Thursday, April 8, 2010

Unmedicated Childbirth — Is it for You?

{Photo courtesy of Forever Bliss photography}

Since we just had a post about epidurals, I figured we'd have one about the alternative too. First, let me echo what Noelle wrote — this is a personal choice and you need to do what you are most comfortable with, and not let other people make you feel inferior for your decision. People can make you feel wimpy for automatically choosing an epidural, and people can make you feel crazy for choosing to skip it. Either way, you will probably get all sorts of opinions from people, but you get to choose how you react to what they say.

There were plenty of people who told me I was crazy for not wanting an edpidural. I remember talking to some friends about my decision when a lady who was standing nearby and heard what I was saying told me her husband was an OB GYN and basically said I had no idea what I was talking about — that childbirth without an epidural is excruciatingly painful and anyone who chooses to do it is loony. That couldn't have been less true for me. Well, maybe I am a little loony but that has nothing to do with my birthing preferences.

Some of my reasons for choosing to go sans epidural included my lifelong fear of needles, my tendency to favor the natural way of doing things especially regarding health (you'd be hard-pressed to even get me to take a Tylenol for a headache), and just plain wanting to see if I could conquer the challenge. I was also a little wary of the side-effects and risks (although rare) epidurals can pose. {Most of my friends and family have had epidurals and had great experiences with them, so I don't think it's anything to seriously worry about.} Whatever you decide, I think there is a lot of value in researching both options so you can make an educated, personal decision and know what you are getting into.

Everyone's childbirth experience is so different, and there are many cases when even though the mother has planned out her ideal chilbirth scenario, things go unexpectedly and they have to adjust their plan or completely throw it out the window. But for those of you who are serious about going unmedicated, here are some things I recommend. Most of these tips would be great for any kind of birth you choose.

Commit to your decision as early as possible.
Even as a teenager, I always thought "natural" childbirth was intriguing. When I got pregnant, I knew I wanted to go that route, but once I started really looking into it I realized it was no walk in the park and that for me to be able to mentally and physically handle it, I would need to commit to that decision 100 percent from the start so I could be prepared. I didn't commit right away, because I knew once I did, I wasn't going to retreat. I needed time to decide if I was up to the task and if it would be worth it. After a lot of thinking, praying, reading and talking to people who  had experienced childbirth with and without epidurals, I decided to commit. There were definitely still times when I questioned myself and got scared, but as I tried to stay confident and positive, I felt excited for the challenge.

Take a specialized class.
I took a Hypnobabies course about a month before my due date, and for me, it was the key to being able to give birth without the edpidural while staying relaxed and positive. Hypnosis for childbirth definitely sounded hokey to me at first, but it isn't as wierd as it sounds. It just teaches you powerful relaxation techniques that work wonders if you jump into the training with both feet. But even if I had gone the epidural route, the things I learned in the course would still have helped me immensely. Epidural or not, you are going to feel some contractions, and learning what to expect and how to relax your mind and body makes them a lot easier to deal with. Also, the course teaches you a ton about pregnancy and childbirth so you can see the whole picture and make the decisions that are best for you. One of the things I like best about the course is that it encourages a positive outlook on labor, which is so valuable especially with the inevitable horror stories that surround pregnant women. This is who I took my Hypnobabies course from. Worth every penny.

Stay positive.
There are undoubtedly going to be times when you question your ability to do this. You're inevitably going to hear a lot of horror stories. People are probably going try to talk you out of your decision. But you are not them and their horrible experiences are not yours (Hypnobabies does a great job of teaching you how to enter your bubble of peace whenever people talk negatively about childbirth). You can do this. Stick with your decision and be excited and confident about it every single day, even if you have to tell yourself affirmations in the mirror (or listen to them on your Hypnobabies CD).  

Get a doula.
Don't know what a doula does? Click here. You may have the same hesitations I did when I first heard about doulas. I thought I wanted the least amount of people in that delivery room as possible, and inviting some lady I didn't even know to witness such a personal experience didn't make sense to me. And I figured my husband or my mom could help in the same way she did. Not so. Believe me — if you get a great doula (like Melissa) you won't regret it. She was on call for me from the time I hired her early in my pregnancy until a couple of weeks after I gave birth. Actually, I still contact her once in awhile with my questions! It was so comforting to always know I could call her, even in the wee hours of the morning with questions or concerns. She instilled confidence in me that I was more than strong enough to have a wonderful unmedicated childbirth. She came to my house as soon as I felt like labor had begun. She was chipper, even though it was 3 a.m. and she had a 36-hour birthing marathon ahead of her. She made meals for us, put pain-relieving pressure on my back during contractions, helped me find comfortable positions, helped me know what was going on and when to go to the hospital, she stayed by my side while Clay got some much-needed rest, she helped communicate to the hospital staff how I wanted things to go, and she helped us both stay calm and reassured during my 36-hour labor (most of which was spent at home),which brings me to my next tip:

Plan to labor at home as long as possible. 
You will be much more comfortable and much less likely to get an epidural. For me, I wasn't even dilated enough to be admitted after 19 1/2 hours of labor at home. While that long isn't the norm, most (not all, but most) first-time moms do experience a pretty long first stage of labor.

Bring a birthing ball.
I would not have been able to do it without my big, pink exercise ball. It is amazing how getting into different positions on the ball eased the pressure of my contractions. I used it throughout my entire labor.

Make a music mix.
You've heard about all the studies about how music can ease stress and depression and just plain make you happy. That definitely comes in handy during labor. I made a calm, wordless mix for when I needed to rest and relax and an upbeat mix for when I needed extra energy and had to get down to business. The delivery staff loved working to some good tunes too. Feel free to e-mail me if you want to know the songs I had on my labor day mix.

Be flexible.
Do everything you can to prepare for the birth of your dreams, but remember this is something you and your body have never done before. Your labor may be harder or longer than you expect and there may be unforeseen complications. If you end up deciding an epidural is in the best interest for you and your baby, don't beat yourself up over it. A safe, healthy, happy baby (and mom) is the first priority here. And when you hold your own sweet baby in your arms, how he or she got there probably isn't going to seem so important anymore. 

You can read my full birth story here. And I am more than happy to answer your questions or give you pep talks :)



  1. Kim: THANK YOU! This post is fantastic. As I am preparing for baby numero dos, I have been using the Hypnobabies homestudy course (I used the Hypnobirthing method for my first).

    Before my first, I spent many, many, many hours researching and trying to find what was just right for me, my husband, and my baby. I found that among the myriad of natural childbirth methods, the hypnosis courses (Hypnobabies and Hypnobirthing are the only ones I know of) are the ONLY methods out there that teach that labor can be pain-free.

    If pain-free is what you want, go with the hypnosis. If you want to be taught about how to "work through the pain", go with something else.

    From my personal experience, hypnosis in childbirth is absolutely unreal. It is a wonderful, fabulous, and utterly worth it method of childbirth that I will choose. EVERY time.

  2. Kim, that was a wonderful post! You (and Noelle) both articulated your thoughts perfectly, while still being considerate of other people's views/opinions. Good job! If anything could make me consider an unmedicated birth, it would be you and your story :)

  3. Horray, I love to see posts like this! Thanks for sharing your insights.

    I just wanted to share a link to my site with over 250 birth stories from moms using Hypnobabies.

  4. GREAT POST!!! I'm totally using these tips!! We're taking a Lamaze class but I'm hoping to borrow those Hypnobabies Cds from a friend too cause I've heard so many good things about them! Wish me luck!! Ooh this post was AWESOME!! Gonna link to it got sure!!

  5. Women in the USA are whimps! Go Kim!

  6. Kim thanks for posting this. I really want to do this when I do get pregnant and it gives me strength to know the easy ways to go about things. Hope you are doing well!

  7. What were the songs you used on your birthing mix? Also, did you bring your own birthing ball to the hospital or did they provide one for you? Thanks for sharing your story!


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