Birthing without an Epidural: How to Have a “Natural” Birth

Today we’re going to talk all about birthing without an epidural, and answer the question, ‘How to have a natural birth?’.

Did you know that an estimated 71% of births in the US use an epidural? And some hospitals cite stats of over 90% of births involving epidural use! 

Yet, other polls and surveys of pregnant women across the US show that over 80% of mamas hope to birth without an epidural. So what gives?!

Now let me be the first to say that there is NOTHING wrong with epidurals – or C-sections for that matter. Both are incredible labor interventions, and I see women have amazing, positive birth experiences that involve epidurals and C-sections all the time.

But in this article, I hope to help you learn about the benefits of birthing without an epidural, and what you can do to have a natural birth if that’s what you want to do!

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What is natural birth?

Natural birth is a term that is widely accepted to mean giving birth without an epidural. For some people it means having a completely unmedicated birth.

While the term often comes under scrutiny as labeling other types of birth experiences as “unnatural” – I think it’s worth unpacking its meaning because the truth is that many still use this phrasing.

Problems with the term natural birth

In some cases, people interchange the word ‘natural’ with ‘vaginal’. When you say natural birth instead of vaginal birth, someone who has had a C-section may feel like their C-section wasn’t “birth” and wasn’t natural.

I also know that some epidural mamas take issue with the term natural meaning without an epidural, because of the argument that all birth is natural. I hear that, and I acknowledge that. But I also know that by in large, our society accepts natural to mean without an epidural.

At the end of the day, labeling your birth is something that only you get to do. I challenge you not to let the labels that other people use define your experience and beliefs.

Isn’t all birth natural?

I do believe that the term natural birth is becoming outdated, and I much prefer the term “birthing without an epidural” to describe this birth experience. Here at Mommy Labor Nurse, we firmly believe that all types of birth are beautiful and that there is no one right way to give birth.

At the end of the day, you and baby’s safety are always most important, and there is no one size fits all approach to birth.

Mommy Labor Nurse empowers mamas to have the tools they need to attempt the birth they desire, but we’re thoughtful in our approach and education so that no mama is set up for disappointment or feels like a failure if something unexpected occurs.

With all of that being said, let’s move on to learn more about birthing without an epidural!

10 Benefits of birthing without an epidural

If birthing without an epidural is something you’re interested in, I always think that learning about the benefits is a great place to start!

Getting mentally pumped up and choosing a “why” behind your motivation to birth without the use of an epidural can be very powerful for your mental preparation.

Here are 10 benefits of birthing without an epidural:

  1. Your labor may be shorter, especially the second stage (or pushing phase). Epidural use can lengthen the time spent pushing by 2-3 hours! (Read about the labor stages in this article)
  2. You may avoid a stalled labor. Some research suggests that epidurals slow the progress of your labor leading to the use of Pitocin to try to move it along. In some cases, a stalled labor can even make a C-section necessary
  3. You’ll avoid the cascade of interventions, which can lead to an epidural or C-section. This is because medical interventions can sometimes interfere with your body’s natural response to labor and birth
  4. Vaginally delivered babies have an improved microbiome, which is associated with lower risk for allergies, obesity, diabetes, and asthma later in life
  5. Your recovery time will be faster after a natural birth—especially vs. a C-section, which involves recovery from an abdominal surgery. The fact that you do not have to wait for your legs to de-numb is a huge perk! You can get up and move around almost immediately after you give birth, as long as your vital signs are stable
  6. You may experience less postpartum swelling. Most mamas who give birth without an epidural report less postpartum swelling also
  7. Lower your risk of vaginal tears. Epidural use is associated with an increased risk of severe perineal tears (although, the overall risk for severe perineal tears is VERY low in general)
  8. Lower your risk of fever and low blood pressure during labor. A 2018 Cochrane review found that people with epidurals were more likely to experience low blood pressure and fever during labor
  9. Avoiding an epidural may lower your risk of an unplanned C-section. In some cases, slow or stalled labors, which can occur with epidural use, result in unplanned C-sections because other, more significant complications arise wherein it’s important to get baby out, stat! The research is mixed on whether epidural use results in higher instances of C-sections, but it is something to be aware of
  10. You might get an intense high. When you deliver a baby without an epidural, you go from the epitome of extreme pain to the epitome of pure joy. It’s this drastic change that gives you a crazy, intense adrenaline rush

Related Reading: 12 Side Effects of Epidurals

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How to have a natural birth?

All right, so now that you’ve learned some of the benefits, I thought I’d go through some of the steps I see that are most effective towards having a natural birth.

Prepare

So many second time mamas who connect with me say they wanted to birth without an epidural the first time but didn’t prepare—and wound up with an epidural

They take the time to get educated and prepared the second time and have their natural births! For many, simply wanting a natural birth isn’t quite enough. Having the right education and preparation in place is key.

Get the right support

Find out what the intervention rates and epidural-use rates are in your hospital. Ask your provider their stance on epidurals and consider switching to a provider that will support your wish to try to birth without an epidural if you don’t get a good vibe. 

If you are low-risk, consider using a Certified Nurse Midwife who delivers at your hospital. Some studies show that simply planning for a natural birth with a midwife reduces your risk of C-section from 30% to 5%!

Of course, that data should be taken with a grain of salt, because only low-risk mamas can deliver with a midwife to begin with, but still, definitely worth looking into if midwifery care could be a good fit for you!

Related Reading: Learn About Midwives

Commit

SO much of giving birth without an epidural is a mind game. Stay committed to your wishes and learn the right skills to cope with the pain of childbirth mentally.

Your number one tool for handling the pain during natural birth is going to be mental. Mental willpower, mentally trusting your body’s innate ability to birth, and mentally coping with the pain.

Learn mental tips for coping with the pain

  • Remind yourself you can do anything for 10 seconds, which is how long the PEAK of your 30-120 second contraction will last
  • Focus on the short breaks you get between contractions. Because you DO get breaks even when it gets really intense
  • Try NOT to focus on how many centimeters you are or how many hours you’ve been in labor, instead focus on each contraction being productive and bringing you closer to your baby

Learn physical pain coping strategies

  • Water is one of the most powerful pain relievers during labor. Hydrotherapy showers and labor tubs are excellent places to labor
  • Have someone perform counterpressure by squeezing your hips while you’re on your hands and knees
  • Keep your mouth open and relaxed: a relaxed mouth correlates to a relaxed vagina! (YES, REALLY!)
  • Do the breathing exercises you learn in your prenatal course! Slow, deep, rhythmic breathing will help
  • Try visualizations during your contraction as a distraction. Many women use the imagery of a wave crashing on a beach, color or warmth filling their body, or a flower blooming
  • Switch it up often! Coach your partner ahead of time to suggest changes if they notice you in the same place for too long
  • Don’t get hung up on birthing “norms”. Do what feels good for you!
  • Get loud! Making noise is TOTALLY normal during birth and can really help with your perception of the pain

Create a birth plan that favors your goal

I’m always a bit wary of discussing birth plans. I kiiiinda feel like they have a way of setting mamas up for disappointment if things don’t go as planned. 

But at the same time, I think they are a super valuable tool and opportunity to think about what YOU want and convey those wants to your birth team.

It’s just really important that you trust your birth process and try to think of your birth plan as “birth wishes”.

And for mamas that want a natural birth, creating a birth plan in favor of a natural birth is important!

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Here are some things to include on your natural birth plan:

  • Use of pain medications: Just no to an epidural, or no to all medical pain interventions? Consider narcotics and nitrous oxide in this decision
  • What language do you want the team to use surrounding medical pain relief options? Will you tell them if you want it, do you want to be reminded of options, do you not want it mentioned at all?
  • What pain relief strategies DO you want to try? List any and all strategies that interest you. Keep in mind that water is a POWERFUL pain-coping tool for natural birth
  • What are your preferences involving induction? Discuss your provider’s policy, your risk factors, and how long you’d like to wait before induction is discussed if you go past due
  • Consider opting for limited cervical checks. For many, too frequent of checks don’t have much benefit and constantly knowing your “progress” can have an undesirable effect on your mental focus
  • Ask about the food and drink policy. Sometimes the ability to eat and drink if you’re up for it can really help your stamina
  • Request the use of intermittent vs. continuous fetal monitoring. This will probably allow you to focus and relax better during labor
  • What do you want the birth environment to be like? Usually, more relaxed is better. Note that you prefer low lights, privacy, music, etc.
  • Opt for natural tearing vs. episiotomy. You can learn about the two in this article!
  • Be sure to include preferences in the event of an unplanned C-section. It’s better to prepare so you aren’t taken off guard. Read about gentle Cesareans to help with this!
  • Don’t forget about after birth! The golden hour is an extremely important and beneficial time for you and baby. Opt for immediate skin-to-skin and delay as many newborn care procedures as possible

Other birth “plans” that may help with your natural birth:

  • Choose a provider that supports your wishes to birth naturally!
  • Try to labor at home as long as possible
  • Stay focused on your “why” when it comes to giving birth naturally
  • Learn as much as you can about the birth process in general and the mental game of coping with natural childbirth (which is why I created Birth It Up: The Natural Series)
  • Get yourself physically prepared for labor by strengthening your pelvic floor and staying as active as you can throughout your pregnancy—even just daily brisk walks make a difference! 

Related Reading: How to Make a Birth Plan

Read and listen to other natural birth stories

Having a natural birth is a rite of passage for many mamas. The insanely empowering feeling to know what your body just did is indescribable! 

One way to start harnessing that BEFORE you actually have your natural birth? Read positive natural birth stories! Nothing will get you more pumped up and committed to your own natural birth.

In fact, if you enroll in a Mommy Labor Nurse online birth class, one of the additional perks is access to our private Facebook group where you can read other mom’s positive birth stories!

A few highlight quotes from my OWN natural birth with my son Walter:

  • “I vividly remember looking up at the clock on the wall, seeing the time at exactly 3:00 AM and saying to myself, ‘I’m DONE with this, I’m having my baby with the next contraction.’ And guess what…I did!”
  • “He cried immediately, and I reached down for him and wanted him right on me…my baby boy was finally here. After delivery, I felt like superwoman.”
  • “That feeling right after delivery is something I will never forget. Think of the most immense pleasure you’ve ever felt, and times it by 1000. It was pure bliss!”

And I want to share some of my favorite birth stories that mamas have shared with ME

The mama who wanted a natural birth and made it happen with the right preparation:

  • “Mommas let me tell you—transition in no joke! But thanks to [Birth It Up] I was able to make it through contractions by repeating the mantra ‘pain for a purpose’. After nine minutes of pushing, my sweet baby entered the world at exactly 11AM!”
  • “Nothing can explain the pure joy of meeting your baby, and the rush of endorphins after birth!”

The mama that had a planned induction and STILL rocked a natural birth:

  • “Pitocin started at 5 pm. I started having regular contractions, but they weren’t unbearable. I was checked again at 6:40 and was still 4 cm. I was really discouraged when they told me because I had a 35-hour labor with my first and 3.5 hours of pushing…”
  • “My new nurse had me lay on my side in running man, because she was worried about a sunny side up baby…after 2 minutes of laying on my side I felt the baby turn and the contractions went from 0 to 10000.”
  • “I went from 4 cm to baby on my chest in less than an hour! It was such a different and redeeming experience this time around after my traumatic first birth.” 

If you still aren’t sure what you want – know that my natural birth course covers medical interventions in a positive light while also preparing for natural birth, in case you wind up like this mama:

  • “They checked me, and I was at a 9! I couldn’t believe it! I started bawling because I couldn’t get the epidural, and I hadn’t prepared myself for this at ALL.”
  • “27 minutes later, I pushed out my girl in only 2 pushes in under a minute.” 
  • “I never thought I’d be able to go unmedicated but I’m SO glad I did! I also never thought I could have a 3-hour labor, or that I was 27 minutes away from having to deliver in the car!”

Wrapping up

Are you getting pumped about making a natural birth your reality?

  • We talked about all the benefits of a natural birth
  • We went over the importance of a birth plan (with the caveat of a flexible and an open mind) and how your birth plan can be your voice and help you advocate for unnecessary medical interventions in support of a natural birth
  • We learned the top pain coping strategies for natural birth so that you can start building your own toolkit and fill it with resources to draw upon during the big event
  • We got you PUMPED UP about the extraordinary feelings and empowerment mamas experience after their natural births 

So how can you really seal the deal? 

To really up your success rate and appropriately prepare yourself you need childbirth education that’s tailored to a natural birth

  • You need SERIOUS preparation for this mental game!
  • You need to be informed about the childbirth process
  • You need to learn coping strategies and be PRACTICING these strategies leading up to the big day

And I want to help you have an even better birth! I want to hold your hand every step of the way. Click the button below to enroll in BIrth It Up: The Natural Series today!

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Liesel Teen, BSN-RN
Founder, Mommy Labor Nurse

Meet Liesel Teen

Hi there. I’m Liesel!

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

When you know what to expect and have the tools to navigate the experience, you’ll feel confident and in control.

I believe you deserve a better birth — no matter how you deliver.