How to Prepare for an Unmedicated Birth   

How to Prepare for an Unmedicated Birth

Pregnant woman walking with her husband outside to get exercise.
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Eva Bane, certified nurse-midwife

For thousands of years, unmedicated births were the norm—an expected part of childbirth when pain relief wasn’t an option. But for some expectant parents, unmedicated birth is now a popular modern-day choice. 

Unmedicated childbirth, or natural childbirth, involves giving birth without using medications and focuses on letting nature take its course.

If an unmedicated birth is a goal of yours, you can mindfully prepare by taking a few key steps, says Eva Bane, a certified nurse-midwife at Mountainside Medical Center. “There’s a lot more education now and more interest in doing things holistically and naturally,” Eva says. 

Provider ‘Fit’ Is Crucial

Ideally, planning for an unmedicated birth begins before a person is pregnant, when someone is trying to conceive. That’s the time to find a health care provider—whether midwife or OB/GYN—whose practice embraces expectant parents whose birth plans desire minimal medical intervention. 

To find such a provider, Eva provides a few tips:

  • Ask family members and friends for referrals 
  • Look at hospital and provider websites to see if their messaging aligns with your goals
  • Ask providers for statistics on their vaginal and unmedicated birth rates to better understand typical outcomes

“It’s a relationship. Some providers are more open to a holistic process,” Eva says. “Midwives, in particular, are uniquely suited to take patients who want an unmedicated birth, because we’re trained in alternate birthing styles.”

It is certainly possible to have an unmedicated birth in a hospital setting, Eva points out. When compared with home births or birthing centers, hospitals provide the additional important benefit of having medical professionals at the ready in case intervention is needed for the safety of the baby or the expectant parent.

Four Steps to Prepare for an Unmedicated Birth

What steps can a woman take leading up to childbirth that improve her odds of having an unmedicated birth? Bane offers these tips:

  1. Attend birthing classes: Standard childbirth classes are especially helpful for those with no exposure or knowledge of the childbirth process. But certain classes—including Lamaze, the Bradley Method and hypnobirthing—focus on coping techniques that can help expectant parents better tolerate the pain of labor. “Additionally, watching birth videos can help you get more comfortable with the idea of labor,” Eva says.
  1. Choose pain-relief techniques: Pain-relief techniques can help women better endure pain by finding a rhythm and ritual for each contraction or surge, Eva says. Think about which techniques you’d like to try well before labor starts. Those may include:
  • Massage
  • Acupressure
  • Medication
  • Water therapy
  • Breathing exercises 
  1. Consider a doula: A doula is specially trained to support an expectant parent in labor physically and emotionally throughout their childbirth experience. But doulas don’t provide medical care, so they can be a pivotal add-on during the intensity of labor. “Doulas are the perfect people to be an advocate for a patient who doesn’t want medication during labor,” Eva says.
  1. Exercise regularly. Regular movement throughout pregnancy, including brisk walking, can make you more physically resilient when faced with labor pains. Certain exercises can also help open the hips in preparation for childbirth, including yoga, swimming and Pilates, Eva says.

Sometimes Intervention Is Necessary

At times, the best-laid plans go awry and expectant parents end up experiencing medical difficulties before or during labor that don’t allow for an unmedicated birth. These complications can include needing labor to be induced or undergoing a Cesarean delivery.

“Sometimes intervention is necessary, and that may alter your birth plan,” Eva says. “It’s important to think about what would happen if there were some kind of problem and what kind of pain relief or anesthesia you would want in that event. The key to being successful is open communication with your medical provider and team.”

Five Exercises to Prepare Your Body for Delivery

Talk with your doctor or medical provider about incorporating these five exercises into your prenatal plan to help your body prepare for a healthy delivery.

Swimming: Swimming is a great low-impact exercise to improve your stamina and keep your body strong for the labor and delivery process. 

Stair Climbing: Whether it’s taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or using a stair-climbing machine at the gym, stair climbing can improve your endurance and engage your pelvic floor and core muscles. 

Kegel Exercises: Kegel exercises can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Here’s how to do them:

  • Start by getting into position, either kneeling on all fours, lying down, seated or standing.
  • Tighten the muscles around your vagina—imagine you are trying to stop the urine floor to understand what this should feel like.
  • Hold the tightness for 5 seconds or so, then release.
  • Repeat 10–15 times.

Squats: Squats also help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, along with improving hip mobility. Make sure you are squatting with proper technique: with the spine in a neutral position, with your feet flat on the floor and your knees pointed in the same direction as your toes.

Walking: The simple exercise of walking can be one of the most effective ways to keep your body strong and healthy for delivery. Aim for 30 minutes a day throughout your pregnancy. 

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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