I have observed natural childbirth to be a topic of a lot of heated debates online. One camp, to which I belong, prefers to do it “the way nature intended,” without pain killers and interventions, and another camp wonders, understandably, why not use the methods of pain management that civilized humanity has come up with. Because labor is definitely not a walk in the park.
While my plan to have a natural, unmedicated childbirth was based fully on following my intuitive nudge, I decided to dig deeper and list some more legit reasons to consider a natural approach.
Here are the top 10 reasons to consider a childbirth without the epidural.
1. The Array Of Possible Side-Effects
The epidural is usually a safe procedure, but the quantity of possible side-effects is frightening: low blood pressure (most common), loss of bladder control, itchy skin, sickness, backache, severe headaches, infection, epidural haematoma, convulsions, breathing difficulties, nerve damage, death. (Source)
2. Epidurals Interfere With The Important Cocktail Of Birth Hormones
Hormones play a huge role in labor. Estrogen and progesterone initiate labor. Oxytocin is the initiator of the rhythmic contractions of early labor, and oxytocin produced by the fetus directly stimulates mother’s uterine muscle, prevents postpartum hemorrhage after birth, and mediates the milk-ejection-reflex. Beta-endorphin increases tolerance to pain and shifts consciousness to “another place,” frequently described by labouring mothers. Prolactin prepares a pregnant woman’s breasts for lactation. Catecholamines (the “fight-or-flight” hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine) gradually rise, peaking right before transition, and initiate the Fetus Ejection Reflex. If the natural increase of CA levels that should occur later in labor is blocked (by painkillers or other drugs), then the fetal ejection reflex will not be stimulated and delivery may be more difficult. Epidurals prevent the production of beta-endorphins, which in turn makes it harder for a labouring woman to cope with pain and go to that “other place” women describe. Epidurals also reduce oxytocin production and prevent its levels from rising during labor. They also prevent the peak of oxytocin from happening during birth, as the stretching receptors of a woman’s lower vagina that trigger it are numb. Read more in-depth on hormones during labor in this amazing article.
3. Epidurals Lengthen Labour
The 2002 study concluded that epidurals are associated with longer second-stage labor (the painful one!!!), but not the first stage. (Source)
4. Epidurals Increase The Rate Of Pelvic Floor Problems After Delivery
To be detailed – urinary, anal, and sexual disorders. The prospective study concluded that a second stage longer than one hour (a frequent occurrence with the use of epidural as we saw in the previous point) is associated with the development of postpartum urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control), which is rarely resolved spontaneously.
5. Epidural Triples The Risk Of Severe Perineal Tear
The study of 2,759 women giving birth to babies after 36 weeks gestation in St. Francis Regional Medical Center concluded that epidural analgesia more than tripled the risk of severe perineal injury. Out of 2,759 women 634 had epidurals (65 of them had severe tears) and 2,125 did it naturally (and only 111 of them teared). Those are pretty impressive numbers. Read full study review here.
6. Drugs Administered By An Epidural Enter Baby’s Bloodstream
Moreover, since their immune system is very immature, it takes them way longer to eliminate them from their system. For example bupivacaine, a commonly used epidural analgesic, stays in your baby’s bloodstream for at least 8 hours (compared to 2.7 hours in yours).
7. Epidurals Compromise Fetal Oxygen Supply, Resulting In Fetal Acidemia
Fetal acidemia is a medical term referring to the high acidity of an unborn baby’s blood. It typically occurs when a fetus is deprived of oxygen for a period of time during or after delivery. Sometimes it can lead to complications, such as brain damage, or even infant death. This study shows that the frequency of fetal acidemia (pH less than 7.10) was significantly increased in the spinal-anesthesia group and in the epidural group compared with the general-anesthesia group. Read the full report here.
8. It Increases The Necessity Of Cesarian Section By 2.5 Times
The study of 711 women who carried to term and had a spontaneous onset of labor showed that, out of 447 who received epidurals, 10.3% received cesarian sections, and out of 264 women who did not receive the epidural analgesia, only 3.8% ended up with the C-section. That is a pretty big difference. Here is the full summary of the study.
9. Baby Is Less Alert & Has Less Ability To Orient
This study showed that immediately after delivery, infants with greater exposure to bupivacaine (drug administered in Epidural) in utero were more likely to be cyanotic (having a blue or purple tint of skin associated with low oxygen saturation) and unresponsive to their surroundings. Visual skills and alertness decreased significantly with increases in the cord blood concentration of bupivacaine, particularly on the first day of life but also throughout the next six weeks. And if you are planning to breastfeed, this is major news, as you want your baby alert in order to latch within the first hours when the sucking instinct is the strongest.
10. It Is Important To Feel Labour Pain
I know this one is hard to wrap your mind around, but hear me out. In my opinion, pain during labor teaches a woman two of the most important virtues of motherhood: acceptance and surrender.
There’s a lot about being a mother, especially of a very young infant, that one would have to accept. Without judgement, without resentment, just for what it is. I am talking about numerous sleepless nights and days, and months, and more months; crying for seemingly no reason, sometimes for hours, sometimes rejecting your comfort and help, being bathed in your own tears; not being perfect no matter how hard you might try; changes in your life, in all areas of it, even the ones you did not expect. Surrender to pain during labor is like surrendering your control to God, to the flow, to nature, and allowing what needs to take place to do so, regardless of your level of comfort or satisfaction with the process. I believe that in this surrender begins your journey of motherhood, and that with accepting your pain, you accept this honourable title. Here is one more amazing piece on the power and purpose of pain during labor by Judith A. Lothian. She could not have described it any better.
I hope this article brought you more clarity about what labor is like, what physical processes are happening, and how the use of an epidural can inhibit the perfect natural course of events. And on the ending note, whether you decide to give birth naturally or not, here is to a fast and easy labor and healthy, happy babies <3
Do you know any more reasons to consider a natural childbirth? Let’s talk in the comments below.