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My cramps rang alarm bells.
I had mild cramps early in my pregnancy, but not like these.
They weren’t stronger. They weren’t more painful, either. Just... different.
But I brushed them off. “I’m probably paranoid or ‘overly emotional.’ Maybe the hormones are taking over,” I reasoned.
So I spent the morning ignoring the cramps, then worrying about them, then frustrated by them. And the whole time I was totally confused.
When the cramps eased in the early afternoon, the relief washed over me like a warm bath.
Until I went to the bathroom...
That’s when I saw the blood. Too much blood. Not too much for a normal period, but WAY too much for a pregnancy.
I called my husband. “Papi, I think you should come home. Now.”
Then I crumpled down to the floor and cried.
Was My Non-Doctor “Natural” Approach at Age 37 to Blame?
I didn’t go to a doctor at 6 weeks when I first found out about the pregnancy. I called a midwife instead.
Even though the miscarriage happened at only 9 weeks, family and friends still questioned my approach.
Maybe I could’ve prevented the miscarriage if I had a real doctor, they said.
Wasn’t I “irresponsible” for not having a medical doctor, they half-accused.
What if I rolled the dice with my unborn baby’s life, they demanded.
I’m sharing the labor and delivery part of my natural birth story (at age 38!) in the next post. My little one, Dahlia, is already a smiley-giggly two-year-old.
For now, you too may be wondering why I considered the natural approach at all... if it could possibly be risky.
Standard American Birth: LITERALLY an Uphill Battle!
Regular medical birth requires that you lie down horizontally, right?
Which means gravity isn’t helping you slide the baby out, right?
True and true. But it’s worse than that.
When you’re on your back and your knees are bent, your birth canal is actually sloping UP. That’s why I call it “Uphill Birth.”
If you want to see a birth canal drawing with Baby forced to come out Uphill-Birth-style, check out Britannica.com’s labeled diagram.
Why is Uphill Birth now the norm?
Simple convenience for hospitals and doctors. They have easier access to your birth canal.
Easier for them. Not for you. Here’s why…
Epidurals, Forceps and C-Sections, Oh My
In a report covering 2002-2008, 35.4% of the 38,484 U.S. women studied who had their first C-section (surgery to cut your abdomen open to pull Baby out) had it because of a “Failure to Progress” diagnosis.
In other words, the doctors didn’t think their labor was happening fast enough.
That number pops up to 41% when looking at only first-time moms in the U.S.
Why are the numbers so high? The draining Uphill Birth labor drama reveals the answers…
First, you go to the hospital when your contractions are a few minutes apart and last about 30 seconds each. (Every hospital has slightly different guidance on this.)
You labor away, lying on your back the whole time. A few hours in, you get the epidural -- the injection in your lower back to help numb your lower body, so you won’t feel as much pain.
Now you can’t walk around even if you want to. No getting up to pee. No bending over. No stretching. But much worse...
The epidural blocks oxytocin, the hormone you need to make your uterus contract. Not having enough oxytocin can slow your contractions and make your labor take longer.
If the doctor decides your labor is going too long, you get a shot of Pitocin, synthetic oxytocin to force your uterus to contract.
Keep in mind, the World Health Organization (in their Safe Motherhood - Practical Guide to Care in Normal Birth) considers giving Pitocin “a major intervention,” yet it’s now routine.
And if the Pitocin doesn’t speed up your labor enough, doctors often suggest C-section surgery to pull Baby out.
Amazingly, 42.6% of first-time moms who had C-sections for “Failure to Progress” hadn’t even reached “active labor.” That’s defined as at least 6cm of cervix dilation, yet these women only reached at most 5cm.
Can you imagine not even being in active labor when your doctor declares he needs to cut open your abdomen
Or that he needs to slit your perineum to slide Baby out?
Or that he needs forceps to drag Baby out?
Or that he needs to vacuum-suck Baby out?
After hours of lying there in labor, many women consider any of these better options than bearing untold more hours of labor.
Yet forcing Baby out may still not be the end for YOU because...
The Pain May Last (Sometimes a Lifetime)
In case my scenario above sounds contrived, the World Health Organization’s Safe Motherhood Practical Guide to Care in Normal Birth also says (translated to plain English):
- Any laboring position is likely less painful than lying on your back.
- AND all other laboring positions (not lying on your back) are proven to require less medication for pain and speeding up labor.
Here’s the direct quote, if you’re interested:
"Trials that have compared these positions [standing, walking, sitting upright or on hands and knees, taking a shower or bath] to the supine [lying horizontally, face-up] have found that, on average, labor was experienced as less painful (there was less need for analgesia) and augmentation [speeding up of labor] was used less frequently in the non-supine positions."
Now let’s look at lasting pain from specific procedures. First up, the C-section…
Even though the C-section can be a lifesaving modern medical miracle, it’s also a major abdominal surgery.
Some of the risks include:
These narcotics block mother-baby bonding, impair breastfeeding and make moms more prone to postpartum depression.
Then there are all the side-effects and reactions to the drugs. Many don’t even get tallied into stats.
Yikes! And that’s only a partial list. According to the American Pregnancy Association, Mom also risks…
- Organ injuries
- Scar tissue
- More surgeries (like bladder repair)
Risks to Baby include:
- Premature birth
- Fetal injuries
- Low APGAR scores (the APGAR is a quick test of your newborn’s health; higher scores mean Baby is healthier)
As for forceps and vacuum deliveries, they’re becoming less and less common. In 2013, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported only 3% of U.S. births from forceps or vacuum deliveries. 32% of U.S. births that year were from C-sections.
Forceps and vacuum deliveries aren’t as invasive as cutting into your abs (like the C-section), but they do have their own risks. For example:
With either forceps or vacuum deliveries, Mom could end up with:
- Cuts or tearing
- Short- and long-term urinary incontinence
- Blood loss
Baby could have:
- Skull fracture
- Facial injuries (though usually minor)
Even a simple surgical cut in your perineum (an “episiotomy,” to make room for Baby) can turn into a severe laceration, cause anal / sphincter injuries and infection, and it may even require repeat repair.
All of which makes Uphill Birth a pretty risky way to go, unless it’s really medically needed for some reason.
So what’s the natural way?
How Your Body Naturally Gives Birth
It all starts with something called oxytocin...
When Baby puts pressure on your cervix while you're upright and/or walking, which “ripens” or “dilates” your cervix, the oxytocin hormone gets released.
Oxytocin causes your uterus to contract.
Which pushes Baby down against your cervix more.
Which causes more oxytocin to be released.
Which causes more contractions.
Which keeps opening your cervix more and more, until Baby is ready to slide out. This self-sustaining cycle is called the Ferguson Reflex. James Ferguson discovered it in 1941, and it’s been validated over the decades since.
In the bigger picture, women are mammals, and mammals routinely birth without hospitals or drugs. That’s been true for eons. The modern, safer human version looks like this:
Find a quiet, isolated spot where you feel comfortable and safe.
Choose whether to labor on your own or with attendants. You can have as many as you want to make you feel safe.
Whether sitting or standing, stay upright enough since gravity makes Baby press on your cervix, to trigger the Ferguson Reflex. You know it’s working when you feel your contractions coming faster and stronger.
Dr. Michael Odent says it in a more formal way in Birth and Breastfeeding:
“It is implicit in the mammalian interpretation that one cannot actively help a woman to give birth. The goal is to avoid disturbing her unnecessarily.”
Science-speak aside, the REAL benefit is…
Natural Birth Minimizes Labor Pain
How? With your body’s beta-endorphins, for example.
Beta-endorphins are your body’s all-natural, painkilling proteins -- even stronger than morphine, according to research by JF Dalayeun, JM Norès and S. Bergal.
Your body releases them to respond to stresses like pain, trauma and exercise. They feel like pleasure and euphoria.
When you’re birthing, beta-endorphins take you to Labor Land… that wonderful place where you’re not thinking anymore. You’re just floating from contraction to contraction, rising and falling with labor’s natural tide.
The stronger your contractions, the more beta-endorphins you get.
On a quick side note, beta-endorphins also tell your body to release prolactin, which preps your breasts for breastfeeding and your baby’s lungs for breathing.
BUT beta-endorphins only kick in fully when you’re feeling your contractions. That means pain meds like epidurals block them.
Now, you may still be wondering...
How Do Natural Births Play Out in the Real World?
I’m sharing my natural birth story in the next post, and a friend’s story in a post after that. And I'm sharing priceless gems to prep for a smooth natural birth here.
If you’re curious about stats across many women, check out these from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:
This isn’t truly comparing natural births to standard hospital births. It’s close, though, since many out-of-hospital births are natural births.
Now look at the fourth line down. 4.7x more hospital births are C-sections!
The other stats, like “Labor augmentation” on the second line, also highlight natural birthing’s benefits. Natural births are faster.
As you can also see, not every natural birth stays 100% natural. Medical procedures are backstops if they’re ever needed.
And that’s totally OKAY! My point is those procedures are NOT needed nearly as much as they’re used.
So How Do You Actually Prep During Pregnancy for a Smooth, Natural Birth?
Ahh, great question -- especially because tight hips, tight or weak muscles (your uterus is a muscle!), poor planning for how you want the birth to go, and more can compound your pain.
There are all sorts of potentially helpful tips and tricks out there, of course. Challenge is, nobody has time to learn them all, let alone do them all.
BUT, there are a few key prep steps that help nearly every natural birth goes smoother. They’re part of what I call the “Gravity-Reflex Birth” approach, since they go with Mother Nature’s natural flow.
You want to know these secrets if you’re even thinking of a natural birth.
That’s why I’m doing a totally FREE live training soon to share these natural pain off-switches with you. Sign up here now.
Make sure to attend live, so you can ask me your most burning questions. I’m looking forward to having you there!