02/23/2017 11:32 EST | Updated 02/23/2017 11:33 EST

You Deserve Your Own Definition Of 'Natural' Childbirth

Is there any other time in life when everyone around you thinks they get a say in your life? Probably not, if we are being honest. Pregnancy and birth are an opportunity for everyone and their aunt to tell you what you should be eating, doing, thinking and planning.

One of their favourite topics is "natural childbirth."


(Photo: Gaiamoments via Getty Images)

Inevitably, whichever you are planning is the "wrong" answer. If you tell someone you are planning an unmedicated birth, you are met with a grin and nod in that "uh-huh, you are going to be begging for an epidural" kind of way. If you say you are planning an epidural, they wax poetic about the joys of unmedicated birth. Everyone has an opinion on your birth, and it is almost always going to be the opposite of yours.

What is 'natural?'

Natural childbirth is defined in many different ways, depending on whom you talk to. Some people consider any vaginal birth to be natural. Others use the descriptor for any birth that is done without an epidural, and still others mean birth with no medical interventions whatsoever. However you define natural childbirth is up to you.

Get me my epidural!

Unmedicated childbirth is not right for everyone. There are as many reasons to choose an epidural, as there are people who have them. The most common reason is that labour is more painful, harder, more intense or longer than people thought it would be. Many new parents expect the Hollywood version of labour; a few screaming contractions, water breaks (and you are always wearing a skirt!), two or three pushes, and a perfect baby is placed on your chest. In reality, most labours do not work that way. Most are longer and much harder. They are a marathon. For that reason, an epidural is the most common and preferred method of pain relief during labour.

Why an epidural, specifically?

Epidurals are the most effective method of conscious pain relief we have available. It is also the safest, as it does not affect your baby the way narcotic medications can. Epidurals are overwhelmingly effective in reducing or eliminating the pain and discomfort of childbirth. While there are other coping practices that can help during birth, such as hydrotherapy or nitrous oxide, they do not provide the same level of comprehensive pain relief as an epidural.

Epidurals are a tool, just like any other. No tool does every job.

Is an epidural right for me?

Only you can answer that. There is research that suggests epidural use can lengthen labour, the pushing in particular. There is also research showing that synthetic oxytocin is used more frequently in births where epidurals are being used. There are also cases of failed or inadequate epidurals.

However, I find that overwhelmingly those who choose epidurals are satisfied with their experience. Many express being able to be more present and calm during their labour, as well as being more "with it" when they meet their baby for the first time. Epidurals can also have significant medical benefits, including lowering blood pressure, easing stress on the baby and allowing labouring individuals to rest, which can give them the energy to push when the time comes.

Like anything else in birth, epidurals have pros and cons, and each individual will have to make the decision that is right for them. Nothing is right for everyone. Epidurals are a tool, just like any other. No tool does every job.

So what should I do?

You should do what works best for you! If what you want is to labour in the bathtub for as long as possible and avoid having medical pain relief such as an epidural, then make sure you get that bath drawn as soon as possible. If you are hoping for an epidural, make sure you are open about that when you arrive at the hospital and get checked in. The most important thing you can do is ignoring the critics and naysayers while making clear decisions of your own -- you know what is best for you.

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