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How Do I Prepare?

Once you've made up your mind to deliver naturally, you need to actively prepare for it — by developing a birth plan, making sure you'll be giving birth with the right caregiver in the right environment, ensuring that you have good labor support, and educating yourself about childbirth and coping techniques.

You can have a drug-free delivery in a traditional hospital setting, but it's likely to be easier to labor naturally at a birth center or at home. Birth centers are designed to provide a natural, family-centered experience and you can certainly arrange things as you like at home.

If you're planning a natural childbirth at the hospital, you'll need to discuss your wishes and goals explicitly with your caregiver, and find out which interventions are routine and how you might get around them. Certain interventions, such as having an IV and continuous electronic monitoring, make moving around more difficult. This tends to make it harder — though not impossible — to cope without pain medication.

Many women choose a midwife to guide them through natural childbirth. Midwives are trained to help you cope with the demands of a drug-free labor and will stay with you during labor. If you choose a doctor to attend your birth, you're likely to be giving birth in a hospital and relying mainly on the labor and delivery nurses on the staff to help you cope.

Some nurses are very skilled in natural coping techniques, but you can't predict who you're going to get, and the nurses come and go in shifts.

Find a childbirth educator with a strong focus on natural childbirth, perhaps someone trained in the Lamaze or Bradley method, to train you in various coping methods and help you understand what to expect during labor. Understanding what's happening during each stage can allow you to appreciate and work with your body's powerful performance.

Whether or not you plan to have a natural childbirth, it's a good idea to learn as much as you can ahead of time about both natural and medicinal pain management. Tension and fear tend to heighten the perception of pain, and anything you can do to lessen the anxiety you feel will help with the challenges ahead. (It may even help the progress of your labor, since high levels of stress hormones can affect your uterus's ability to contract.)

If you're planning on having natural childbirth, it's important to remember that no matter how well prepared, healthy, or confident you are, it's always possible that nature will throw you a curveball. You might need medical interventions that make it more difficult to manage your pain naturally, or your labor may be much longer or more painful than you had imagined. Even if you feel strongly now about how you'd like to deal with labor pain, a willingness to roll with the reality of your own labor and birth as it unfolds may ultimately be your greatest strength — and will also help you avoid disappointment if you don't have the "ideal" birth you'd imagined.

Beyond the resolve to give birth without medication, there are no special rules for a natural childbirth, but here are a few of the more common natural coping techniques:

Breathing exercises and visualization

Most childbirth classes cover breathing and visualization techniques. You and your partner may be given specific breathing patterns to practice, and your instructor may coach you on using visualization (of a place that soothes you, for example, or of the safe, easy birth of your baby) to help you work through the pain. You might also learn techniques like progressive or controlled relaxation, in which you focus on and then release tension by zeroing in on a particular muscle, tightening it up, and then letting it go until it's as loose as possible.

These techniques draw on relaxation and partnership as a way to manage your contractions, and they may work especially well if your labor progresses as it should. If you've ever studied yoga, a martial art, or meditation, you might already have the practice you need to breathe through your birth. You might find, too, that bringing something special to look at (a favorite photograph, for instance) and having soothing music helps you relax.


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