Just what is “natural” childbirth?
There seems to be a lot of controversy these days about the subject. I’m not sure why, because to me it is definitely a woman’s choice as to how she wishes to deliver. But let’s talk about it.
Dr. T’s recommendation: A little humor for health
A retired Navy man whose wife died is getting tired of sitting at home alone, so he goes to Walmart and easily gets a job as a door greeter.
After several months on the job he gets called to the manager’s office.
“Jim,” the manager says, “we really like you. You are good with the customers you always dress neatly, but you seem to have a problem coming in late a lot. Now, I notice from your application that you were in the Navy. Did you have the same problem there?”
“Well yes I did,” Jim said
“What did they say to you when you came in late?”
“They would say, ‘Good morning, Admiral, would you like a cup of coffee?’”
In the simplest terms it can be described as childbirth with minimal medical or technological intervention, usually involving special breathing and relaxation techniques. The most descriptive book I have read on the subject and the book I have referred to most of my patients who asked is “Childbirth Without Fear,” by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, a British obstetrician and advocate of natural childbirth. The first edition was published in 1942.
When you understand childbirth it makes a great deal of sense. Let me explain:
It will take about 280 days for a fertile human egg to become a fully developed baby ready to enter the world
At that time, a hormone called oxytocin secreted by the posterior part of the pituitary gland sets in motion a number of processes in the woman’s body, such as contractions of the muscular walls of the uterus to cause the traverse of the baby through the cervix and the mothers birth canal.
It is mostly muscle contractions that move the baby through the birthing process.
Now, let’s get to Dr. Dick-Read:
There are certain “fail-safe” protections built in to protect the baby. Let me be dramatic. Ages ago when people still lived in caves or huts, and the woman begins labor, should a predatory animal or other danger threaten her the fear causes the involuntary nervous system to kick in and initiates the “fight or flight” mechanisms of the body. She must either fight or run.
If such a danger becomes evident after the oxytocin has been released and muscle contractions have begun, the birthing process is halted by the cervix contracting and closing the uterus — essentially stopping the movement of the baby through the birth canal. The problem however is in the fact that the uterus continues to contract under the influence of the oxytocin
This sets up a situation of muscles against muscles. The uterine muscles trying to push the baby through the birth canal being stronger will eventually win out, but not before the uterine muscles are strained and the cervical muscles are painfully stretched.
Therein lies most of the pain of childbirth. Depending on what the mother chooses, this can be dealt with medically with pain-dulling drugs or epidurals, or by what is called “natural” childbirth.
According to Dr. Read, the pain of childbirth begins with the fear of childbirth.
With just the fear of childbirth the involuntary nervous system sets in motion the “fight or flight” reaction and the cervix tightens, setting up the muscular battle between the cervix and the uterus. This is a good time to refer to a line in President Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural speech in 1932, when the nation was deep into the Great Depression: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
How many girls are told by well-meaning relatives and friends, “Oh, childbirth is very painful!”
Yet as many mothers have told me, yes there is some pain but those comments are frequently followed by “what pain there is, is soon forgotten when you hold your new baby in your arms.”
As I have told many patients, “Try to not be afraid, every woman who has given birth has gone through this.”
Of course as a nutritionist, I must also comment that prenatal nutrition and exercise with proper stretching and toning are also very important for a successful delivery. We will discuss these in future columns.
Retired chiropractic doctor Francis Trapani’s background includes 41 years of practice plus teaching physiology, anatomy and nutrition at the college level. Now living in Walla Walla, he has written three books and is working on a yoga self-help manual. For more information, go to drftrapani.com.