Natural Birth Options and Tips

Why Choose Natural Birth- Labor options and tips from a doula and natural birthing mom

As I prepare to assist at the births of several of my doula clients, I thought it was fitting to write a post about tips and strategies for a natural labor. (I already wrote about things I will and won’t consent to during pregnancy here). I’ve gotten several questions about this lately as well, so I’m covering what I choose and some tricks I’ve found helpful in my own natural labors.

Unfortunately for me, my labors tend to be long (like 24+ hours long), but this has been great for me as a doula since I have so much time to test various labor techniques. (Though I admit, I’m a teeny bit jealous when I attend a birth and the mom pushes once after laboring for two hours… c’est la vie I guess).

Why Natural Birth?

(I’d like to preface by saying that these are the options I chose after extensive research, but I do not necessarily think that they are right for every woman. My hope is that women are actually provided the information (or can find it easily) to feel empowered and make the best decisions for their own labors/births, and unfortunately, this does not always seem to be the case.)

I have some friends who look at me like I’ve grown a second head when I mention that I prefer to labor naturally, and others who experience rather pain free births and can’t even understand why coping techniques are necessary. For me personally, labor is long, hard, and a true test of both will power and surrender. I decided to labor and birth naturally (medical issues aside) after researching all of the options and deciding that this was best for baby and me.

From personal experience, I can say that the endorphin high and fast recovery of a natural birth are absolutely amazing, while my c-section was exhausting (emotionally and physically) and tough to recover from.

Labor augmentation and medical intervention can absolutely be necessary and life saving, but the majority of the time intervention isn’t necessary. As mothers, we should carefully consider any intervention, especially elective ones, as all intervention comes with some level of risk to mom or baby (or both).

Going Into Labor Naturally

The most recent statistic I’ve seen shows that almost 1/4 of all women (in the US) are induced and do not go in to labor naturally. While medical induction can be necessary, many of these cases are simply elective and induction alters the important and delicate hormones that occur during labor and birth.

Labor is often induced because a doctor may think that the baby is too big (tests determining this are often wrong), mom is tired of being pregnant, there are scheduling issues for doctor or mom, or for a genuine medical reason. Often, women are induced at 41 weeks or not allowed to go past 42 weeks based on studies that risk of maternal and infant death are higher after this time (this article explains why this research is not necessarily accurate).

This article presents some important biological happenings in the final weeks of pregnancy:

“In the last weeks of pregnancy, maternal antibodies are passed to the baby—antibodies that will help fight infections in the first days and weeks of life. The baby gains weight and strength, stores iron, and develops more coordinated sucking and swallowing abilities. His lungs mature, and he stores brown fat that will help him maintain body temperature in the first days and weeks following birth. The maturing baby and the aging placenta trigger a prostaglandin increase that softens the cervix in readiness for effacement and dilatation. A rise in estrogen and a decrease in progesterone increase the uterine sensitivity to oxytocin. The baby moves down into the pelvis. Contractions in the last weeks may start the effacement and dilation of the cervix. A burst of energy helps pregnant women make final preparations, and insomnia prepares them for the start of round-the-clock parenting.”

This article explains some of the risks of induction (especially elective induction):

“The induction process is a fairly invasive procedure which usually involves some or all of the following (you can read more about the process of induction here). There are a number of minor side effects associated with these medications/procedures (eg. nausea, discomfort etc.) There are also some major risks:

  • Prostaglandins (prostin E2 or cervidil) to ripen the cervix: hyperstimulation resulting in fetal distress and c-section.
  • Rupturing the membranes: fetal distress and c-section (see previous post)
  • IV syntocinon / pitocin: Mother – rupture of uterus; post partum hemorrhage; water intoxication leading to convulsions, coma and/or death. Baby – hypoxic brain damage; neonatal jaundice; neonatal retinal hemorrhage; death. There is also research suggesting that there may be a link between the use of syntocinon/pitocin for induction and ADHD (Kurth & Haussmann 2011)

The most extreme of these risks are rare but fetal distress and c-section are fairly common.”

My personal choice is simply to refuse any labor induction, augmentation, or intervention without a clear medical reason (as there was with complete placenta previa with my third, when natural birth would have been impossible).

Pain Relief In Labor

This is one area where I will definitely never judge a woman for deciding to get pain relief of some kind. In labor, I cry like a baby and sometimes even curse like a sailor… I understand the pain.

That being said, there are inherent risks with any medical pain relief options, and corresponding reasons to avoid them if possible.

Epidurals are the most common form of pain relief during labor. Over 3/4 of all women report getting an epidural during labor, and like I said, I can understand why! This article explains how an epidural works:

“In an epidural, a local anesthetic – still derived from cocaine – is injected into the epidural space (the space around the tough coverings that protect the spinal cord). Epidurals block nerve signals from both the sensory and motor nerves, which provides effective pain relief but immobilizes the lower part of the recipient’s body.”

No intervention exists in a vacuum, and even epidurals carry their share of risks. This article has the most in depth discussion of risks I’ve seen:

I have only seen this mentioned by some sources, but from my own experience, my spinal with my c-section led to horrible itching all over my body for several days after, and I didn’t dare take Benadryl since it can affect milk supply. Personally, I’d rather have pain for a day than horrible itching for three if given the choice!

Epidurals pose their fair share of risks to baby too, including:

  • Similar levels of epidural drugs are found in baby’s blood stream, but baby takes longer to eliminate the drugs because immune system is still developing
  • Epidurals can affect fetal blood and oxygen supply, leading to the need for more intervention
  • Some studies show a decrease in APGAR scores in babies whose mothers received epidurals.
  • Higher risk of fever in babies whose mothers received an epidural
  • Some evidence shows that mothers may have more difficulty bonding immediately when they receive an epidural
  • Evidence shows an increase in difficulty breastfeeding when a mother receives an epidural

Opiate based medications are another common pain relief option in labor (though these are becoming less popular). While these allow movement, unlike an epidural, they affect the baby as well as the mother, and personally, I wouldn’t even consider using opiate medication during labor. This article from American Pregnancy explains the common risks of opiate drugs in labor.

Natural Pain Relief Options

Deciding against medical pain relief options doesn’t mean suffering though labor without any relief. There are a variety of natural pain relief options that work with a woman’s body and can also help labor progress.

These options will not provide the relief that an epidural will, but they also don’t carry the risks.

From personal experience and from working with laboring women, I’ve found that preparation and knowledge are absolutely key to having a smooth natural birth. I’m yet to meet anyone who goes in to labor with the “I’ll try and see if I can do it without drugs” mental attitude who actually goes drug free.

Labor is hard work and it is painful at times, but knowing and expecting the different stages so the fear of the unknown isn’t there can make a tremendous difference. As a personal example, with my first, I didn’t expect the vomiting/severe shaking in transition and this scared me and intensified the pain. Just fear of labor itself is often enough to intensify the pain and make contractions more difficult.

My Top Ten Pregnancy Books provide knowledge of what to expect in labor, along with detailed suggestions for natural pain relief. I’ve also benefitted from and personally recommend taking some form of natural labor classes if you plan to go natural. Some options include:

From my own experience, I wouldn’t recommend the general classes offered by some hospitals as the only childbirth preparation classes  as they are often very general and cater to the majority of women who don’t plan on natural labor. (The ones I attended gave detailed practice on using a smiley face chart to rate pain… I laugh in hindsight since by the time real labor hits, I’d be more likely to throw the chart across the room!)

This article provides a list of other things that reduce pain in labor including (I starred the ones that work for me):

Methods of Natural Pain Relief

  • Walking around*
  • Sitting/rocking on a birthing (exercise) ball*
  • Taking a hot shower (aimed at your low back)*
  • Sitting up and rocking
  • Massaging your back (well, have someone else do it)*
  • Counter-pressure on the back (especially for back labor). Try tennis balls.*
  • Massage oils for all-over massage*
  • Chiropractic adjustment (some will make house calls)
  • Prayer/meditation*
  • Focusing on the baby and “opening”
  • Changing positions*
  • Soothing music*
  • Foot massage (pressure points; can take your mind off the pain)*
  • Getting in a pool of water
  • Staying hydrated*
  • Eating small snacks, if you want to”

As a doula, the things I most often use to help women get through labor as easily as possible are:

  • Temperature changes- I bring both a microwaveable heating pad and a personal fan to help mom cope with the temp changes
  • Food and drink- this is sometimes discouraged in hospitals, but I encourage mom to keep her energy up by staying nourished and hydrated (here is my recipe for a natural sports drink)
  • An old soccer sock with three tennis balls tied in to it is great for counter pressure for back labor
  • Natural massage oils and massage help mom relax
  • Calming music
  • Birthing ball for bouncing if it feels good to mom
  • Guided relaxation- I often try to keep the room as quiet and dark as possible as this seems to be the most natural for  woman in labor. During contractions, I will provide whatever relief mom needs, but will also touch a specific area (often the jaw) that seems to be especially tensing during the contractions and remind mom to relax here. Relaxation makes a HUGE difference during labor, so just helping a woman gently relax her jaw, arm, etc. will take her focus away from the contraction and help her return to a relaxed state
  • Stress balls and focal points
  • Getting mom to change position or helping her get in to water (if possible)

Birth Plan

Labor is not a time to be unprepared! Having a plan and a birth team can make a big difference. Personally, I recommend having a good birth team, including a doula, and a simple but detailed birth plan to help hospital staff support mom. Statistically, doulas can make a tremendous difference in labor outcomes including:

  • 50% reduction in the cesarean rate
  • 25% shorter labor
  • 60% reduction in epidural requests
  • 40% reduction in oxytocin use
  • 30% reduction in analgesia use
  • 40% reduction in forceps delivery

Most doctors and midwives I’ve talked to prefer a one-page birth plan. Even mine (I refuse a lot of stuff!) can fit on one page, so I’d encourage you to try this if possible.

(Here is a copy of my birth plan if you want an idea of a template- click to download).

A simple bulleted list is usually enough, and I also recommend using kind language. My birth plan with my first was very long and very forceful, and while it accomplished its purpose, I don’t think it made me many friends, and friends who are nurses are a good thing to have in labor! I’d also suggest printing it on a piece of colored paper so it stands out… I always add a thank you post it note to the nurses and staff as this improves the chances they read it. As a doula, I sometimes bring snacks for the nurses (they work hard!) as a thank you for their support… bonus points if you do this when you are in labor!

For moms planning to go without medication, a support system can be critical. For many women, there are times when they feel like they can’t do it, and the encouragement of a supportive team can make the difference between the ability to avoid drugs or not.

Avoid the Fear

I also learned the hard way with my first labor that it is not something that I can just “tough out.” I thought that I would just grit my teeth and get through it… the problem: one must relax to progress through labor! Ever heard stories of women who get an epidural and go from 4-10 in an hour? It is because they relax! So if you’re hoping to avoid the medication, this is what I would suggest:

  1. Research pregnancy, labor and birth so you know what to expect. Fear makes labor tougher, so try to work through any fear that you have and use the times that you feel fear as a chance to practice relaxation.
  2. Understand that birth is often painful, but that your body is made to get through it and that the pain will go away when the baby is born!
  3. Have a plan and make sure your birth team knows it too.
  4. Practice relaxation measures often during pregnancy.
  5. Unless it isn’t possible for medical reasons, stay at home as long as possible! This will help relaxation and make labor move along more smoothly.
  6. During contractions, focus on relaxing your jaw or on a focal point and try to avoid tensing your body. Think of contractions like a wave and accept them rather than fight them.
  7. Focus on the fact that the pain is temporary and a beautiful baby is at the end!

I’d love to hear your opinion on birthing options! Did you choose to go natural? Opt for medication? Any useful tips? Please share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. Another good tip is to look at body mechanics.

    • Loved the article! I am about to have my second little miracle and needed a refresher. My first baby was born at home, completely natural. And I can say with absolute certainty staying in control of my thoughts and emotions, is what got me through. I watched videos of other women giving natural birth so I knew what to expect. In addition to having an amazing midwife who thought a great birthing class series. Knowledge was definitely power for me. Practicing meditation gave me a lot of control in the birthing process.

  2. I have a question about this….I am not pregnant yet but we aren’t really preventing it if you know what I mean. I wanted to know what you do about finding a doctor who would be ok with going through labor in a natural way. My doctor was ok the first time around but I don’t get the feeling he would be great with any outside assistance as he wanted to induce at 38 weeks and I was like ummmm NO! My baby hung on until 41.5 weeks and my doctor had gotten back from vacation and was like can we induce now so I let him but it isn’t ever what I really wanted. My sister in law has gone through the local midwives but I am scared of going totally natural….I mean ideally I would love to be as brave as she is but I don’t know if I can. Is there a happy medium that incorporates both and if so where would you recommend starting?

    • Midwife attended hospital births are the best of both worlds. You are at a hospital just in case something goes wrong but you have a natural birth advocate right there with you. Midwives are like OBs, though. You ave to find the right one. I lucked out with mine. The only one in the area (still an hour away when there was a hospital just five minutes from my house) is an amazing midwife. I say just start looking around. Now or when you conceive. Never hurts to be prepared.

    • I use midwives who deliver in a hospital. This is becoming more popular, so you might be able to find it in your area. This way, you have access to medical backup and pain relief if needed, but the midwives are usually great at supporting natural birth. Having a doula also makes a big difference to a lot of women… I”d say you are definitely capable of going all natural though… your body knows what to do 🙂

  3. Erin, Lamaze’s Push For Your Baby site has a wonderful list of 10 questions to ask your care provider (or potential care provider) to determine if he/she is willing to work towards the same goal as you for your birth and will be supportive of your plans.

  4. As a doula also, I really appreciate this blog post. There’s a lot to cover about having a natural birth and what birth options are available to clients, from a heating pad for back labor to augmentation and cesarean. So thank you for putting all this together. I find that many women think of epidurals as the quick fix for pain. If they can just jump through that hoop and get it then everything will continue, but without the pain. The problem is they aren’t usually taking into account the many risks you mentioned, the fact that labor cannot continue as it was before since they are now unable to move, have many more tubes and lines coming from their bodies, blood pressure cuff going off every 15 minutes, catheter, and more likely to need pitocin as all the fluids pushed for an epidural dilute the body’s natural oxytocin. There’s also no guarantee that i will work! Most of the time it does work well, fortunately. But those times where it only works on one side, or there’s a “window” without coverage, or mom starts getting an epidural headache are really challenging because there’s no relief. And I’ve known too many women with long-term issues because of having an epidural placed (back pain, nerve irritation/damage) to dismiss it as a one in a million problem.

    You have a great list of classes that women can take to help get more prepared. I’d also recommend Hypnobabies. It’s a unique course in that it is a complete childbirth education course covering all the topics that parents should expect to be covered in a CBE class (healthy pregnancy, birthing options, how labor progresses, infant care options, breastfeeding, postpartum, etc) AND also uses self-hypnosis to think more positively about the birth experience. It also teaches hypno-anesthesia, the same kind of hypnosis used for those undergoing surgical procedures without medical anesthesia and teaches Eyes Open Childbirth Hypnosis so that mom can walk, talk, and move around while still deeply in hypnosis. I found it to be incredibly helpful for my own birth so now I teach it as well.

  5. Erin, my husband wasn’t on board with a homebirth so we went with a group of certified nurse midwives. I gave birth at a hospital but was attended by midwives and able to birth the way I wanted to without drugs and laboring in water. I had a great birth experience, my baby hadn’t made an appearance by 42 weeks and I needed to induced but wasn’t pressured into it, I felt my needs were listened to and everyone involved was very supportive. There are other options!

  6. I had a midwife assisted hospital birth about three months ago. Spent most of my time laboring in the water and using my Hypnobabies techniques. The CNM who attended my birth was amazing. I also had a doula who used to be a labor and delivery nurse that also used to teach hypnosis for labor. Fifteen hours of labor and twenty minutes of pushing. She did artificially break my bag of waters but I sort of asked for that. The pain was getting very intense and I had been “stuck” at 6 cm for 8 hours. I just wasn’t budging. Once my bag of waters was broken I had the kiddo out in less than two hours with no one believing I was ready to push because she “just checked two minutes ago” and I was at an eight. I also went into labor spontaneously at 41 weeks exactly. I was determined to not get induced. Not that my CNM would have allowed me to prior to 42 weeks.

  7. I am pregnant with my 4th and am considering natural birth for the first time. It is unfortunate that my husband’s insurance only covers out of network 50% (vs 100%) since midwives are out of network. But the more I read about the conventional hospital way the more I realize I should probably just save up for the additional cost and the cost of the classes to learn how to give birth naturally. Your birth plan was very insightful. I have so much to learn!

    • Diana even if you have to give birth in a hospital, you can still do it natural. I think the best advice, the most valuable (as stated in this post) is to have a plan. It really makes things easier. I will be delivering baby number three in December. My previous births have all been natural but we are taking an alternative approach this time by not vaccinating. I was surprised but I found the medical staff to be quite open and supportive of my choice not to medicate. Also, see if you can have a midwife assisted birth in the hospital. Midwives are becoming more and more popular once again since we (moms) are becoming smarter and more enlightened of our birth options.

    • Both of my babies were natural births, in a hospital, with a doctor. I’m not 100% thrilled with the experience I had there, but even without a doula, we were able to express firmly enough to leave us alone when it came to drugs. He was even kind enough to respect my wishes to not be cut.

  8. What is your opinion on baby’s first bath? I recently read about the importance of the vernix caseosa and was wondering exactly what to do with baby after declining first bath? Just rub it in? (excuse my ignorance). 🙂

    • We don’t so baths in the hospital, but I will use coconut oil as a massage lotion and help massage in the vernix and it all absorbs in pretty well…

      • Thank you, I just added some Tropical Traditions to my hospital bag!

      • Our daughter was so thickly covered in vernix! We didn’t do a bath for the first two days and massaged her instead, but it was so thick. Any recommendations for when it isn’t coming off with lotion/oil?

        • I’d keep some microfiber cloths on hand to clean off any that is really thick and then rub in from there…

          • Thank you!

  9. I had two natural births, the first after being induced. The second birth we did hypnobirthing and it changed the entire experience for the better. We weren’t sure about it to begin with but wanted something different from our first birth. Second labor was under two hours and much more comfortable. We had the baby at home in the bath tub. I highly recommend hypnobirthing. At least take the time to read the book and determine if classes are for you. Thanks for posting on natural birth. It is an awesome experience.

  10. Love your site. Thanks so much for posting this and encouraging women to feel empowered in their pregnancy, through knowledge and the support that they can do it. I have had both our little ones in the hospital but without pain meds. Our daughter came in the water tub with the midwives!

    I would strongly recommend a water birth for those who are going natural for the first time. The water helps immensely between and during contractions. I also couldn’t agree with you more, Wellness Mama, that if your plan is to “maybe go without drugs” but you haven’t done any childbirth classes or prep for it, it’s not going to happen. I have found that our doula was very helpful in achieving that goal, as was the Bradley Method for my husband and I.

    Get a doula! Even if your husband or partner is hesitant. My husband was too, and now he recommends it to every expecting father we know. Dads for Doulas! 🙂 You both need the support, mental, physical, and emotional.

    Did you do any water births? Have you had to be induced? (I was GSB positive and no signs of labor after 14 hours from water breaking so had a bump of pitocin, though I was still able to labor without pain meds and give birth in the birth tub. I write about it on my natural parenting blog: What’s your advice for mamas who may need a little intervention, but want to stay the course without pain meds?

    • I too would like advice for those giving birth naturally for the first time with unexpected circumstances. This will be my second child and I really want to do it without meds. My first delivery I made it to 7cm dialated and my contractions were 2 1/2 min apart… With 2 rounds of pitocin. I didn’t have a choice on the pitocin because my water has burst nearly 4 hours before my first dose & I wasn’t having any contractions. I wasn’t prepared for a material childbirth… I was one of those who said “if it gets too bad than I will do the drugs”. At 2 1/2 min apart I it my wall and was scared to see how much worse the pain would get so I got the epi. My son was born 3 hours later & had I known or been more prepared I think I could have made it the long haul. This time I’m determined to do it without any pain meds but if I have a scenario like last time where I have to use pitocin what do I do to keep myself on track?

  11. My labor was induced with my first little one and guess what followed? “Fetal distress and C-section”! I am convinced that all my trouble were a result of that induction. I also had a severe case of itching, which they told me was from the morphine they put in my IV after the surgery. So they gave me something else (who knows what? at the time it didn’t occur to me to ask) to stop the itching. It left me wondering if I would just continue to be medicated for side effects, which seems like a never-ending cycle.
    Thanks for this post – I’m still working on convincing my husband that a vbac is a good idea for our next little one . . .

  12. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE try Hypnobabies this time!!!!! I can’t say please enough!!! Look into it! It is amazing! and their are Youtube videos if you search Hypnobabies birth videos! It is a complete childbirth course. It prepares you SO WELL, and you will have an amazing experience and a comfortable birth! HYPNOBABIES, HYPNOBABIES, HYPNOBABIES!!!!

    • Thanks for the advice! I looked it up after reading your comment, and it is exactly what I needed!

  13. Great post! I just recently gave birth to my first baby using Hypnobabies and it was the most wonderful experience 🙂 The main thing that got me through the 16 hour drug free labor was CONSTANTLY reminding myself to just RELAX. I made every effort to focus on relaxing my jaw, shoulders, arms, & legs during each contraction and I think that helped so much!

  14. Yes to Hypnobabies! I had two natural births with my own sons (I loved being in the deep tub that allows for water birth) but didn’t know about Hypnobabies then. Now I’m a doula and I’ve attended births of non-Hypnobabies clients and those who took Hypnobabies classes. The difference is HUGE! In fact, I just attended a birth last Friday and even though it was an induction with pitocin for a medical reason, at the end the mom said she felt no pain, only pressure, which is one of the things that is reprogrammed in the mind during the Hypnobabies course. NO PAIN! Now that isn’t always the case with Hypnobabies, but it IS possible. Hypnosis is an amazing tool and I seriously want to have another baby so I can do Hypnobabies (though unfortunately we are done having babies!). It’s the best of both worlds- an easier and more comfortable birth with all the awesome endorphin and hormone rush of being unmedicated.

    • Call me crazy, but isn’t that rush great? You’re body is already full of drugs, just in a form we can metabolize, so why not use them?

  15. So have you had a VBAC? Or was your last baby the c-section? I saw you said in a comment that you go with midwives in a hospital. That’s becoming more appealing to me, although I loved my birthing center. My 1st was born there no problem…I had a water birth. My only regret is that I did NOT learn how to relax! I’m glad I went natural, but I think it could have been better if I had actually practiced relaxing techniques.
    My 2nd was born emergency ceserean. My pain relief for that one was a general. Not fun. But it was necessary, so I am thankful! But if I have another, I would want to go natural again(barring another emergency!) Just curious your thoughts on VBAC outside of a hospital.

    • My last birth was a v-bac in a hospital with midwives. It was the best of both worlds for me, since they were fine to let me labor naturally and not speed things along (even 24+ hours in) and we had a great birth… I need to work on the relaxing too!

  16. We used the Bradley method, and even though my husband didn’t really get into learning about birth, he strained the same muscle with both kids trying to help me in whatever way he could. It was absolutely wonderful to have him there. I second the educating yourself part! Because I know what is happening to my body and that it is all normal, I don’t mind the pain as much. With my third, I am hoping to deliver at a birthing center, where they will let me do whatever feels good to me. As soon as they sit me down on the bed in the hospital, everything gets a million times harder. Now granted, I’m probably hitting transition right at that time, but still, I’m sure I could find a much more comfortable position.

  17. you’ve got to read about hypnobirthing! my husband and I were very skeptical of it but decided we’d follow it exactly anyway and it ended up working so well! it was the most amazing birthing experience for my husband and I! I was so calm and relaxed and even though my son came face up, I took only a small amount of pain killer through the iv to take the edge off and it worked great! I felt so energized afterwards and I recovered quickly too. 🙂

  18. My first 2 were induced with epidurals. My 3rd natural, and what was really neat, was I was able to just focus on my husbands voice and complete zone out the pain during the contractions. Then I had to start pushing and then that didnt work:/
    My fourth was a water birth and that was AMAZING!!!!! Just when I was getting to the point of -I can’t take this anymore, they had the tub ready. And oh it was heavenly getting in the water!!!! The pain was very bearable, and I felt what my body needed to do for the first time. Also I went from 6 cen to the baby out in less than an hr! For me I usually push for longer than that!!! I really wish every woman had a chance to birth in the water. There is nothing like it, and I don’t have a high pain tolerance so that is saying a lot!!!:)

  19. Why do you not recommend Hep B at birth? Do your kids get any of the other child wellness vaccines?

  20. First of all, this is my first time on your site and so far, I love it!

    I recently (on October 12th, 2012 at 19:36 to be exact) gave birth to my first child, a healthy baby boy. He was 7lb 12oz and 18 1/2 inches long.

    I’ll admit, I was one of those people who said “I’m going to try to do it medication free” and didn’t have a coping mechanism other than controlled, deep breathing and the mantra of “It’s only going to get worse”. I didn’t take any classes or anything, although I did spend hours on YouTube watching virtually every birthing video, which was both horrifying and oddly therapeutic. Mostly horrifying.

    Anyway, his delivery was amazing; I was in labor for about 11 and 1/2 hours and after 10 minutes of pushing, there he was!!! Totally natural and medication-free, but in a hospital. My doctor and the nurses were great. I was a bit of an anomaly there; no one in the room had assisted a birth with a med-free mother, and I was at Northwestern/Prentice Women’s, which is a huge hospital. It hurt, SO MUCH, but not until I was 8 cm dilated.

    There was never a point where I had wished I had been given an epidural. Honestly, the thought of an epidural being administered scared me more than delivering my baby. I hoped that, since I was healthy and had an uneventful, healthy pregnancy – not to mention the fact women are literally MADE to do this – I could do it successfully. And, thank God, I did! It was an amazing experience! I can say that the pain was tolerable, because I lived and I can also say that it was totally worth it, because being as present as I was the moment he was in my arms was the most incredibly euphoric feeling I have ever had. He was perfect, my recovery time was super short and I rode that high for weeks. I am so very thankful!!!

  21. My first birth experience was like Katie’s (below). After I delivered my son my midwife admitted she hadn’t helped with a natural birth in almost 10 years! Three years later I still praise the Lord for that merciful first experience every time I look at my son, because it was so empowering and reassurring that [with His help] I can handle this “mom thing.”
    The birth of my second son almost a year ago was a disaster. It was a different hospital in a different state, and although my nurse was wonderful, I’m still struggling with bitterness because my birth plan was almost completely disregarded. Even though the time frame of laboring was the same for my two births, the second one was much more painful than the first, and my baby got “stuck” facing my left leg after ten hours of laboring. As a result, I was given an epidural and petocin because they said I was too weak and exhausted to continue naturally. At that point I did not have the strength for an rational argument to deny medicated pain relief. But what really upsets me is that once the baby was born the room exploded with light and people! It’s like they were all waiting in the hall, and as soon as the baby arrived all the lights were flipped on and about 6 people flooded in. I just laid there too confused, weak and overwhelmed to protest while a room full of strangers “tended” my baby. Immediate skin-to-skin bonding and nursing was my number one priority that I had made quite clear in writing and verbally, but I didn’t even get to hold my son until an hour or more after he was born. I would love to have a midwife and doula, and completely natural births, the next time I labor, but I don’t know how to plan that, practically or financially. I would love to see a “How to find and hire a doula” handbook for people like me.

    • We paid out of pocket what we could afford for our midwife and I had my daughter at home. Once I found one midwife I asked her for recommendations of other local midwives and interviewed a few until I found a good fit.


    I had my third baby April 11, 2012. So, I used the Hypnobirthing method the 3rd time. I also took the Hypno birthing classes.

    I successfully birthed at home with my midwife and husband. The third was so much more relaxing and no tears!! I seriously recommend it to anyone considering the “natural way or intervention way”. I have learned how to relax in a way that even Labor seemed manageable and much more productive. I have always had erratic contractions and extremely long labors. The Hypno Birthing techniques helped me to work with that and taught me how to focus on breathing that helped my labor progress more effectively. Bradley Method wasn’t in depth enough for me as far as the relaxing techniques for my first two.

    The only reason I hadn’t tried Hypnobirthing with the first two I thought the name sounded kinda new age…. it’s not at all. I wish I had read the book at least for the first two.

  23. SO inspirational, great advice and tips. Thank you so much for writing this out. Due in 2 weeks, 3rd baby, first natural labor & delivery attempt 🙂

  24. I am 21. Had my handsome baby boy 7 months ago. I started out my pregnancy like your average person; I didn’t decide I wanted it “natural” until about halfway through the pregnancy, which is when I started getting chiropractic adjustments every other week. I went 41 weeks a a day, apparently I was having contractions for an entire day!! Didn’t start feeling them until 2 am the next day. Went all day with kind if feeling contractions and crampy, then we went to the hospital because I was scheduled for an induction. I waited until the last possible moment because I really wanted to have this baby naturally. Luckily I had to wait an hour or two because no room at hospital (um how crazy is that??!) but we finally made it up there and they told me I had already started labor so need to induce 🙂 the pain started becoming unbearable around 11pm. Once it came time to push, baby was out in less than 10 mins, I’d say I was in hard labor for maybe 5 or 6 hours. No pain meds and only a little tear!! Baby passed meconium while inside but that was right before I started pushing so he was coming out anyway. I totally credit chiropractic a here!!!! Only thing that ruined it for me was being in a hospital! Will never go that route again..

  25. love this post. I can’t seem to get the download of your birth plan to work. Either I can’t see the link or it’s not working on my browser or something. Any help? xoxo

    • Working on getting this fixed soon… all of my links are down because we switched where they were hosted.

      • Do you know when the links will be fixed? I’m very interested in your birthing plan also!

  26. I would also suggest ( having had 2 children ) that after all the planning for a natural birth the mum-to-be researches c-sections and intervention methods. I did not. I only informed myself of natural pain free birthing methods and was so sure I would have a natural birth at the birthing centre I made a point not to depress myself with the info on c-sections etc. This actually meant that when after a long labour the midwife told me she thought my son was transverse and I needed a c-section – I had no idea what was going to happen and therefore I could not make proper informed decisions. It would have been so much better if I had known all about what was going to happen. Instead, I had to read up and inform myself after the fact, which was really no good at all.

  27. Hi! I just found out I’m pregnant for the first time and I am planning on doing it all natural and at-home. The only thing is, I live in a very small town and there are no resources for finding a midwife/doula, and I really don’t know where to start! I would appreciate any advice! I want to start this out right from the very beginning! (Katie, I anxiously await your birth plan as soon as the links are fixed!)

  28. Hi Katie, I noticed that the link to download your birth plan does not seem to load anymore — I had bookmarked the page but unfortunately did not download it, and now I am pregnant! Is it possible to repost? Many thanks — I love your site!

      • Yes – Please do fix the birth plan link – I’m 36 weeks pregnant and would love more sample birth plans.

      • I’m now 36 weeks pregnant too and was hoping to download your plan. Can you please email it to me? I really don’t want to start from scratch and I agree with soo much of what you have said.

      • Thanks! I look forward to seeing your birth plan! 🙂

      • I would also love the link to your birth plan! I am 31 weeks, and trying to get my plan written up soon!

  29. I had a nurse give great advice durring labor of my first baby to help releave pain and pressure during contraction. No pressure or massage applied to my back helped me, for example massage, balls, pressure etc did not help.

    what did help was sitting in the hospital bed (couch, or propped up on bed at home)in a slightly reclined position with knees up but stretched out a few feet from your bottom. I them had my husband come in front of me with arms stretched out straight and put pressure on my knees pushing them towards me and slightly down (but not lifting them up in the air) making counter pressure. I could tell him to push harder or softer as needed. This helped me get to about a 9 without much pain and effort! After that not much of anything helps you just get through to the end!

    The nurse at my 4th birth (who had been in labor and delivery for 20 years) had never seen anyone do that before.

    I feel bad for so many out there who have no idea this simple step can be done and may work for them. I do not get back labor so someone who gets back labor probably needs the other options of relief.

    My husband started watching the contraction graph and jumped right in position when he saw it start to rise and wow it was a night and day difference with or without his counter pressure. I could still talk through most of my contractions while still dialating at around a 7-8 with him giving the pressure.

    Please share!
    Christina 🙂

  30. You are amazing! Thank you so much for all the wonderful information on your website. You are making a difference in people’s lives, I promise!

  31. I was induced with my first baby due to medical issues. My son’s heart rate was found to be abnormal during a routine check up and I had a placenta infarction as well. The decision to induce was made for his safety. I was always for an epidural and received one a few hours before. I believe it was the right decision for me at the time.

    18 months later, I had my second son. I was also planning for an epidural; however, my son had other plans. I had precipitous labor which means that I had a very fast labor. It took an hour and 20 minutes after my water broke at 36 weeks. There was no time for me to get any drugs (absolutely nothing) and the nurse wasn’t able to insert the IV properly. I had to labor by myself for the most part since my husband was waiting for a friend to pick up my toddler. I pushed twice and my second son came shooting out. The doctors and nurses weren’t ready either;). With my second experience, I believe that recovery time was much easier and I myself felt a lot better. Although, I wish I had a refresher in learning to breath properly and relax. Dr.s asked me to not push and i had no idea how to even accomplish that.

    I am currently pregnant with my third and have decided to try a natural birth by choice. My biggest concern is not making it to the hospital this time around rather than pain management. If you have any tips on breathing techniques, I’m all ears. Wish me luck.

  32. Oddly enough, for myself, my birth plan was to have no birth plan other than I knew from the beginning it would be a natural home birth. I bought a birthing tub just in case I wanted it (I did not. In fact I demanded someone get me out immediately). Lol I researched all the different techniques and things that could happen and came to a decision to “wing it”. I knew that if I had a plan and it didn’t go the way I wanted I’d be upset. So I decided to put faith in my body and myself to just let it happen as it will. People thought was crazy and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t afraid of the impending pain. Pain doesn’t bother/scare me. However the pressure/bearing down feeling did. I ended up needing a pretty hefty episiotomy (they had to cut a ring of muscle inside me…) But 3 ½ hours of active labour and my little girl was born 6lbs 1oz. It took me only 10 days to heal and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. 🙂

  33. I am a firm believer in natural birth, have done it before and I’m doing it again this time! I think you have a lot of wonderful advice on here, and thank you for it. I just want to mention that while you stated that you personally would never use opiates for pain relief, I think this is a much better option than having an epidural, if a woman is choosing between the two. You state how harmful an epidural can be to a woman and her baby, but your comments against opiate pain relief seemed even more forceful than your recommendations against epidurals. Just wanted to point that out! Thank you for all your advice, my due date is in ten days and we are eagerly awaiting our surprise baby. We are having a home birth. I am currently making some colorful signage for my walls for during the labor and I am using your website for pain management ideas. Thanks again!

  34. Thanks so much for your advice. Love the power and surrender notes. I am going to write some stuff up for my husband and doula so they’ll know what I want to hear when I’ve hit the wall. Last time with no doula my DH couldn’t stand to see me in pain (back labour, 10 hrs) so he asked me to get an epidural but I will show him your notes and ask him to support me nonstop, to say GO! like one would to an Olimpian running for the gold, not encourage the person to stop the race and take some pain killer to get rid of the pain. Thanks for showing us your birth plan. I’m 39wks with #3 and going for my second VBAC. I just made one up but it’s over a page, and in fact yours has more info on it than mine so I’m going to edit and shorten to a page–will edit to include that we are donating the cord blood as our hospital does that (here in Belgium a midwife will lose her license if she stays in the home and a mother is 5cm dilated or more, as a way of getting VBACs done in the hospital). So at least that is the bright side of delivering in the hospital.

  35. Do you have an article on postpartum recovery . I’m pregnant with my 4th and I want to avoid pain meds after birth. Thanks!

  36. I actually wanted to say that with our second I told my midwife I didn’t necessarily want to rule out having an epidural (had 2 with our first) but to just see how things go. I did get in the water (helped tremendously I didn’t tear at all) and was able to walk around kept the lights low with sinatra playing and my midwife massaged my back. I was able to deliver him with no medication in the end and I really enjoyed this birthing experience and am looking forward to our next baby due this July!

  37. Natural births seem to have become more and more popular over the past few years. I like how you described the way you help mothers in labor. The trick of putting three tennis balls in a soccer sock against the back seems incredibly clever and helpful. Labor can be uncomfortable and painful, but your methods seem like they would help relieve some of this. However, no matter how you decide to give birth, it is important to remember to have a skilled professional with experience (i.e. doula, midwife, doctor, etc.) to help deliver your baby, as so many things can go wrong with child birth.

  38. What is your opinion on the best timing of umbilical cord clamping after birth? It seems there are a lot of controversies… How long is best to wait? Thank you?

    • I wait at least 10-15 minutes at home, though this wasn’t possible in my hospital births. In the hospital, I waited about 5 minutes.

      • Thank you! I’ve also read about “Lotus- birth”, but still need to inform myself better … What do you think?

  39. I used much of your birth pan as my own. Most of it my doctor said she had no problem with. The exception was waiting to cut the umbilical cord. She said staying connected too long could pump too much blood into baby’s vessels that cant handle that much and that the placenta can act as a vacuum sucking what the baby needs right back out.

  40. I’m planning on having a third child in the very near future. I “had to” be induced at 41 weeks with both of my kids and I couldn’t handle the pitocin contractions or the medical interventions and I caved and got epidurals both times. The last epidural was a very bad experience and I am lucky. I whole heartedly want a natural labor as I am terrified of another epidural. I really want to be mentally prepared so I can lose the fear that holds women back and be mentally prepared and positive. Are there any books you could recommend for that? Right now I am considering a local birthing center with a doula/midwife instead of a obgyn. I’m also really looking into their hypnobirthing classes. Any book suggestions or information would be appreciated!!

  41. I would like your advice with parents where the mom is rh – and the dad is rh+. Is there a real concern that the possibility of having the mother that is a rh- and possibly having a baby that is rh positive. I am not crazy about using rhogam during the pregnancy since as far as I know it could have mercury, which I am not crazy about. I know it used to have mercury produce with it along with other things. Any thoughts? Thanks!

  42. I have had 2 children, both at home and the use of water (a pool, shower, or hot water bottle on the back) I would say is the only thing that got me through the pain. But I couldnt imagine having my children any other way! Birth is not a medical condition, it is a normal, natural process and most women can have children at home. I am currently pregnant with my 3rd child and of course plan on having her at home. Some books I would recommend are The Natural Pregnancy Book by Aviva Romm, Hypnobirthing (a lot of places offer classes on hypnobirthing), Birthing from Within, anything by Ina May Gaskin, Orgasmic birth, and Herbal for the Childbearing Year by Susun Weed.

  43. I did t read through all of the comments, so I’m sorry if I missed this question– I’d love to hear your take on Nitrous Oxide.

    • I’ve never had the chance to use it, but I’ve seen other moms use it while I was doula-ing and it seems to help a lot. From what I’ve read, it doesn’t cross the placenta and is considered safe.

  44. Thank you so much for this information. It is so important to know what options we have for birthing and to know the side affects. While I believe that most care providers mean well, I think they can get into a routine with birth and just start offering the same care to all their patients instead of remembering that each patient is individual and each case should be looked at that way. I would love to see more women learn about different options available instead of just epidural or no epidural.
    I have nothing against getting epidurals or being induced, what I have a problem with is not getting the education to go with it. I see so many moms that say, “My care provider said I have to”. I always grimace. Women need to know that there are options available and your provider should be giving options available to you and help you make a decision instead of just saying “This is what we are doing”. We should empower each other to seek out information and make decisions based on education and not fear!

  45. Hi Katie,
    Regarding your birth plan, why did you avoid the vitamin K shot for your baby? I’m on lovenox and am working on getting my GBS under control. I’ve had two hospital births with inductions. My waters broke at full term for both children and labor didn’t start; due to being GBS positive both times, I had iv antibiotics. With being on the blood thinner lovenox, do you think it’s prudent to give my baby the vitamin k shot? Just curious for your opinion.
    Thanks for all you do!

    • Definitely talk to your doctor, especially about medications and interactions, but that seems like a case where it would be definitely warranted.

  46. Hi there! I’m 34 weeks pregnant and just decided to go without pain meds after attending a birthing class. I just ordered hypnobabies, bought some dates, third trimester tea and made an appointment with a chiropractor. I have been doing acupuncture since i found out I was pregnant.
    My question is, am I too late to get ready for this? I’ve had a very exhausting pregnancy so I haven’t been working out or eating super well. I feel pretty ashamed of myself for that.
    Any advice for getting ready this late in the game?
    Thank you!

    • You can absolutely do it! I’ve doula-d for many women who decided later than this and did wonderful. Real lots of birth stories, research your rights and the decisions you’ll have to make and remember “Birth is tough, my darling, but so are you.” Congrats on your little one 🙂

  47. Hello! I really enjoyed your article! I’m 28 weeks pregnant and plan on doing a natural birth at the hospital. I’m definitely feeling unprepared, I wish that i could afford a doula, but I can’t unfortunately , so i’m working on informing my Mom and Husband what I need from them at the time. Any other advice about how to feel….stronger or more confident in myself?
    I’d love to hear it. Thanks so much!