Is Natural Childbirth Really the Goal?
Updated: Apr 11, 2021
As a Bradley teacher, the families who seek my classes often have the goal of a natural birth. This is a beautiful intention for the birth of their child. If this is your goal, I want you to know what you can do to help you achieve the birth you are seeking. But, it's not the sole point of taking prenatal classes or a way to measure whether the classes “worked.” Sometimes even teachers misunderstand what the point of our teaching actually is. Our goal is very clearly stated in the Bradley Method® Student Workbook:
Health mother + Healthy baby = Healthy family
Because the goal is the health and well-being of the mother/baby pair, in Bradley Method classes we cover a lot of ground and are thoroughly comprehensive. It's about the whole experience. The whole family as a unit. Therefore, our classes teach about and advocate for these essential components:
Natural birth: We teach about the natural, normal process of labor and birth - the physiological, mental and emotional components that comprise this amazing feat of nature. We are all a part of nature. Your baby is a part of nature. Nature underlies all the processes of our incredible bodies. Natural birth is simply what happens when no one interferes with the processes that are unfolding. Because we live in a society that exalts institutionalized and medicated birth (here in Los Angeles a woman has less than a 10% chance of having an unmedicated birth in the vast majority hospitals without preparation), the unfortunate truth is that a woman who dreams of giving birth naturally must have this goal in her mind going into it. It’s unlikely to happen otherwise as there are a lot of obstacles (not of her own making) in place. But natural is not just about "no epidural" - that is a pretty narrow definition of "natural." There are so many interlocking processes that make up nature's blueprint for the health and well-being of a mother and baby. I want you to know all of these and not judge your birth by any one moment or any choices that may need to be made. It's all beautiful and important. It's about the experience as a whole.
Active participation of the Coach. We call the person who attends class with you the "Coach.” This is your support person – usually the baby’s father, a husband or partner, or another family member. The title of Coach means they play an active role and it honors their influence on the pregnancy, labor & birth, and the postpartum experience. Pregnancy and birth are opportunities for bonding and creating deeper relationships. You absolutely need rings of support around you as a pregnant mother, starting with the person(s) closest to you in your life. You don’t want a partner who has no clue what to do during this period of time. Make sure it’s spelled out to them. They can’t help you if they don’t understand what to do. A clueless partner can derail a lot of your personal goals and lead to a negative experience going into new family life.
Excellent nutrition: The foundation of a healthy pregnancy and the main tool to prevent many complications which could alter your birth plans. What we eat impacts every function of our bodies and affects the development of our babies. Because most people have OB's and hospital births, this knowledge is rarely passed on to them. I very rarely see a couple/team who is already implementing all the nutritional goals we cover in class. Besides, I think we always need enthusiastic reminders to eat well throughout our lives - I never find this information boring. This is beneficial regardless of what type of birth you and your baby need. Implementing the guidelines increases the odds of a healthy mama and baby strong enough to handle the rigors of labor & birth.
Avoidance of drugs during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding unless absolutely necessary. How your baby develops is impacted by all sorts of chemical messages during pregnancy and also labor/birth. We live in a society that values using different substances for all sorts of reasons. Because no drug has ever been proven to be safe for an unborn baby and there can be unknown (and unintended) consequences, we advocate using caution with any medications/drugs unless necessary for medical/health reasons.
Training: This is essentially why our classes are 12 weeks long. You are using this time to train for labor and birth. In class, I am training your partner to be your support person, which is important if you don't plan to have a doula (and even if you do hire one; there are births where the doula does not make it in time - If your partner has absolutely no idea what to do - well, what can I say?) We start at the beginning and build up skills and knowledge over the 12 weeks. It takes time to prepare physically, mentally and emotionally for birth and new family life. Especially important when living in a society that doesn't have anything in place for you in this department and puts up an incredible amount of obstacles, like a slalom course. Marathon runners really do train for three months. Yes, birth is exactly like that. Buckle up, buttercup!
Relaxation and natural breathing: Relaxation doesn't mean sitting by the pool with a Mai Tai in your hand (although that sounds pretty lovely right about now), or endless binge watching on Netflix (just competed Discovery of Witches - I'm a hopeless romantic!) This is a learned response in your body. It takes effort and concentration. We practice this in class. You'll need to practice at home. We use more than one technique, so you can find out what works best for you. Again we focus on the physical, mental and emotional. It's nothing fancy. Very practical. Yes, we want you to breathe. Your breath and concentrated relaxation are inter-connected. It's your key to getting through labor (and really it's a needed life-long skill in parenting)
Tuning into your body & trusting the natural process: Labor and birth are hard-wired into your body. It's culture and personal experiences that make you mistrust this. Learn to trust your body and your intuition. Wisdom comes from the inside, not the outside.
Immediate and continuous contact with your new baby: Dr. Bradley always taught this and all current research confirms that this was always the right idea. We’ll go deeper into this and why it’s important.
Breastfeeding: The Bradley Method always advocated for breastfeeding, even when it was unfashionable. We’ll cover all the basics in class. Breastfeeding is about a lot more than your milk and feeding your baby. It's an incredible form of connection and communication. It's not just important for your baby's health, it's also important for your health.
Consumerism & positive communications: We live in a consumer culture. Healthcare is part of this. It’s a business and, thus, this model of care presents many obstacles when it comes to pregnancy, labor and birth, and postpartum. We do not have an integrated health care “system” in the United States that puts you and your baby first. Health care in our country is largely impacted by limitations placed by insurance companies, administration in hospitals, fears of liability, economic demands, a desire for efficiency and maintaining the status quo. In the business model of health care, you are a consumer and thus this means it’s important to have a good idea about what you are indeed "buying." Many new parents don’t realize this business aspect and how it influences how everything unfolds. I want you to have a good experience and to not fall through the cracks due to a fractured system of medical care. Positive and authentic communication with your chosen health care provider is essential to good outcomes. I want you to have a good relationship with your provider and to be able to communicate effectively with members of your birth team.
Parents taking responsibility for birth place, procedures, birth attendant/health care provider etc: This builds on the prior concept of consumerism. In a healthy society, you wouldn’t need to take a 12 week course to prepare you for everything. It would be all built in. Well, we do not have adequate systems and structures in place. I want you to understand you have rights and also all the different areas around which you are entitled to make choices as parents - during pregnancy, the birth and once your child is in your arms. Ultimately, it's your body, your baby, and your birth. You and your partner are the ones will be parenting this child - it's a 20 year project at the very minimum. Invest in yourselves.
Preparation for unexpected situations - variations in labor, handling complications, emergency childbirth and cesarean birth: A certain percentage of mamas and babies will need some help. Our first underlying concept is natural birth. This is usually the safest birth for both mother and baby. That’s not going to be true for every mother and baby. Each birth is different. Sometimes there is a health need or another unexpected situation occurs that benefits from some of the obstetrical interventions that are available. We are so lucky to have these when needed. We'll cover these and also things to advocate for when a cesarean birth is the right choice. Remember, it’s about the health and well-being of both the mother and the baby – not about whether the birth is completely natural. Nature is still involved. I want you to know where you can get back on the path of nature’s blueprint if you should need to take advantage of any obstetrical technique.
Teaching childbirth education is like building from the ground up. We live in a society that spreads myths and fears about birth. Our cultural narratives make women doubt their ability and puts many obstacles in place so that this myth is then confirmed. Our healthy care "system" is dominated by providers who do not believe in natural birth and make it very difficult for women and babies to realize their incredible power. You've been learning about birth and child rearing all your life. What is it you know? Most of us know next to nothing (or have heard only scary stories) about all the amazing processes that happen during pregnancy, labor and birth, and early parenting. Our adult lives have kept this secret from us. Pregnancy is such a wonderful time to invest in knowledge and skills that positively impact you, your baby, and your family life. Natural childbirth is not the goal. It is the process that happens when no one interferes. It is designed to bring us into deeper connection. It is designed to bring love into our lives. Our health and well-being are founded in our relationships. When your love for your child drives you and you are focused on the health and well-being of you and your baby - this will always bring you to the right place, regardless of what is needed in any birth. That is the ultimate goal.