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What is "Normal" Birth?

How is a birth really supposed to go? Is it normal for 90% of laboring women to "need" an epidural? Is it normal to make a birth plan and try to negotiate what you want from the facility where you will be delivering ? Is it normal for babies to spend time crying together in the nursery away from their parents? Is it normal to hold still on your side through each contraction so that the machine you are strapped to can make a tracing of your baby's heart rate? Is it normal for adult women to hope the staff will let them walk around, use an alternate delivery position, or hold the baby immediately after the birth?

Natural childbirth is probably a term ready to be retired. Natural childbirth used to mean normal delivery. But because we want to be inclusive, kind, non-judgmental, we have expanded the concept of natural to mean just about anything. Did you have natural childbirth with a Pitocin drip? With a little narcotic medication to take the edge off? With an episiotomy? If you did have an intervention or a medication, then what? Did you have unnatural childbirth?

The term natural childbirth should be replaced with the term normal childbirth. Normal is just the way things should go in the usual course of events. An example of this could be walking. When a child is born, we assume, and rightly so, that they will be normal walkers, able to just move along without any special help or equipment. We all know people who are unable to walk normally, but they are the exception. And while we love and esteem those who cannot walk normally, we still acknowledge that it is better to walk normally. If there were any measures we could take to ensure that we and our loved ones would always be able to walk normally, we would do it. Normal childbirth, like normal walking, is just the way things should go in the usual course of events.

So what is a normal birth like? Although each birth is a unique experience, several characteristics can be generalized about normal births. Normal births begin with quality prenatal care. Normal births have spontaneous onset of labor. Normal births are not overly hampered by time constraints. Normal births involve eating and drinking. Normal births include walking, moving around, changing positions, unencumbered by monitors, straps, and IV lines. Normal births do not require pain medication. Normal births do not include any cutting or pulling.

All these are essential parts of normal birth. These are not options, not frills. Every pregnant woman deserves these basics to help ensure a normal birth. Where are all these components of normal birth routine, offered to every woman? With your local midwife, of course.

10 Steps for Gentle Birth

  1. Eat well (protein, water, and a “gallon of greens”) and exercise regularly while pregnant (ask your care provider what amount of exercise is appropriate).
  2. Ask lots of questions, educate yourself and have a birth plan.
  3. Avoid lounging and lying on back in the last trimester of pregnancy.
  4. Have your baby at home or at a birth center if possible.
  5. Make sure your provider believes in the non-interventive midwifery model of care and is comfortable and accepting of normal natural childbirth (see www.motherfriendly.org).
  6. If you are going to a hospital to have your baby, don’t go too soon; wait until you are actively birthing.
  7. Be patient, but move a lot during birth if you feel that your baby needs help in descending.
  8. Have minimal vaginal exams, both during late pregnancy and during birthing.
  9. Avoid medicating your body and the feelings of birthing with drugs.
  10. Have complete trust in your body, your baby, and your birth process. Your body and your baby know exactly what they're doing!
Did You Know?
Home births have been shown to be safer than hospital birth for healthy moms???
Read more!

We have a secret in our culture, and it's not that birth is painful... it's that women are strong.
- Laura Stavoe Harm

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