I really believe in natural childbirth. I don't mean the Kumbaya, Red Tent, fanatical kind. But, I mean drug-free vaginal delivery in a hospital attended by a physician for women who have normal-to-low-risk pregnancies.
I am the last person who wants to revert to the dark days before modern obstetrics where childbirth was the #1 killer of women. I think modern medicine is amazing and wonderful and saves lives and has its place. But, in this country, I think C-sections are over-used.
There is no doubt that C-sections are major surgery bringing along all the risks of anesthesia reactions, infections, and the like that come with it. There is mounting evidence that C-section moms and babies are at a disadvantage relative to their vaginal-birth counterparts. A recent NYTimes Well Blog article talked about how the delivery method affects the mother's brain response to her baby’s cry. If you want to read a comprehensive study of the risks of C-section you can do so here.
When researching about how to deliver my babies, I came to the following conclusions:
1) Having a C-section when you have a normal-to-low-risk pregnancy is far more dangerous than a vaginal birth.
2) If you are serious about avoiding a C-section, you need to avoid pain-management drugs. Using pain management drugs (such as an Epidural) significantly increase your chances for needing a C-section. The reasons for this are muddled. It is believed that pain management drugs hinder your natural birthing process and can slow it down, thus making it more likely that you will need a C-section. It is also believed that these drugs put stress on the baby making it more likely that the baby will be in distress and that you will need a C-section.
So, how did I accomplish two natural vaginal births with no pain medication? I used the Hypnobirthing method of natural childbirth. I know that "Hypnobirthing" sounds like the most hippie, new-agey thing possible. But, it really is a systematic method that works.
Behind Hypnobirthing is a method of deep relaxation. The thinking goes that if you are very relaxed during childbirth, you do not tense up, and you will not experience pain from the contractions because your body is not fighting against them. Rather you can work with them to speed your delivery along. You will also be able to "tune out" the pain by focusing inward. Not in the Lamaze - I will hyperventilate myself blue in the face so that I can try to ignore the pain - way, but in a very relaxed - my body is feeling this pain, but my brain is blissfully able to ignore it - kind of way.
I encourage you to read this review on CoolTools.
The drawback to Hypnobirthing is that you must practice and condition your body in the relaxation techniques. In order for you to maintain the deep relaxation during the intense stages of labor, it must be second nature to you - like a reflex. It is not possible to hone reflexes like this without repeated conditioning. Also, the very deep relaxation that is required does not come naturally to most people. To gain this skill takes time and effort.
I began Hypnobirthing by taking a class at around 6 months along. The class met one evening a week for 6 weeks. But, the real time and effort was spent in the daily relaxation exercises. You need to spend about 30 minutes each day practicing right up until the day you deliver. That's about 3 months x 30 minutes a day. It's a big commitment. This is not something where you will take a weekend class and then show up at the hospital and whip out a baby! The daily exercises consist of listening to relaxation CDs and practicing the relaxation techniques you learned in class.
One of the greatest benefits of Hypnobirthing is that the partner is intimately involved in the process. They are your guide to help you stay relaxed, calm, and comfortable. Dads and partners *love* Hypnobirthing because it allows them to feel more involved and less helpless during the process. In the classes, they learn ways to help you relax: verbal queues, massage techniques, etc.
Hypnobirthing is good for the babies too! I have un-scientific evidence that Hypnobirthing babies are more calm and relaxed once born. Seriously. I am not sure if it's because of the birthing process as much as the daily relaxation practice. There is scientific evidence that babies born to moms who were stressed during pregnancy are more skittish when born and suffer from a whole host of lasting medical disadvantages (high blood pressure, ADHD, asthma, etc). So, doing a 30 minute relaxation session every day for 3 months must do something to reduce your overall stress level and hence the baby's once born.
I am not going to go into the gory details of my two births here. But they were both accomplished with zero pain drugs. I feel incredibly proud of this accomplishment and grateful I learned about this program before I gave birth (a shout out to my friend C who put me on to it). I really encourage you to consider it for your next baby!
P.S. One beef I have with the Hypnobirthing classes is that they encourage you to *not* learn about any other birthing methods, pain management drugs, or c-section. They somehow think that knowledge of these other birthing techniques will soften your resolve to have your baby naturally, and that in a moment of weakness, you will ask for the drugs. I disagree with this stance. I think that knowledge is power. Not all Hypnobirthing moms are able to complete their births naturally due to unexpected complications, and you should definitely be educated about all your options.
P.P.S. I really believe the C-sections have their place and save thousands of lives each year. I do not stand in judgment of anyone who has reviewed their situation with their doctor and made an educated and informed choice to have a C-section.
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