How learning about drugs can help you have a natural birth

by Mar 30, 2018Labour & Birth

Most pregnant women I meet want a natural birth.

OK, there are always some people who believe that they have a zero tolerance of pain and fully intend to get all the drugs as soon as they go into labour. And I fully applaud them. Regardless of your choices knowing what you want is always a great start.

But most people’s starting point is to try to get as far through labour as they can using the minimal levels of pain relief and interventions. In fact, you won’t even be admitted into hospital until your labour is pretty well-established so you have to spend at least a few (many?) hours at home coping as best you can.

This is why we go to Hypnobirthing or Active Birth Classes, attend pregnancy yoga, sign up to the NCT, and drag our partners to every single midwife appointment. So that we can do as much as we can to train to have a natural birth, or a natural labour for as long as possible.

We can see messages all over the internet about how natural birth can be beautiful/pain-free/orgasmic and let’s face it, we all want a piece of that, right?

Natural birth: is this the best option?

Of course, our bodies are DESIGNED to have babies. You could argue it is our fundamental purpose of existing: procreation. Women have been giving birth naturally for millennia. But women and babies have also died as well, which is why we are so incredibly lucky to live in a time that our medical advances can support our natural birth, and step in if things don’t seem to be going so well.

Natural birth may be our first instinct, but in reality over 50% of births in the UK have some form of pain relief or intervention either through choice or necessity.

In fact, some people develop medical conditions that mean an intervention is not just likely but necessary.

Some people have unexpected complications in labour and birth, or there is concern over the wellbeing of them or their baby.

Some people have really long labours that are exhausting and they become just too tired to continue without help.

And some people do find labour damn painful, much more so than they had anticipated, despite their preparation.

And not being able to achieve a natural birth can make women feel incredibly disappointed as if their bodies have somehow failed them and can even result in trauma or PTSD.

But being ignorant doesn’t guarantee you a natural birth

I know many people in the birth world who promote natural birth, encourage women only to hear positive birth stories, to change the language they use for things like contractions, and to wrap themselves in a bubble to protect themselves from fear and anxiety around birth. After all the stress hormones released from fear and anxiety are specifically detrimental to birth hormones.

And yet, what happens to these women if their birth doesn’t go to plan? If they go into labour and discover a complication meaning they have to have a caesarean. Or their baby is unwell and they are encouraged to have an induction? Or they just need a bit of help taking the edge off their contractions?

And being faced with all the medical terms that they have been trying to avoid, and a scenario of birth that they haven’t considered immediately can throw them into a huge spiral of fear and anxiety that can have a specifically detrimental effect on their birth, thus necessitating further interventions.

Knowledge is power, people

If only women would start to understand that just because you deny the existence of something into your reality, means that it won’t happen to you.

If only women would realise that the more they know about every aspect of their birth, the more they will understand it fully and the more they feel less fearful and anxious if things take an unexpected turn.

When women (and men) learn everything they possibly can about the natural birth process, ways to help that process, things that get in the way of that process, methods of coping with all parts of labour and birth, and understanding what pain relief options are available and their implicaitons, and what interventions could occur, then suddenly they are not the lemon in the room.

They become the EXPERT in their birth. They don’t have to read a long consent form about epidurals and their risks and benefits while having a huge contraction. They already know the score. They know what their absolute hard boundaries are and what their soft ones are.

And if they make choices they hadn’t expected to, or if things happen to them that weren’t in the plan, then they will know what is happening next and what to expect later.

I have been there

I had a difficult, lengthy labour with my first child. I managed 3 whole days and nights at home with just a TENS machine – and it was really full-on labour for that whole time.

But I ended up transferring to hospital (I was aiming for a home natural birth) and ended up having a multitude of pain relief and interventions in hospital without having a clue as to what I was signing up to.

I literally was passed a consent form for an epidural, after being in labour for about 80 hours, with no food or sleep, and experiencing hallucinations from gas & air, and I couldn’t even read it, let alone understand the risks and sign it giving true consent.

I was lucky that I had no serious complications, but the damage was done and the trauma from that birth came from agreeing to interventions with zero knowledge about what they were and what they might mean for me and my baby and frankly feeling completely out of control of my body and my birth.

The trauma for me was lack of information

I don’t want anyone else to go through this. Ever. I want every woman who goes into labour to be fully informed of all their choices, and not feel any judgement (from me, their peers or themselves) for taking medical options.

Knowledge is truly power in birth, and just because you fully understand what an induction is, doesn’t make you more likely to have one.

In fact, having a really good understanding of all birth pain relief choices and common interventions means that you can:

  • make really quick and informed decisions before, during and after your labour and birth
  • be on the same level with your birth partner so they can advocate for you if you are not able to make decisions
  • feel in control of your body and birth
  • ensure that your experience of birth remains positive, no matter what happens
  • help you to achieve a natural birth if this is something you really want.

But do you know what drives me insane!

But what makes me so mad is the way that no matter how much women want to educate themselves about birth, no matter how many books they read, emails to sign up to, watching videos on youtube, you just cannot get good information about all the pain relief options in labour, and the common forms of intervention that you come across during childbirth.

And not only that, you either seem to get very brief, rather uninformative leaflets – such as local hospital leaflets. Or incredibly dry, stuffy academic articles that you need a medical degree to understand.

Midwife appointments are just not long enough to cover all this stuff. NCT classes can be widely variable in content and length but are usually pretty expensive. Many other antenatal classes just cannot cover in detail all the things to cover.

So I wrote the guidebook that is missing

The book I have written does all this. It gives you full information using a BRAIN framework (a fantastic acronym to help you make decisions in birth). It provides impartial advice about the pros and cons of each option but also gives tips on the things you can do to avoid complications.

The most fantastic bit about the book, though, is 35 real birth stories of mums in my network who have shared their experience of choosing birth pain relief or having interventions so you can get a sense of what birth looks like from the non-natural point of view.

It is called Helping Birth: your guide to pain relief choices and interventions in labour and childbirth with real stories and is a 240p paperback, loaded with pictures, stories and information.

Helping Birth

In my book, Helping Birth: Your guide to pain relief choices and interventions in labour and childbirth with real stories, I go into great detail about all labour pain relief choices and common birth interventions. I use the BRAIN framework (Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, Implications, Nothing) to look at each option's pro's and cons, to help you understand which choices are right for you and your baby.

helping birth eleanor hayes

I discuss what each option is, what it feels like and what happens, discuss the risks and benefits, and give advice as to what you can do to minimise complications if you choose these drugs or procedures.

There is an insight to help you understand risks and statistics around birth, and also things that may happen to you or your baby such as continuous monitoring, and immediate cord clamping.

Each of the 25 chapters has women's real-life stories and experiences to enhance your understanding of what it is really like to experience these labour pain relief choices or birth interventions.

Buy the book for £10 on Amazon (free delivery in the UK).

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