10 Natural Childbirth Myths
When weighing your options for childbirth, it helps if you have accurate information about the options available to you. Unfortunately childbirth is an area where myth often pervades fact. What you hear may have started as truth, but has become such a distorted version, there isn’t much truth left. Here are ten of the most common misunderstandings about natural childbirth and the truth behind them.
1. You have to have a super-high pain tolerance.
Almost nobody likes pain, and it is easy to assume giving birth causes large amounts of pain so only the most pain tolerant women can do it. What is less well known is how a woman’s body increases endorphin levels during labor. This means as the intensity of the contractions build, so does her ability to handle them. Also, contractions peak at about 30 seconds. This means once your contractions become about a minute long they may increase in duration (get longer), but they do not tend to continue building in intensity.
2. You have to do HEE HEE HOO HOO panting the whole time.
While Dr. Lamaze did include patterned breathing for distraction in his natural childbirth training, it was one of several tools and his was the only program that recommended it. Dr. Dick Read, Dr. Bradley and others recommended natural deep breathing relying instead on positioning and relaxation. Patterned breathing remains one of many tools a woman can use in labor if she finds it helps her manage contractions, but most women use normal breathing.
3. It feels like pulling your lower lip over your head.
I enjoy a good comedy routine, but we shouldn’t base our understanding of childbirth on stand up comedy. After having given birth without medication twice, I can most assuredly promise you it feels nothing like pulling on your lips. The parts of the body needed for childbirth are designed to stretch and make room for baby – your lower lip is not designed to be pulled over your head.
4. You have to be at home to do it.
Homebirth is an option, but it is only one option. Women interested in natural childbirth can also give birth in birth centers or hospitals. It is not the location that matters, but the support you have to help you through contractions. While hospitals have access to medications and emergency equipment, many also have birth tubs, balls and flexible staff who will work with a family to achieve the birth they desire. Hiring a doula gives you even more support and increases your chances of giving birth naturally.
5. Women become screaming lunatics, yelling at their husbands.
Childbirth is not a psychosis where a woman suddenly takes on a new personality. Although in the earlier half of the 20th century women were given labor drugs that made them act very strange indeed, becoming crazy isn’t a part of the natural childbirth process. What does happen is a woman uses all her energy to focus on the work she is doing and distraction makes this harder. Women in hard labor will use the least amount of energy to communicate – this may mean body language, grunts or one word commands. Without the understanding this behavior is normal, a support person can feel as if they have somehow upset the laboring mother.
6. Childbirth is the worst pain you will ever feel.
A childbirth educator’s husband figured out from her normal 12 hour labor that the time she spent in pain in contractions totaled to about 3 and a half hours. You can be in pain longer than that for a migraine. And unlike other types of pain, contractions build to a peak, release from the peak and then give you a break. Even in a longer than average labor, there are breaks between contractions. In a 12 hour labor, you might not even need to work through contractions until the last 2 or 3 hours before pushing because most of the time you spend in labor is early labor.
7. If they know you want a natural childbirth, the nurses won’t give you anything for the pain.
Wanting a natural childbirth and achieving a natural childbirth are two different things. While most doulas, nurses and midwives will work with you to achieve your goal of a natural childbirth, they never force you to give birth without medication. Whether or not to use medical pain relief remains your choice regardless of what type of labor you prepared for.
8. There is no reason to go through labor pain anymore.
There have been ointments and herbs to treat labor pain as far back as the Roman Empire, and probably further back than that. There are also positions and non-medical techniques that work extremely well for keeping mothers comfortable and helping labor progress. It isn’t so much the use of a treatment to manage pain that bothers modern women as much as it is the possible side effects and risks of using the treatments. There is a big difference between the risks of having a massage in labor and having an epidural. Although the massage may not eliminate all the pain, if it allows the woman to labor without having to add the risks of an epidural then why not use it? Studies show just the change of using a doula for additional support decreases requests for pain medication while also decreasing needs for additional medical interventions. It should more rightly be said that with all we know today, there is no reason to add the risks of medical pain relief to manage labor pain anymore.
9. Women used to die giving birth.
Yes, and women still die giving birth. It has nothing to do with the natural childbirth process. Instead factors such as poor nutrition, infection and inadequate sanitation are the causes of high mortality rates. In fact, the highest childbirth mortality rate happened because birth was moved to the hospital and infection spread quickly among laboring women when doctors didn’t wash their hands. Pain medications increase the risks of having a problem in labor, not reduce them. Cesarean birth adds the increased risks of surgery to childbirth, which means for a normal, healthy pregnancy your risk of dying from childbirth goes up.
10. I don’t need to prepare to give birth, it’s a natural process.
While your body is doing the work with or without you, how you respond to labor will have a large impact on how well labor progresses and the amount of pain or discomfort you feel. Knowing positions, tricks and techniques for labor greatly improves your chances of being successful at giving birth naturally, and greatly improves your chances of staying comfortable during labor. It takes physical and mental energy to labor; if you haven’t practiced natural childbirth techniques enough to use them without thinking you won’t be able to use them during labor. Preparing for a natural childbirth doesn’t necessarily guarantee you will give birth without medications, but not preparing almost always guarantees you will use medications.
Jennifer Vanderlaan is a childbirth educator and doula who helps families learn tools, tips and techniques for natural childbirth at http://www.birthingnaturally.net
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