So you want a natural childbirth? It's a lot like running a marathon

“I'm thinking about natural childbirth.”  As a midwife, this is something I hear often from my pregnant patients.  It's something I encourage and even champion, but with some warnings and a dose of reality. 

Having a baby without pain medication requires mental and physical preparation. You would never run a marathon without running around the block first, would you? One should not embark on natural childbirth on a whim.  Birth and long-distance running have much in common — and I've had experience with both. 

After a not-so-pleasant epidural experience with the birth of my first son, I decided there had to be a better way with my second pregnancy. I found a wonderful midwife and researched natural methods for coping with labor.  It really was a wonderful and empowering experience, and I remember feeling like I could do anything after my second son was born. 

But giving birth naturally does hurt. It was some of the most intense and unrelenting pain that I've ever experienced. I could not have gotten through it without both the support of my husband, and the months of reading and preparation that I'd done while pregnant. 

When I started running a few years ago, it was similar to my quest to birth drug-free. I was focused on a goal: to run a half-marathon. It took months of preparation. During long runs my body wanted to give up, and I had to use my mental strength to power forward. But after completing my first race, I felt a euphoric sense of accomplishment.

Like running, much of preparing for natural birth is believing in yourself. There are plenty of doubters who are quick to tell mothers who consider natural birth they are crazy. Facing fears and weaknesses, and being ready to push past the uncertainty and panic that may come during such intense physical stress are all part of the process.  At some point during natural labor the body will want to stop. This is when mental strength is essential, as well as unrelenting support — someone who believes in your ability, even when you do not believe you can go on. 

When advising patients who want to give birth naturally, encourage them to read as much as possible. Also suggest one of the many natural birthing method classes, such as Hypnobirthing, Bradley or Lamaze.  These classes will help with mental preparation. 

Prenatal yoga classes can also prepare the body for some of labor's physical sensations — training the muscles used in birth and helping fine tune breathing. Encourage patients to start early in pregnancy, have a plan, and stick to it. 

The exhilarating high most women experience after birthing naturally lasts for days and sometimes even months.  Similar to a runner's high, the feeling can be addictive. So far I've run four half-marathons and am currently training to participate in my first full marathon about nine months from now.

As always, feel free to share your natural childbirth stories in the comments section below. You can also email me, here, with your comments, questions or concerns, and I'll be sure to get back to you.

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