Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Updated February 2016
Photo: Belle Verdiglione
Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.
Mother’s situation: I want a natural birth
The birth of my first baby, who is now two years old, was traumatic. I didn’t progress at the expected rate during labor, which led to a cascade of medical interventions resulting in a cesarean. I felt really out of control and frightened. I am now pregnant again and am exploring the options open to me for birthing my baby naturally.
Can mothers who have given birth without pain medication and/or at home perhaps offer me some ideas about how best to have a normal birth? I am also quite nervous about reading a book that might scare me while I’m pregnant. Which books would you recommend?
I’m sorry to hear that the birth of your first baby was such a traumatic experience. If it is what you want, there is every chance that you can have a completely natural, unmedicated home birth next time. I had “failure to progress” in my first labor too, and an operative (forceps) delivery, but went on to have four more, completely natural, births—two in hospital and two at home, attended by midwives.
There are lots of good books around to boost your confidence and courage and give you faith in yourself. And this is what, I feel, ultimately makes all the difference. I would particularly recommend the following:
For general and inspirational reading on birth matters: anything and everything by Michel Odent, the pioneering obstetrician who popularised water births and home-like birthing rooms. Don’t be put off by the fact that he’s a man! If anyone can convince you of the innate wisdom of women’s bodies and your ability to birth your own baby naturally, he can.
On a more practical, “how-to” level, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is down-to-earth and full of good old common sense. You might also like to check out her website but, as an antenatal teacher, I have found that many women are more frightened than reassured by her first book, Spiritual Midwifery, since although the mothers’ and midwives’ stories bear testament to the strength of feminine nature, some of them make harrowing reading.
Janet Balaskas, the pioneer of “active birth,” has written a useful book, New Active Birth. The list of possible side effects of pain medication for both mother and baby, in the handy reference section at the back, strengthened my resolve to just say “no” to pharmaceuticals while the section on yoga-based exercise is invaluable for “tuning in” to your body. And if yoga appeals to you, I also recommend Preparing for Birth with Yoga by the same author.
Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz is a treasure trove of ideas for enhancing pregnancy and birth and treating them as a spiritual journey. This book has its practical side too, with a 65-page section on dealing with labor pain.
Last, but not least, and in fact my favorite resource for both personal use and antenatal classes, is Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth by Deepak Chopra. This book successfully combines the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda with the latest western scientific knowledge, and is a truly uplifting companion throughout pregnancy. It is packed full of beautiful quotations and poems, meditation techniques, relaxation exercises, ideas for partner-work, helpful yoga poses, and tips on nutrition, complementary therapies and, of course, natural pain relief. An absolute gem of a book!
In addition to books, many mothers-to-be find relaxation and birth-preparation tapes and CDs (such as Maggie Howell’s Natal Hypnotherapy range) helpful. You might benefit particularly from her VBAC Preparation CD.
Finally, if there are any active birth or yoga for pregnancy preparatory classes in your local area, they might also be worth investigating.
I wish you a joyous journey this time around.
Gwyneth Little, Alicante, Spain
I had a peaceful, almost pain-free natural second birth, at home with the instant, head-over-heels in love bonding every mother dreams of. This followed the horrible hospital birth of my first child, which encompassed a cascade of interventions: gas and air, epidural and instrumental delivery (ventouse). I narrowly avoided a cesarean section.
I achieved my lovely home birth by
1. Enjoying with my first child a natural breastfeeding relationship (after initial birth-related difficulties), which gave me confidence in my body.
2. Joining LLL and learning more about birth from experienced, like-minded mothers.
3. Listening to Effective Birth Preparation hypnosis CDs throughout pregnancy and in labor.
5. Being positive and laughing, moving, yogic breathing and generally doing whatever my body asked me to do during labor (and certainly never lying down during a contraction, no matter how much my midwife wanted to examine me).
6. A homeopathic childbirth kit.
7. A very supportive husband and a brilliant birth partner in my son Henry, who made me roar with laughter by copying me and chirruping, “Come on baby!”
8. Two kindly, supportive midwives.
9. Being at home.
Believing I could do it. In my first labor, I was amazed at how well I coped with simple breathing techniques, and then proceeded to panic and lose all faith in my body’s ability. Even though I had heard of women having lovely births I wasn’t ready to listen. With baby number two, I listened. And I believed.
Katie Davies, Isle of Man, UK
I had a medicalized birth with a forceps delivery and blood loss. I was quite ill afterwards and when pregnant for the second time, I doubted my ability to give birth naturally. While I was pregnant I read Childbirth Without Fear by Grantly Dick-Read, which although it was written in the 1940s was really inspiring and encouraging and Birthing From Within by Pam England. At first glance, it seems quite hippy-ish, but the chapter on managing the pain of contractions is alone worth the price of the book. In the end, I labored at home for 12 hours, during which time I felt relaxed and in control. I went into hospital, where I gave birth a couple of hours later to my daughter without needing any pain relief. Her birth was a really positive experience and I felt great afterwards.
I had a home birth and my advice is to read as much as possible. The Birth Book: Everything You Need to Know to Have a Safe and Satisfying Birth by Dr. Bill and Martha Sears helped me anticipate the steps my body had to go through, which was especially helpful during the transition period of labor. Knowing that when it felt like I couldn’t take it any more, it was in fact almost over was comforting. A great midwife kept me informed throughout my pregnancy and prepared me well. Trust that your body knows what to do and be willing to “go with the flow.”
Annette Papizzo-Petrie, Orlando, FL, USA
Congratulations on your pregnancy. While we can’t guarantee a natural birth it can help to prepare ourselves mentally and physically, and make sure we are sur- rounded by supportive people, who view birth as normal.
Like you, I wanted to avoid a repeat cesarean and happily my daughter was born gently at home in an uninterrupted, unmedicated birth last year. I spent a lot of the pregnancy preparing for this.
From the start, we got an independent midwife who specializes in HBAC (home birth after cesarean). It was expensive, but we knew it was very important to us to do everything we could to increase the chances of a natural birth.
I requested my medical records from my son’s birth and discussed them both with my own midwife and a midwife from the hospital. This helped to clarify what had happened and why. I also found listening to hypnotherapy CDs especially designed for childbirth to be helpful in the last few months of pregnancy, in labor and in the weeks after the birth.
You asked about avoiding medication in birth: Ina May Gaskin suggests that we consider the sensations of childbirth as pressure, rather than pain. She even refers to contractions as “rushes,” which makes you think of them in a wholly different way. I found a birthing pool and the hypnotherapy techniques much more helpful and pleasant than the epidural I had the first time round. My midwife gave me back massages during contractions, which were amazingly helpful.
There are a lot of books dedicated to natural birth that might help you. Approaching Birth and Birth Rights by Sally Inch, or anything by Ina May Gaskin, Michel Odent or Frederick Leboyer. You might find some of these in your LLL group library.
Geraldine Coggins, Manchester, UK
The birth of my child was induced. My plan the whole time was to go naturally. I had nurses and my doctor telling me that the Pitocin would make labor much harder than normal and to reconsider. However, I pushed through the pain and went without pain medication. I did have a pretty ‘easy’ labor. It lasted seven hours with 45 minutes of pushing. I was in transition for more than two hours, during which time it was really helpful to breathe at the start of each contraction. When I didn’t the pain was so much worse. The breathing techniques really did help: deep breaths as soon as you feel any tightening or pain to start the contraction. I also squeezed the side of the bed and my husband’s hand. My arms were very sore the next day, but I felt like that helped too. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth gave me confidence in my body. It also has a section on vaginal birth after c-section. I found that praying helped too! Good luck.
Lauren Boesken, Batesville, IN, USA
Feeling scared and fearful can take the joy out of pregnancy. Like you, my first birth experience in a hospital had more medical interventions than I would have liked. When I became pregnant again, I decided to meet with a home birth midwife. She was a great fit for me and my family. I felt most comfortable having a doctor who supported home birth for backup in case of a hospital transfer. My preferred ob-gyn supported my choice for a home birth and agreed to meet us at the hospital if any emergencies arose. The final part of my birth team was a doula, who was instrumental in helping me determine and clarify what was most important to me for my ideal birth, and helped me develop a plan for different birth settings. She had a wealth of knowledge to share and was a great support to me and my husband. Labor and birth can be unpredictable, so it was important for me to feel prepared with supportive care providers in a hospital or home setting.
Birthing From Within by Pam England helped me process and heal from my first birth experience while preparing for my upcoming birth.
Ultimately, I was able to birth my second daughter at home with my midwife, doula, and husband present. Having experts in normal birth and managing pain in labor, made the biggest difference for me.
Melissa Nootz, Anaconda, Montana, USA
Mother’s new situation
My daughter is almost a year old and we have been happily breastfeeding until recently when she started to nip me every now and then while she is at the breast, seemingly out of the blue, for no reason I can tell. A couple of times she has drawn blood. Ouch! I really don’t want to stop nursing her but if she keeps doing this I may feel compelled to. Please can mothers share how they have stopped their babies from biting?
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