Editor’s Note: Back in the old days, there were no pain killers. All there was were natural childbirths – how did women do it? In today’s guest post, Jenn Hardy prepares to have her baby and contemplates the dangers of using an Epidural vs. delivering naturally.
I am nearly five months pregnant with my first child, and I am set on having as natural a childbirth as possible. I am trying to be as healthy as I can, and I want my baby to be as healthy as possible too.
Do I judge a woman going into the hospital already planning an epidural? Do I judge a woman who opts to be gassed or have a little shot of narcotics to help get her through? No. How could I? I have no idea how hard labour will be. I’m guessing no matter what, it’s never a walk in the park.
My baby’s health is the most important thing in the world to me. But certainly at some point my own mental health has to come into play. Screaming and yelling while hooked up to machines, under fluorescent hospital lights? No thanks.
My ideal birth would be at home, or in a birthing pool. With soft music, some massage and maybe even candles. But the way things have panned out for me, it looks like this baby will be born in the hospital. And that’s where a woman’s mental health is often disregarded.
Jo Muise, a Montreal Doula and childbirth educator says that’s because, “We haven’t forced hospitals to change the way they treat birth,” she says. “They mostly care about delivering a healthy baby and have pain relieving mechanisms which often render women immobile.”
(I’m not sure a healthy baby and a healthy, happy mom need to be mutually exclusive!)
Muise is talking about the “E” word: Epidural. It gets a bad rap for good reason. Not because it will paralyse a woman (that doesn’t really happen anymore) but because of the health effects it has on mom and baby. “The woman’s blood pressure can drop and the baby’s heart can decelerate,” she says.
There is also a pretty good chance of back pain, headache, fever, as well as an increased chance of having a having a persistently posterior baby and or C-section.
“Studies show conflicting results, but there is more than enough anecdotal evidence that an Epidural will make the baby sleepier. And that makes it more difficult for him to latch on to breastfeed.”
Perhaps the biggest risk of using an Epidural is that it almost always means more interventions. An Epidural usually causes a snowball effect, what is known as a “cascade of intervention.” A first intervention, like an Epidural or induction, often leads to every other intervention in the book.
Muise certainly doesn’t demonize the Epidural, saying it’s an amazing tool for the women who need it. What she does say, however, is that they are used much too often. Instead of looking for healthy ways to help a woman cope with pain, the immediate default is medication.
Muise suggests there are other, much more natural ways to minimize the amount of pain a woman endures during labour.
“Certain things we know make a woman’s perception of pain higher, for example, being hooked up to intervenes or a monitoring machine,” says Muise. “But there are all kinds of natural things that make us feel less pain.” For example:
- Being in hot water, or water in general.
- Hot compresses on the lower back.
- Breathing exercises (not Lamaze!).
- Getting into position where it’s easier to cope. This is likely not on your back.
- Having someone there to keep you focused. A partner, mother or Doula.
“What is clear to me,” says Muise, “Is that if you leave birth alone and let it run its course, it’s a perfect machine. In most cases it will do exactly what it’s supposed to do.”
About the Author
Jenn Hardy is a Montreal-based freelance journalist and blogger. She most enjoys writing about sustainability, natural parenting, jazz music and all things green. Her blog mamanaturale focuses on natural pregnancy, birth, and parenting. You can follow her on Twitter @jennhardy and @mama_naturale.
Have you had a natural childbirth? How did it go and if you were to do it all over again, would you opt for an Epidural?