Why Would Anyone Choose an Unmedicated Birth?

by | Jul 6, 2023 | You Ask, Henci Answers

You ask:

I’m wondering why anyone would choose an unmedicated birth. What is the benefit?

I answer:

Good question. I’m happy to answer it.

One reason is that DIY strategies—comfort measures, mental strategies and techniques, warm water immersion or showers, mobility and position changes, etc.—have no downside to them; epidurals do.

Another is that epidurals may be the standout at relieving pain, but it turns out that degree of pain relief and satisfaction with the birth experience don’t necessarily correlate. According to survey respondents, satisfaction with the birth experience depends on:

  • feeling emotionally and physically supported by their birth partner and other labor-support companions,
  • feeling emotionally and physically supported by their caregivers and having them respect their preferences,
  • being involved in decision-making,
  • feeling in control over their environment and what happens to them, and
  • feeling a sense of accomplishment and empowerment.

Being numbed from the waist down eliminates the need to work with the labor but also the agency, active participation, and teamwork that come with that need, which means epidurals tend to work against most of these other aspects of satisfaction. DIY strategies, on the other hand, promote them. And it isn’t as if DIY strategies don’t relieve pain. Again, according to surveys, they do, they’re just not as effective as epidurals, which for those who rank these elements of satisfaction above maximum pain relief, is all they’re looking for.

If what I’ve said resonates with you, I suggest you consider making an epidural “Plan B.” If you plan and prepare for an unmedicated birth, you can always escalate to an epidural if you find in labor that DIY strategies aren’t enough. Once you have an epidural, though, you can’t go back if it causes a problem or has an effect you don’t like. . . . Well, you can, but you have to wait for the epidural to wear off, which takes a while, and it can be difficult to take back the full intensity of the pain once you’ve been completely pain free because you’ll have lost your own natural pain reliever, beta-endorphin.

If you would like more data-based information on the pros and cons of epidurals, opioids, inhaling nitrous oxide, and DIY strategies, including the sources for what I’ve written here, you may be interested in my book: Labor Pain: What’s Your Best Strategy?

Medical Disclaimer: Henci Goer is neither a physician nor a midwife. Content and information on this website are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. Users are advised to consult their physician or midwife when making decisions about care.

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