Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tips for Achieving an Unmedicated Birth: Preparing Your Mind (Part 1)

When I was pregnant with Noah, I spent a lot of time reading about natural childbirth. What could I do to prepare my body for birth? What about my mind? What could I do to ensure that labor and delivery were quick and as complication-free as possible? Preparing yourself for something you've never experienced is as challenging as it sounds, so I'd like to share what I learned from my natural birth in hopes that it will help others in achieving their goal of having an unmedicated childbirth. Because there's so much information I'd like to share, I'm going to divide this into 3 separate posts. Part 1: Preparing Your Mind, Part 2: Preparing Your Body, Part 3: Strategies for Labor and Delivery

Let me just say, pregnancy and birth are a BFD no matter how they happen. This isn't meant to make anyone feel like there's one right way and that everything else is inferior. The "right thing" is different for different people. This is simply information about what I found helpful in the process of preparing for birth.

The psychology major in me knows how much power your brain has over your body, which is why I decided to make this the first part of the series. Take phantom pregnancy, for example. Despite the fact that a woman is not carrying a child, her periods stops, her abdomen swells, and she begins lactating. Her brain is so convinced that she's pregnant that her body starts acting like it is. Another example of the power of the mind is a study from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation that found that just visualizing a specific muscle being strengthened (without even working the muscle) actually makes it stronger. Bottom line? Your mind controls your body. This concept is crucial for achieving an unmedicated birth. So, what helped me prepare my mind for a natural birth?

Read every (positive) thing you can about birth. I think that learning about the process of birth and everything it entails makes it less scary. It also empowers you to make informed decisions throughout your pregnancy and birth.  Too frequently in obstetrics, common practice is not research-based. Act like becoming informed about evidence-based practice is your job. If you read only one thing to help prepare you for birth, let it be What to Reject When You're Expecting: 10 Procedures to Think Twice About During Your Pregnancy from Consumer Reports. It discusses in great detail how overuse of unnecessary procedures and regular use of practices not rooted in research have caused the US to have one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the industrialized world.  Many doctors will still induce (without medical reason) between 37 and 39 weeks, even though research shows us that a baby is still experiencing significant development during this time period. Artificial rupture of membranes is also common practice, despite the fact that research tells us that, on average, breaking a woman's water doesn't decrease the length of labor. You and your baby deserve to recieve medical care based on sound research. Be informed.

If you have time, check out 'More Business of Being Born'. I particularly enjoyed the interview with Ina May Gaskin in the segment entitled 'Down on the Farm' and the birth stories in 'Special Deliveries'. Watching these segments provided me with useful, interesting information that solidified my decision to have a natural birth. It's also interesting to hear about other women's birth stories and what worked for them. 

This method appealed to me because, like I said, my education taught me the power of the mind. Hypnobirthing consists of guided relaxation, visualization, and positive affirmations. The classes and book were full of useful information, but one concept that really resonated with me was the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle. It's the idea that fear (of birth or pain associated with birth) causes physical tension in your body, which leads to additional pain. If you can eliminate fear and tension, it will help to minimize pain. Believing that birth is a natural process that your body was built for and understanding exactly what is happening during the process can help to eliminate fear. The guided relaxation component of Hypnobirthing also helped me to learn how to relax my body and mind, which is an integral part of mastering the Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle.

I think that so much of birth (and life generally, really) is a confidence game. You need to believe in your body's ability to give birth. Part of the Hypnobirthing program was listening to and repeating positive affirmations like, 'I am focused on a smooth, easy birth', 'My mind is relaxed, my body is relaxed', 'I trust my body and follow its lead', and 'My baby's birth will be easy because I am so relaxed'. Believe that you are capable. Have faith that it will go well.

For the sake of your confidence, I would also recommend keeping your plans for a natural birth to yourself unless you're being asked or you know that the person you're talking to will be supportive. Josh and I followed this piece of advice, and I'm so glad we did. Comments I got from the people who asked what our birth plan was: "Ha! Good luck with that!" "I said I'd have a natural birth too. You'll change your mind when the contractions start", and "You think you're going to have a natural birth?! I bet you'll be begging for the epidural at 4 cm". Equally as important as avoiding/ignoring negativity is sharing your plans with people who will encourage and support you. Giving birth without pain meds is a crazy hard thing, but you're totally capable and you don't need people telling you otherwise!

Check out Part 2: Preparing Your Body, and Part 3: Strategies for Labor and Delivery


  1. Congrats for being able to make it through unmedicated. I totally intended on it with my first but complications arose and they began talking Csection! With that in my future - I took the epidural and wouldn't you was born less than an hour later. It totally calmed my nerves and allowed me to relax. I would have liked to have went longer with no meds but they said scalpel and I JUMPED! CONGRATS! I am hosting a bloghop today and would love for you to swing by and link up! I hope to see you there!

    1. I totally get why people go with an epidural! Every labor and delivery are different and I was lucky to have things be very quick and complication-free :)!

    2. I was so set to do it natural. The birthing center I used even baked bread when the baby was almost here! I was so excited for a water birth!!! I can't be too sad...the baby was healthy and I had a short labor! My sister in law luckily had an unmedicated birth - her baby had to be rushed to the childrens hospital right after birth. Since she had no meds, she jumped up and checked herself out to go with the baby. That was lucky!

      I hope you will swing by and linkup today at the Friday Follow Along!!

  2. Some great information for those that want to go through without medication! Congratulations on doing that yourself.

    Thank you for linking to Raising Imperfection.
    Please come back Friday to see if you were featured. :)

    (¸¤ Lanaya | xoxo

  3. I agree with you that confidence is SO important if you are going for a natural birth. The doctors push the drugs so much that it's easy to allow fear to get the best of you. I KNEW God made my body to give birth, and that it would happen naturally...and it did! Thanks for linking this up with Mommy Moments:)

    1. I so agree that doctors are too quick to suggest interventions. There's definitely a place for modern medicine in the birth process, but I think that it is overused in our current system. Congrats on going natural!

  4. Great post! I just pinned it. We took Bradley Classes, but next time around I am going to invest in Hypnobabies. One of the (many) things I learned about myself through our first labor experience was the power my mind had over my body, and that I was too "in my head."

    1. So important! I went back and forth between Bradley and HypnoBirthing, and I'm really glad that I decided to go with Hypno because my understanding of Bradley is that it's "husband-coached", and the LAST thing I wanted to hear during labor was my husbands voice! Lol! Thank goodness for my fantastic nurse!

  5. Thank you for the informative post! I am delivering in August & it is my plan to have an non-medicated labor. I have signed up for your general birthing class, but I am certainly going to invest in a hypnobirthing course as well!

  6. What book are you referring to for Hypobirthing?


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