In Hong Kong, women can choose the convenience of a C-section a.k.a. Caesarian surgery. Perhaps their obstetricians never informed them that giving birth naturally is a viable and safer (in most cases) option. Or perhaps they are keen to bring their newborns into the world at an “auspicious” time (I was quite shocked to learn this fact. The obstetricians apparently charge more for these requests.). And even if they do plan to give birth vaginally, it is assumed that the epidural is a part of every birthing experience. Now, of course, there are cases where medical interventions or emergency C-sections are necessary- and even life-saving. But what about low-risk, otherwise healthy, pregnancies?
Research estimates that up to 95% of women can give birth without the use of medical intervention. Our bodies are naturally equipped to give birth vaginally, and you have a choice to plan for the kind of birth you want to have, especially if your pregnancy is a healthy one. Now you may ask, why in the world would anyone choose a natural birth and endure such excruciating pain when modern medicine offers us alternatives? Shouldn’t we, at the sign of labour, just go to the hospital and let the obstetrician or nurse take charge?
Below are some reasons why more and more women with healthy, low-risk pregnancies are choosing natural birth these days.
1. Mothers want to give their newborn the best.
When you give birth naturally, your baby is more able to be alert and can be placed on your skin immediately after birth. The World Health Organization recommends skin-to-skin contact between mothers and babies after birth for the first two hours as this reduces crying, improves mother-infant bonding, and helps mothers to breastfeed successfully. A natural birth allows you to breastfeed immediately and more effectively when compared with mothers who undergo C-sections. More on breastfeeding here.
Studies show that babies born vaginally have fewer respiratory problems. This is because the pressure from moving along the birth canal allows your baby to expel amniotic fluid from the lungs, helping to clear away any blockages so your baby can breathe upon entering the world. This process decreases the risk of TTN (a.k.a. transient tachypnea of the newborn), a form of respiratory distress. TTN is more common in babies born via C-section and in some cases, antibiotic treatment is necessary.
Choosing a drug-free birth means not exposing your newborn baby to potential side effects of drugs, which include respiratory distress, allergic reactions and other complications. There is no baby-proof drug used in the labour room- these medications can and will reach your baby.
A C-section is a major abdominal surgery which involves a wound across the abdomen and the uterus. There is a risk of damage to organs around the uterus, not to mention that babies can also suffer accidental cuts. The risk of infection and blood clots for these mothers is also higher.
2. Mothers are taking their newborn’s future health into consideration.
Leaving a newborn’s umbilical cord intact until it stops pulsating, which is possible when delivering vaginally, allows all the oxygenated blood and nutrients from the placenta to pass to the baby. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association involving more than 1,900 newborns found that a 2-minute delay in cord clamping reduced the risk of anemia by half and low iron levels in the blood by a third.
Babies delivered vaginally receive protective bacteria as they pass through the birth canal. This bacteria left on the skin then colonize the intestines and help to build a balanced immune system. According to experts, babies born by C-section miss out on receiving this bacteria, which may be why they have increased susceptibility to asthma, allergies and gut infections later in life.
During a vaginal birth, the bones of the head go through normal compressions and decompressions while exiting the birth canal, which stimulate the central nervous system. Without this process, imbalances in your baby’s central nervous system may occur, potentially resulting in issues such as colic, respiratory difficulties and sucking problems.
Fetuses and babies can react to signals from their environment. Babies are aware and conscious human beings. Those born via C-section experience a sudden disruption in the natural birthing process biologically programmed in them, and emerging research reveals that this type of birth may be traumatic for the baby who has only very limited coping skills to deal with the situation. Child psychotherapists have linked traumatic aspects of a child’s birth to emotional pain which may come in the form of intensive crying, eating problems and sleeping difficulties.
3. Mothers want a positive birthing experience.
Giving birth naturally means you are embracing the birthing process biologically programmed in us. To push your baby through the birth canal and into the world allows you to be in an active participant in the birthing process. This is an empowering experience.
There are natural ways to alleviate the pain and intensity during childbirth. If supported in labour the way they instinctively want to be, mothers are more likely to feel positive about their birthing experience and future parenting skills.
Having listed these substantial benefits, preparation is vital to success. Giving birth naturally is like running a marathon- it involves planning, practice and endurance. In order to achieve your goal, crucial elements such as optimal nutrition, healthy lifestyle habits, birth preparation techniques and emotional health need to be addressed.
The first thing I tell women who have decided on a natural birth is you need to talk to your partner or birth companion about your decision. This person will be your advocate and support during labour. His/ her assurance and encouragement throughout the pregnancy and labour cannot be equaled.
Selecting the appropriate healthcare team comes next. In Hong Kong, a common misconception is that obstetricians and natural healthcare practitioners (NHP) are mutually exclusive. The fact is, you are getting the best care when you seek help from a NHP such as a naturopathic doctor for proper nutrition, management of physical discomfort and preparation for childbirth while continuing regular check-ups with your obstetrician.
Imagine being able to minimize potential physical causes of labour pain through diet, exercise and certain postures. It’s possible! Many pregnant women notice a decrease in aches and pains after certain nutritional changes, appropriate stretching/ exercise and adopting proper posture during pregnancy. For women planning a natural birth and in their second or third trimester, I actually encourage them to get into certain positions or postures during their visit with me! These positions and postures not only stretch and tone the body parts involved in labour, but they also minimize discomfort during labour and allow the process of labour to proceed more smoothly.
Many pregnant women tell me that their obstetrician often doesn’t have time to answer all their questions. During each visit, I allow enough time for you to ask your questions (e.g. “Should I really be avoiding sushi?”). We also talk about care during pregnancy, like natural remedies for common ailments/ colds/ flus, and care after birth, like what foods to eat to promote a healthy recovery, natural alternatives to mastitis and yeast infections, ways to improve immunity for mother and baby, etc. We also discuss expectations around childbirth, the impact of a new addition to the family, as well as ways to work out any fears you may have.
Last but not least, let’s not forget about the baby! Studies have shown that what you eat (or not eat) during pregnancy can have a huge impact on the baby’s health- including brain development, visual acuity and the potential to develop allergies/ asthma. During your visit, I will discuss with you how to give your baby the best head start to health- starting in the womb!
Whether you are planning a pregnancy or currently pregnant, I encourage you to learn your options and to make an informed choice that is best for you and your newborn. Click here to learn more about the pregnancy/ prenatal care I offer.
1. Gaskin, Ina May (2003). Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. New York, New York: Bantam Dell, a Division of Random House.