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I’ve been asked by several friends and family members about my experience with a natural birth vs. epidural. With my first child, I had an epidural and gave birth in a hospital. Recently, I gave birth to my second child naturally in a birth center.
The truth is, I have two beautiful babies! I don’t regret either of my choices even though they are significantly different. Both of my births were memorable, uncomplicated, and special.
The choice to have an unmedicated birth for my second birth experience was not a decision I made lightly. Knowing what I knew after having my first, I was hesitant to cut off the epidural option. If you’re trying to decide which option is best for you, keep reading to understand the options you have.
What is a Natural Birth?
A natural birth sounds a little misleading because giving birth is a natural occurrence. In essence, all births are “natural births.”
However, what people mean by giving birth “naturally” is that they had a drug-free birth. They chose not to have an epidural or any other pain medications. They went through the process of giving birth unmedicated.
Why Do Women Choose Natural Birth vs. Epidural?
There are several reasons a woman might chose to have a natural birth vs. epidural. Some reasons might include health reasons for mom. Other reasons might be mom’s decision to not want to expose her baby to medications.
Whatever the reason may be, I can tell you first hand a woman does not choose a natural birth vs. epidural so she can score brownie points. She made this decision with her body and baby in mind.
Pros of Unmedicated:
- There is no interference with the baby’s birth progression;
- Less chance of tearing because you can feel when is the right time to push;
- Avoid epidural side effects;
- Able to move more freely during labor;
- Faster recovery.
Cons of Unmedicated:
- You can feel EVERYTHING;
- Potential for a longer labor and delivery due to fatigue and exhaustion;
- The pain could distract mom from a positive birth experience.
What is an Epidural?
An epidural is a type of anesthetic that is given by an injection into the spine. It gives a loss of sensation to the lower part of the body so that birthing moms cannot feel the pain and discomfort that comes with child birth.
There is typically very little pain associated with receiving an epidural. The anesthesiologist will numb the area where the epidural will be administered so that you don’t feel the needle being inserted.
How does an Epidural Work?
Once injected, an epidural works to numb the spinal nerves and prevents pains signals from traveling to your brain. It works pretty quickly once injected and laboring moms can expect to feel relief in about 20 minutes or less.
However, an epidural doesn’t take away the feeling of pressure and touch. You’re still able to notice those senses, which is necessary for when it is time to push.
Why Do Women Choose Epidural vs. Natural Birth?
The cat is out of the bag; labor and delivery is not comfortable! That is why they call it “labor.” It is hard work and your body has to go through many changes to get that little human out of your body. Choosing an epidural to help with that discomfort is not a bad thing.
Pros of an Epidural:
- Relief of discomfort in labor and delivery;
- Allows mom to have less stress during labor because she is in less discomfort;
- Generally, it is effective and safe to use.
Cons of an Epidural:
- Studies show a link between epidurals and interventions like c-sections;
- Side effects include fever, headaches, nausea, dizziness, backaches, etc.;
- Potential of prolonging the birth process;
- Increased risk of tearing;
- Pushing may become difficult;
- Limited to only being able to give birth in one position;
- Infection or spinal injury from the needle is possible.
My Experience with Natural Birth vs. Epidural
Some call me crazy for choosing a natural birth vs. epidural for my second birth experience. Because I had an epidural the first time, others assumed I would choose that route again the second time.
Things changed for me during my second pregnancy. However, I do not regret any decisions I made for either of my birth experiences.
My First Birth was an Epidural
As a first time mom, I was scared. All I heard about was how painful birth would be and that the pain was just so out of this world, it was indescribable.
Obviously, I wanted to do anything I could to not have to experience that pain. Therefore, I had it in my head from day one finding out I was pregnant that I would have an epidural.
With my first birth, I labored as long as possible at home before having my husband take me to the hospital. When we got there, the nurses made comments that I probably wasn’t as far along as I thought I was. Much to their surprise, I was almost 8 centimetres dilated. The nurse quickly asked if I wanted an epidural because the window for getting it was closing.
In that moment, I was nervous, scared, and having all these emotions running through me that I didn’t even hesitate to accept the epidural offer. Once the anesthesiologist was there, my husband stayed in the room with me.
Getting the Epidural
I was told several times to stay still while he attempted to stick this long needle in my spine. With each contraction, I felt myself becoming more and more anxious because I couldn’t stay still during that pain. It was impossible.
My anesthesiologist was great though and got the epidural in on the first try right before another contraction. He was my hero in that moment!
After the epidural, my labor did slow down and I did not progress as fast as I had been when I was laboring at home. As I laid in my hospital bed feeling the pressure of each slow contraction, my body also started with uncontrollable shakiness that lasted even after birth.
Once my son was born and the epidural was removed, my body took awhile to come down from the shakes. I never had any other side effects from the epidural… or so I thought.
My Second Birth was Unmedicated
To be honest, there has been quite a bit happening in 2020 and my prenatal care was impacted by all of it. I started my care with an OBGYN with plans of doing exactly everything I did with my first born. I was going to give birth in a hospital with an epidural.
Then the pandemic changed the rules and my husband was potentially not going to be allowed in the delivery room with me. Follow that with a notice that I would need to labor and birth with a face mask on, an OB who only saw me as a number, and I jumped ship without a second thought.
I was referred to a birth center in my area that I fell in love with. The only hesitation I had was that there was no possibility for an epidural. I swallowed my doubt and fear and signed up to give birth there.
Giving Birth Without the Epidural
The day came to welcome my little girl into the world. As the contractions grew stronger, I worked my way through them. I didn’t doubt myself and the work my body was doing to evict this little human.
It was uncomfortable as all heck. I actually learned to refer to the pain as “discomfort/uncomfortable,” which was a pain management technique used at the birth center. It’s a little mind trick so that you don’t focus on the pain.
My husband was amazing in letting me squeeze the heck out of his shirt and hands. I probably hit his chest a few times with a closed fist, but who’s keeping track, right?!
When it came time to push, and I warn you for what you are about to read, I lost all control of every part of my body. I yelled from a voice that I didn’t recognize as mine. The sensation of the birth canal opening as her head crowned can only be described as a kaleidoscope being twisted open vigorously over and over again (at least, that was the image in my head as I felt it happening).
Then the fiery bush that was my vagina burned as she came further and further out of my body. In every aspect of how fire burns, that was exactly what I felt in my lady bits. It was in these final moments I had wished for that epidural.
Thank God I only had to push three times and she was born.
The Difference Between a Natural Birth vs. Epidural
My experiences with a medicated birth and unmedicated birth were both positive. Although, I believe my unmedicated birth was a far better experience than my medicated birth. I was able to move freely about to labor and push my baby without worrying about that needle in my spine.
Additionally, nearly two years after having the epidural, I began to have back pain in the area where I was injected. This could be a coincidence. However, I believe the epidural is what caused that annoying, unrelenting pain.
If I had to choose again for a third birth, I might just choose a natural birth vs. epidural again. I labored so long with my first without the epidural and then went all the way with my second. Therefore, I know I can do it! I know I can power through. (Let’s hope I don’t have to find out!)
Birth is Amazing Regardless of Your Pain Management Choice
Either way you choose to give birth is hard. You are still giving life and bringing a new baby into this world. This also goes for moms who bring their babies in via c-sections. Birth is birth, in my opinion. Moms are superheros because of that!
Whichever option you choose, know that it is okay to change your mind and reevaluate your birth plan. Giving birth is a temporary pain. After birth is when the real work with your postpartum journey begins and the real fun with raising children beings.
Which birth experience did you have? Would you consider a natural birth vs. epidural?
For More Information about Postpartum:
- The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Depression Guide
- Fiercely Postpartum: A Postpartum Support Group for Moms
- Postpartum Depression: The Signs of Living with PPD
- Postpartum Surprises