As soon as the positive pregnancy test flashes in sight, it's likely to find yourself swarmed with decisions to make.
From choosing the colour of your nursery to understanding your maternity leave options - you're suddenly inundated with things to choose.
Another thing you may want to consider is whether you'll opt for a 'natural birth'.
Here's everything you need to know, plus nine mums tell us their personal reasons for choosing one...
What's considered a 'natural birth'?
A 'natural birth' means different things to different people. To some, it means no interference during birth - including no pain relief nor medical help. For others, the concept is more about forgoing medical pain relief. A 'natural birth' is sometimes referred to as a 'normal birth'. Of course, whether you choose a natural birth, is completely your own prerogative and shouldn't be seen as a status symbol. A lot of mums may plan to have a 'natural birth', however, due to unforeseen circumstances (including birth difficulties) may change their mind during labour.
'Natural birth' is often referred to by midwives and doctors as 'normal birth'.
In the UK, the NCT, Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have agreed a definition for normal birth. According to this definition, a normal birth is one in which:
- labour starts spontaneously (on its own)
- labour progresses without certain drugs or assistance
- forceps or ventouse are not used
Women who have had the following however during birth, will not be considered to have had a 'normal birth'
- induction of labour (with prostaglandins, syntocinon drip or by having their waters broken)
- epidural or spinal
- forceps or ventouse
- caesarean section
- general anaesthetic
Is 'natural birth' right for you
Generally, a 'natural birth' is safe for most mums, unless you have a high risk pregnancy. You'll likely be able to give birth naturally if you are just having the one baby, go full-term, have no underlying or pre-existing health problems and have had no problems throughout your pregnancy.
Always consult your doctor for medical advice to see if it's the best option for you and your baby.
It's unlikely you'll be able to have a natural childbirth experience if you:
- Are expecting multiples
- Are less than 37 weeks pregnant, when you go into labour
- If you are considered overweight or gained too much weight during pregnancy
- Experience other pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia
- A group B strep carrier (you’ll be tested during week 36 of pregnancy); you’ll need IV antibiotics during labour to decrease the risk of neonatal infection
- Have a baby in the breech position when you go into labour — for your safety and your baby’s you will likely require a C-section.
What are the risks?
- Prepare to feel everything - Some women find the pain is much more intense than they first anticipated, which sometimes leads to them having pain killers in the end. Know that you can always let your practitioner know you're planning for a drug free, natural birth and remember, you can ask for an epidural at any time during the process if the pain gets to be too much.
- You might not be able to have one – Feel comfortable with the idea that you may need pain killers and that things might change. Whether it is due to medical reasons or something else, you may need interventions or drugs anyway.
- Labour could be longer - If you begin to get tired, anxious, or stressed during your labour, it may take a while longer to deliver the baby.
Read more: The pros and cons of labour pain relief
What are the benefits?
- You might have better success breastfeeding - Studies have suggested that immediate skin-to-skin contact helps with early mum and baby bonding that can make breastfeeding easier.
- You'll be able to move - Many women find comfort in the fact they can move during labour and it's often a good way to cope with pain. Whether it's walking around or bobbing up and down on a birthing ball, you'll have the freedom to move about as you please with a natural birth rather than being confined to a bed like you would be with an epidural.
- Pushing may be easier - Because you won't receive pain-relieving medication, you won’t lose any sensation and will be able to feel your baby move more easily which can also mean less vaginal tearing.
- Faster recovery - You’ll be able to get out of bed and walk around sooner post-birth, since you won’t be numb from the epidural or medication. In turn, walking will help speed your recovery.
- You'll feel proud of yourself - No matter how you deliver — unmedicated, with an epidural or via C-section — you should feel in awe of what you've accomplished. That said, many mums who go for a natural birth enjoy knowing exactly what their bodies are capable of without medication giving you a real sense of fulfilment and accomplishment.
How to prepare for a natural birth
There are many things you can do to prepare for your natural labour. It mainly boils down to getting yourself as informed and prepared as possible in the run up to your birth.
- Do your research - Take classes, read books, watch video’s online. There are loads of helpful resources out there about giving birth naturally and the more knowledge you have, the better.
- Talk to your midwife or GP - Whether you plan to give birth in a hospital or birthing centre, make sure your midwife is aware of the natural birthing experience you have in mind.
- Consider hiring a doula - While your midwife is there to get your baby delivered in a healthy, safe manner, a doula is there to support throughout your pregnancy and labour and delivery when the pushing gets more intense. During pregnancy your doula will talk to you about a birth plan, and when you're in labour they’ll work hard with you to get you through it.
- Learn about pain management techniques - In the weeks leading up to your delivery, try a variety of pain management techniques with your birthing partner such as hypnobirthing, massage therapy, breathing exercises and aromatherapy. By practising the same techniques over and over, it becomes second nature when you need it most — plus it's a good way to see what works best for you ahead of the big day.
9 mums reveal why they had a 'natural birth'...
5) I felt there was biologically no reason for pain relief
"I did a hypnobirthing course during pregnancy so felt that there was biologically no reason for pain relief. I had planned to have a water birth
but by the time I got to the hospital I was too far long so managed to birth my baby with just gas and air." - Laura Fitzgerald
" I had a 'natural birth' at home for a few reasons - first being I had the best support in a midwife that anyone could wish for, so totally trusted them to deliver my baby.
8) I tried to remind myself that our bodies are built to give birth
I tried to remind myself that our bodies are built to be able to give birth, and that it's not an 'illness' or something that needs medication or relief (unless of course something goes off track, then we are so lucky to have that option of medical intervention and hospitals etc)....so I tried to trust my body that it would know what to do involuntarily..and that was why I didn't want to interrupt that process as much as I could.
O chose not to have gas and air as I hate the feeling of being dizzy or sick, and I know that is sometimes how people feel with it. So, with some breathing techniques and water, and most importantly an incredible support network it happened 'naturally'
Of course, just want to repeat, this was just my choice, everyone has their own preferences, and it's neither better or worse, we are all unique and awesome that way" - Maryanne Jones
Read more: Should you use a midwife-led birthing centre?