions.
This is not a hard and fast rule though. Some doctors are very supportive of natural birth, while some midwives might try to push interventions quickly.
How do you know if a doctor or midwife has a history of successful natural births? The first thing I do is ask other moms. Get into your local mom groups on Facebook and ask around. See who has had a birth similar to what you want and see who they recommend.
Then use the go-to tool of all moms. Google.
Most doctors or midwives will have reviews you can find somewhere on the internet. Some even have Yelp reviews!
But pay close attention to what women are saying. If you want a natural birth, it isn’t sufficient for women to have had a good experience with a certain professional. You are looking for women who have had successful natural births who also loved their doctor or midwife. There could be a million women who loved having a certain doctor on their birth team, but they also had inductions and epidurals for all of their births. (Which more power to her if that’s her desire for her birth, but if it is not yours, then you need to consider if that doctor is a good fit for you.)
You can also ask for the stats of that doctor, midwife, or practice. My midwifery provided me with statistics on how many of their patients had natural births vs. interventions vs. c-sections.
4. Write your birth plan
Yes, birth is unpredictable. Does that mean you shouldn’t make a plan? Hell no! You NEED a plan if you want a specific outcome.
A football team doesn’t go to the Super Bowl without knowing the plays they want to run. The plays they choose to use and when they will use them will of course change based on their opponent, but they have a lot of tools in their arsenal to win the game and make adjustments on the fly.
This is kind of how a birth plan operates. It not only outlines your ideal expectations for birth, but also how you want to handle the unexpected. (Plus one aspect I have started including in my birth plans is how I’d like my babies to be cared for, and a friendly note to my nurses.)
But beyond how a birth plan can help your birth go a bit more smoothly, and it more likely you can have a natural birth without an epidural, it also is like a research project that allows you to enter this huge task super knowledgable.
Lisa Chen penned an article about here at Mom Uprising about how she was able to have a safe natural birth without an epidural even though her birth didn’t go as planned. She said, “My dream of having a vaginal birth seemed to be slipping away. But all of my research while preparing for birth came rushing back to me.”
All the research she did ahead of time helped her feel confident in the choices she was making, and also be able to have conversations with medical staff where she stood firm on her birth goals while also being reasonable and well informed. You wishes should be honored no matter what, but if you can come from a place of power (i.e. knowledge) you can better achieve that goal.
5. Know what to ask
One other thing Lisa mentioned in her article, that I also have utilized in birth is to have a set of questions to ask your care providers in case they are suggesting a change of plans. Those questions are:
- Is mom okay?
- Is baby okay?
- Can it wait?
Answering these questions right away will give you a clearer picture of where you are at in the birth. When you are planning for giving birth without an epidural it can sometimes be a long process. Many moms are given pitocin or prematurely c-sections when really they just need to wait it out a little bit.
When your care provider is suggesting an intervetion or procedure during your birth, assessing whether it is an emergency, if there is danger, and if you can wait is essential.
If you learn that there is no immediate danger, then you can take a deep breath and decide what your next move is. Perhaps you decide that an intervention is needed and you want to change the plans a bit, or maybe you just want to wait and see.
Using these questions can give you that opportunity.
Birth is transformative. It’s probably the most intense experience most women will every go through, but you were made for this. You can be successful at giving birth without an epidural. It just takes some planning, mama.
(PS – bonus points if you also plan for postpartum period, and get yourself a postpartum doula!)
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