Defining Natural Childbirth: Moving Toward a New Way of Identifying Birth as Normal

natural childbirth routine interventions normal birth continuous labor support

When you hear the term “natural childbirth”, what comes to mind? Does you think of a mother having a vaginal birth as opposed to a cesarean? Or do you think of a birth where the mother has no pain medication? Or does it mean a birth without any medical intervention or procedures? Perhaps you think of a home birth? Or even a birth that you accomplish without any medical help such as in an unassisted birth?

You can see the problems with coming up with a standard definition of “natural childbirth.” Not to mention that if you do not meet those standards, what do you have instead? An unnatural childbirth?

New Definition of Birth as Normal

These are among the reasons why Lamaze International has focused on childbirth as “normal” versus using the term “natural.” What is normal birth? According to Lamaze, there are six care practices that define normal birth. These are as follows:

  • Labor begins on its own

This recommended care practice means that labor that is induced does not fit with the normal process of how a mother’s body is designed. Pitocin interrupts the mother’s normal labor pattern. Normal birth would then be defined as labor that begins spontaneously on its own.

  • Freedom of movement throughout labor

Laboring in bed and not having freedom to move around as needed during labor not only makes the pain more intense for the mother, but can slow the progress of her labor. Having the freedom to move means that unless there is a medical complication (such as the baby’s heart rate or mother’s blood pressure) the mother can move about as she desires during normal birth.

  • Continuous labor support

Using a supportive companion such as a spouse, relative or birth doula can be a help to all mothers during labor, regardless of her circumstances. Continuous labor support by a birth doula has been shown to decrease interventions and the incidence of cesarean.

  • No routine interventions

Many hospitals have routine interventions as a part of standard care. These interventions include IVs, restricting foods and/or fluids, and fetal monitoring. Research and childbirth experts such as those from Lamaze International believe that routine interventions without an indicated risk flies in the face of normal birth.

  • Spontaneous pushing in upright or gravity-neutral positions

Lying on your back and trying to push against gravity is not only uncomfortable, it is counterproductive. Normal birth includes gravity-enhancing positions that can make pushing easier. Some of these more effective upright positions for pushing include hands and knees and squatting. Spontaneous pushing means that instead of your birth team coaching you to hold your breath and bear down “to a count of ten” (otherwise known as directed pushing), mothers instead follow their own bearing down reflex and push as long and as hard as they desire.

  • No separation of mother and baby after birth, with unlimited opportunities for breastfeeding

One of the best ways to get breastfeeding off to a good start is to leave the baby with her mother for the first several hours after birth. Separating mother and baby for tests, bathing, weighing and measuring and the like, only disrupts the normal process of establishing breastfeeding.

We have a long way to go to achieve the goal of normal birth for every woman in most parts of the world today. But if you are expecting a baby, remember that you have choices! Unless there are indicated risks to your pregnancy or complications develop during labor, you can choose to have a normal birth.


Defining Natural Childbirth: Moving Toward a New Way of Identifying Birth as Normal

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