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Medicated or Natural Childbirth? You Have Options

Some moms-to-be are all about natural childbirth – forgoing medication during labor and delivery. Others want to minimize pain as much as possible while bringing their precious baby into the world.

It’s a very personal decision – and one you might decide to change once labor starts. There are several options from which to choose, including:

Nitrous Oxide

Some hospitals offer nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. It is a colorless, odorless gas inhaled through a mask.  It can be a great option because it is patient controlled. This will help with your discomfort, but it won’t numb you to all the pain. And it can leave you feeling a bit nauseous.  If so, there are medications that can help with the nausea. 

IV Pain Medication

Pain medication delivered via IV can take the edge off, but it might make you feel sleepy. It’s also only available within a certain window of time. Once birth is imminent, your team can no longer offer IV pain medication because it can decrease the baby’s respiratory drive. There is no specific cut-off time when this can no longer be administered; it depends on various factors.

Walking Epidural

Many hospitals offer what is known as a “walking epidural,” which can lessen the pain but still allow motor function.  In fact, moving around is safe and encouraged for mom because it can facilitate the labor process. Similarly, lying flat on your back is discouraged as that may slow the process.  The ability to change positions in labor can be an effective tool to manage discomfort. 

Full Epidural

If you decide you can no longer tolerate the pain, it may be time to convert the walking epidural to a full epidural. You won’t feel groggy, but it can make you feel numb from the waist down, limiting your mobility. Once administered, you will remain in bed, and a urinary catheter is placed to drain your bladder. Your OB-GYN provider works with you to find different positions, such as on your side or with a leg in a stirrup, to help move along the labor process. With an epidural, many women report feeling physical pressure, which can signal when they need to push. Other women don’t feel a thing and may need some coaching during pushing.

No Pain Medication

If you opt for no pain medication, your labor-and-delivery-services team will work with you to create an individualized birthing plan. Alternative methods will be suggested to help you handle the pain.

What an Unmedicated Birth Looks Like

An unmedicated birth can be anticipated and other times happens by accident.  If a mom comes in and labor progresses more quickly than anticipated and birth is imminent before an epidural has been administered, medication options become severely or entirely limited.  This is the time to use the non-pharmacological tools.

If you choose an unmedicated birth, planning is crucial. Prepare for it like you would any strenuous event.   Even if you are not planning for an unmedicated birth, you should have  coping techniques.

Prepare Your Body

  • Get exercise during your pregnancy
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat well

Prepare Your Mind

An unmedicated birth requires mental preparation. Your OB-GYN provider will also work with you to create a toolbox of coping mechanisms to rely on when the pain increases.

  • Breathing techniques
  • Massage
  • Changing positions
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness

If techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises are new for you, take classes to learn how to best use these tools and gain the necessary practice well before you enter the delivery room.

Consider Hiring a Doula

A doula, or birth coach, can be a wonderful resource. Doulas provide physical and emotional support during birth, which could include targeted massage or guidance in breathing techniques.

Ask your OB-GYN provider to recommend one. A doula service is typically not part of your in-hospital team. However, when it’s time to head to the hospital, you will bring this person with you to the labor unit as one of your support people.

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