Posted by: Ticktock | August 3, 2008

Crunchy Parenting: The “Natural” Birth Top Ten


My wife and I were recently accused of being “crunchy” by her boss.  We don’t really think of ourselves as crunchy, which I guess is one grade lower than hippie.  But then again, we do have a very alternative lifestyle:  a father who stays home, a natural-birth mother who pumps at work, and of course, we’re crunchy enough to have Obama stickers on our bumpers.  Well, imagine my surprise when I checked out Esther’s blog at Mainstream Parenting; she had a link to a crunchy parent survey.  At the end of the survey, I found that my wife and I are 69 on the crunchy scale, which means that we are only halfway to being captain crunch.  I’m fine with that rating… just crunchy enough not to believe all the hype and woo from the people at Mothering magazine, but also alternative enough to use cloth diapers.

I, of course, tip the scales to less crunchy as I become further immersed into the world of science and skepticism.  Indeed, I’ve adopted some of the crunchy issues that are important to my wife because I care about her.  On those issues, we make important compromises; for instance, the subject of this post is “natural” childbirth, and I supported her decision to have a drug-free birth, but I asked that it be done in a hospital and not at home. 

I understand that how you choose to give birth is a sensitive personal issue.  Some people interpret the decision to have a natural birth as a judgement upon other mothers who had an epidural or c-section.  Speaking from my experience, my wife and I try not to judge the experiences of other mothers, but we do judge the interventions and procedures of the birthing business.  As I said over at Babble’s blog, we don’t hate the grocer or the shoppers, we just don’t like grocery stores. 

If you’re interested, take a look below at our top 10 tips for parents considering a drug-free birth.   Feel free to add your own tips or opinions in the comments section.

Top Ten Tips for Parents Considering a Drug-Free “Natural” Birth

  1. Choose a midwife or obstetrician who shares your opinions and will respect your birth plan.  Doctors are seldom used to deviating from their typical procedures, so it’s important to find midwives, birthing centers, and crunchy obstetricians who are comfortable with your plan to have a natural birth.  According to my wife, birth plans are a hot topic among mothers on the forums, but we both feel that a clear and concise birth plan helped us communicate our wishes.  Something simple like having the baby immediately placed on your chest for bonding is a simple request that can be overlooked.
  2. Educate yourself about the physiological process of labor.  There are going to be some uncomfortable, awkward, and downright painful feelings that will occur at every stage of labor.  To be able to speak the doctor’s medical jargon is extremely important, as is the knowledge of the normal birth sensations that one might expect in labor.  We took Bradley Method classes, which can have accurate medical and historical information (do watch out for the infiltration of woo) that made us feel one step ahead the whole time.
  3. Know the typical hopsital procedures and your rights as a patient to make safe choices that deviate from that procedure.  It might not be fair to cast a wide net here, but many hospitals get into habits that are not compatible with alternative birthing.  Just know that you have the right to turn down unnecessary interventions, no matter how hard they are trying to persuade you.  A good question to ask to gauge the seriousness of the intervention is whether you or the child is in danger.  You might be surprised how many habitual interventions can be avoided, such as breaking the water, which we turned down during our first daughter’s birth.
  4. Allow yourself the freedom of mobility.  Don’t stay prone on the bed during the entire labor.  One of the understandable conventions of modern hospital birth is the idea that a pregnant mother must lie down during labor.  Not true, actually.  In fact, walking around makes it easier to push and far more comfortable physically.  So, allow yourself to bounce on a birthing ball, to take a shower, and to do whatever feels less painful to you.
  5. Don’t go to the hospital too early.  One of the sad truths of giving birth at a hospital is that they often need to turn and burn your birthing room so that they can make room for the next Mom.  The doctor doesn’t want to sit around all day and night waiting for your kid to pop, either.  He or she understandably has appointments, other birthing Moms, and a home life.  Those pressures will subtly (or unsubtly) affect the doctor’s persuasion toward intervention.  We were in the hospital all night for our 1st girl, even though we waited to go in until contractions were long and close together.  Had we not waited, our hospital experience would have been even longer.
  6. Be aware of the “ripple effect” of hospital interventions that lead to c-section surgery such as:  breaking your water, administering pitocin, getting an epidural.  This is where I expect to get the most debate out of my top ten.  The idea of an intervention “ripple effect” is not meant to attack the medical establishment, but just to acknowledge that it happens.  Pitocin puts you on a timeline that increases your chances of having abdominal surgery.  And you, the alternative parent, are specifically trying to avoid said surgery.
  7. Take solace that evolution has developed women’s bodies to give birth, and that the pain is something women have experienced for generations.  You are not sick.  Having a natural birth is a choice to experience the pain that our bodies have biologically evolved to manage.  It isn’t for everybody, but those who choose it are not crazy, nor are they sick. 
  8. Push in the position in which you’re most comfortable.  Both my daughters were born on the hospital floor as my wife squatted at the edge of the bed between my legs.  Such a position is nearly unheard of in hospitals today, but squatting was the preferred method at one time.
  9. Have a supportive partner (that’s me).  Basically, I acted as my wife’s advocate.  Sometimes that meant that I had to defend her wishes and convictions against her own temprorary desires to “GET ME DRUGS NOW!”  Of course, had she actually insisted on drugs, I would have respected her, but I also knew that she needed me to keep her strong during the pain.  I also defended her birth plan when she was too vulnerable to advocate for herself.
  10. Know the post-partum procedures.  This might seem stupid, but some hospitals just come and take your baby out of the room in the middle of the night while you’re sleeping.  Of course, they don’t do anything sinister, just measurements and shots, but still… how many times in your life after that day would you let anyone sneak your infant to another room without asking?  Never.  We also left the hospital as soon as possible after both our daughters’ births.  There is no reason why a perfectly healthy mother and child should stay two days in a hospital room.


  1. Hmmm. I wish you were more skeptical of the “natural” birth movement and the information they peddle, and maybe even more importantly, the assumptions behind the ethos of “natural” (or worse, what Lamaze haughtily calls “normal”) birth.

    I will say that epidurals do not increase the CS rate, though they have other side effects that some may prefer to avoid. And though I read the Bradley book before my first book and took a childbirth class based upon the method, much of the information there is simply wrong. The championing of the Brewer diet (which is supposedly a guarantee against pre-eclampsia) being one of the worst parts. There are some posters among Dr. Amy’s commenters who could speak of this at much greater legnth.

    Another important issue is that getting an unmedicated vaginal birth also has a certain element of luck-of-the-draw to it – based upon your risk profile which may change intrapartum, the baby’s characteristics, and there is only so much you can do to change this. Making too rigid a birth plan, failing to realize that birth is not “trustworthy” and failing to roll with the punches during the birth is a recipe for feeling like a failure; as is seeking the experience of birth as a gateway to self-actualization, empowerment or whatever…that’s way too heavy a burden to lay upon the shoulders of a 7lb. baby, or even a 140lb. woman.

    There’s more I could say, but I’m sure your wife hates me enough by now 😉

  2. You may be right about epidural and CS. Thanks for the link. One thing for sure is that pitocin puts the birth on a timeline that may likely end in CS. And pitocin makes the contractions harder to handle, which makes a “natural” mother more likely to ask for an epidural.

    I may have had a good Bradley teacher. I don’t remember the Brewer diet or any other nonsense being mentioned. I just remember that they really informed us about the history and biology of natural birth and our rights as patients.

    I actually agree that Moms should avoid placing natural birth on a pedastal. I would say that c-section was a fear of mine for the simple fact that it could have increased the chances of post-partum depression.

    My wife has seen a lot of arguing on the various forums, and it makes her feel judged and angry. So, that’s why I’m really trying not to champion the drug-free method as an example for everyone, nor do I want to make too many claims outside of the realm of opinion.

  3. Except that, again, a CS doesn’t increase the chances for PPD. The most important determinant for PPD is the mother’s prepregnant personality.

    That’s what I mean about being skeptical regarding the assumptions and information supplied by the “natural” birth crowd. I’m not in any way judging your wife for wanting “natural” birth; but IMO there is value in questioning whether so-claeed “natural” birth is an ideal women should strive for, or feel ashamed, judged or disempowered if they don’t/can’t achieve it. Not talking specifically about your wife, but about us women in general.

    (and I say this as someone who’s run the gamut WRT births: CS, medicated vaginal, and unmedicated vaginal).

  4. Ugh. I’d make a lousy secretary. “so-claeed”=”so-called” 🙂 .

  5. I’m not saying that CS increases post-partum depression. I’m saying that CS in my wife could have increased post-partum depression because of her principled stance of having a “natural” birth. I was basically agreeing with you that there is danger in placing too much importance on empowerment via birth method.

  6. […] and the parents are not doing it out of a fear of modern medicine), and as many of you know, I support a mother’s decision to deliver “naturally” (my wife did […]

  7. I gave birth to my almost 10 lb (first) baby at home, unassisted and it was an easy 9 hour labor with no complications.

    I was told that I was “high-risk” by midwives but upon closer scrutiny, I clearly wasn’t. I was very healthy and knew my body better than they did.

    I am very skeptic by nature, and very scientifically minded. This is why I vaccinate, and would not have hesitated or felt a drop of guilt if I knew I needed a cesarean section.
    I, of course, didn’t, as most moms don’t.

    I researched my ass off and I do feel that “normal” is entirely the correct term for natural birth. Complications and interventions are the exception, not the rule, as it appears they are when you watch shows like “baby story” etc.

    I could go on and on, but I’ll shut up now 🙂

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