Birthing your child without drugs isn't easy, but it is possible. Follow these guidelines to increase your chances of having a successful natural birth.

By Berit Thorkelson, Carrie Murphy, and Jeanne Faulkner, R.N.
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Getting a solid prenatal education is step one to planning a natural childbirth. Seek out classes that include how labor and birth work, as well as natural labor pain management techniques like breathing, self-hypnosis, and relaxation. Your hospital probably offers an evening or weekend course, but that might not be enough information, especially if they have a high epidural or C-section rate. Instead, research independent educators. Try a few different classes or styles until you find one that feels like a good fit.

Once you have an idea of your ideal birthing experience, the next smart step is creating a birth plan that details what you'd like to happen before, during and after labor. (Check out Mama Natural's visual natural birth plan template that shows all your preferences displayed as super simple symbols.)

Along with general preferences such as who you'd like to be in the hospital room during delivery, what the physical environment should be like, and if you wish to breastfeed, your natural birth plan may include extra preferences like the following:

  • No medication
  • Free movement
  • Natural water rupture
  • Intermittent monitoring
  • No episiotomy
  • No vitamin k
  • No eye ointment
  • No bath for baby
  • No IV
  • No membrane sweep
  • Pitocin only if necessary

But outlining your birthing preferences is only part of the battle when it comes to having a normal delivery naturally. Here are 10 more things to consider when creating a successful natural birth plan:

1. Know why you want an unmedicated birth

What does that mean to you—giving birth without any intervention at all or just without pain meds? Do you want to limit intervention because of possible side effects, previous experiences with medical settings, or a sense of personal accomplishment? Every person will have a different why. Osborne advises that finding yours will help you address that concern, no matter what happens in your labor. Georgia Ragonetti-Zebell, MD, FACOG, an obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs at Momma Docs, says she was committed to unmedicated birth for all four of her labors: "I wanted to experience childbirth the way that nature intended—that was my goal. That meant feeling all of the sensations, even if some of them were negative."

2. Pick a health care provider who's into natural birth

A unmedicated, natural childbirth is an entirely achievable and reasonable goal for about 85 percent of pregnant women. The other 15 percent have health complications that put them in a high-risk category, and they need certain interventions (such as a Cesarean section) to make birth safer for mom or baby.

Despite this information, however, only about 67.2 percent of women in the U.S. end up giving birth naturally, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Delving a little deeper, the CDC also says 61 percent of women having a singleton vaginal birth have epidurals, while other 39 percent either have an unmedicated birth or use a little pain medication. Some of these women opt for "natural delivery” because there's no time for an epidural or it wasn't available. Many others, however, are didn't want or need it.

"Look for a midwife or doctor who is just as invested as you are in natural childbirth," advises Maria Lorillo, Licensed Midwife (LM), Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) at wisewomanchildbirth.com, in San Francisco. "She or he will manage the entire birth in a way that's most conducive to success."

3. Spend early labor at home

You can move around, get in the tub, eat and drink, and go for walks. When your contractions are consistently less than five minutes apart and getting stronger for at least a couple hours, then you can check in with your provider. If you go to the hospital and you're not very far dilated, go home.

4. Consider a doula

A doula acts as your own personal cheerleader who supports you before, during, and after labor.

"My doula knew that I wanted to labor at home for as long as possible," says Tina Jones of Iowa City, who gave birth to her son, Jack, naturally in 2010. "As soon as she came over, she took away the pen and paper I was using to keep track of contractions, which let me focus on how my body and baby were interacting and how I felt. During contractions, she would rub my shoulders or squeeze my hips when I told her that my back was hurting. She was very calm. I don't think I could've managed at home so long without her."

Jones went to the hospital 10 hours into her 13-hour labor.

5. Don't gain too much weight

Labor tends to go more smoothly for women who aren't overweight. They have fewer complications and require fewer medical interventions.

6. Go for a low-intervention pregnancy

If you don't have any particular health problems, opt for fewer rather than more tests, treatments, and interventions during your pregnancy. Obviously, some tests are important for every mother, but many are entirely optional. Whenever tests or procedures are recommended, ask why you need it, if it will change or improve your health, or if you'd be just fine without it. If your doctor or midwife provides compelling reasons why you need certain interventions, then get them. They're there for good reason, but not every patient needs everything.

7. Use water

A shower, bathtub, birthing pool, and hot compresses are natural tools for easing pain and helping you relax. Spend as much time as possible in water.

8. Prepare physically and mentally

Jones went on 30-minute walks throughout her pregnancy. She also prepared with prenatal yoga and positive affirmations.

"I really tried to look at birth as a natural process, telling myself that women have been giving birth for eons, that my body will know what it's doing, and not looking at labor as 'pain' but as 'progress' – one step closer to my baby being born," she says. "The mental preparation ended up being the most important for me."

Yes, women have been giving birth since the beginning of humanity. But you really do have to do some mental preparation for this physical event. Georgia Ragonetti-Zebell, MD, FACOG, an obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs at Momma Docs, says, "I see some patients that say, 'I'm going to give it a try.' If you really want an unmedicated birth, that 'I'll try' mindset rarely works out. While women have been doing it for centuries, they didn't always have the option of an epidural right next door, so you need to do something to prepare if you want to avoid medication."

9. Keep a positive mindset

Now is not the time to listen to stories about your cousin's emergency C-section and your neighbor's slow-to-arrive 12-pounder with the gigantic head. Preserve your can-do attitude by surrounding yourself with natural birth success stories. Cut negative feedback off politely but immediately.

10. Make sure you're up on alternate methods for managing pain

Birthing tub? Yes. Massage? Yes. Birth ball, TENS unit, acupressure? Yes, yes, and yes. If you're really serious about avoiding pain medication, you must learn about and become comfortable with other coping methods, like the rebozo (a type of large cloth traditionally used in Mexican culture), visualization, and even lesser-known options like sterile water injections. Find out which ones are available at the place where you're giving birth and ask questions about when in labor you can use them. Bring your own, if possible. Make sure you have some go-to comfort measures you'll try first, but have plenty of backup ideas in your arsenal if your picks don't work.

11. Don’t forget your birth partner's needs

You've done most of the heavy lifting since your baby was conceived, but labor and delivery is an emotionally and physically draining process for both of you. A partner who is comfortable, hydrated, well-rested, and fed is a much better help to you than one who isn't. "Looking back, Reid could have used some pre-labor Tylenol and some tennis balls or some sort of massager," says Darcie Peifer of St. Paul, who gave birth to her son, Huxley, without drugs last November. "He got pretty worn out too. Still, my supportive husband was my best prop."

12. It’s fine if you don’t achieve the natural birth of your dreams!

At some point, you’ll probably want to quit – you'd be in the minority if you didn't.

"Every woman reaches a point in labor when she doesn't want to do it anymore," says Kelly Camden, LM, CPM, of Holistic Midwifery in Albuquerque, NM. "Fortunately, for most of us this happens when we are nearing the end of labor."

Lean on those around you who are there to support you, and focus on how it will feel to hold your baby for the first time. But it’s also vital not to beat yourself up if you don't have the natural birth of your dreams. Remember, the ultimate goal is delivering a happy and healthy baby!

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