Natural birth — childbirth without any medical intervention, including pain relief — has gone from a granola subculture to a thriving industry. But as with anything that’s moved into the mainstream, fallacies, misunderstandings, and myths have also followed. Here are five of the most common myths about natural birth.
Natural birth myth #1: It is superior.
For some women, delivering a baby without pain medication, or other interventions, is extraordinarily empowering. For others, about 15 percent of pregnant women, a vaginal birth, let alone a natural birth, isn’t even a possibility due to pre-existing complications. For everyone else, childbirth falls somewhere in between. Dr. Rebecca Levy-Gantt, an ob-gyn who’s been in practice for 20 years, cautions against the tendency to think that a 100 percent all-natural birth is somehow superior. “There is no scientific evidence that it’s actually better for the baby,” she says, “nor does having a natural birth mean the woman is tougher, or a better mom.”
Natural birth myth #2: It gives the woman greater control.
Labor is unpredictable. Any obstetrician or midwife can attest that birth seldom goes exactly as the couple has planned. Having a baby without medical interventions doesn’t change that fact. What can give a mom-to-be greater control over the childbirth process is establishing a relationship with the professional who is going to be delivering her baby. That includes talking through all the ways childbirth can go other than how the couple has planned it, as well as discussing options for plans B and C, and clarifying expectations, long before labor begins.
Natural birth myth #3: A woman’s body just knows what to do.
There are many variations of this fallacy, including “it’s what women’s bodies are made to do” and “women have been giving birth unassisted since time immemorial.” The problem with all of them, according to Dr. Levy-Gantt, is they gloss over the fact that women have been dying in childbirth since time immemorial, and that the maternal (and infant) fatality rate has decreased drastically in the developed world since medical interventions began. “Yes, birth is a normal physiological process,” says Dr. Levy-Gantt. “But if we if just left everybody alone to give birth without any medical intervention, some women would die, or their babies would, during that process.”
Natural birth myth #4: They are riskier than medicated births.
There are no statistics that demonstrate that a natural birth is riskier than a medicated birth. Dr. Levy-Gantt says they can end up becoming riskier, however, if the couple has taken such a hardline approach to executing their natural birth plan that they refuse to adjust on the fly. “I think the best thing a woman can bring into the delivery room is her flexibility,” says Dr. Levy-Gantt.
Natural birth myth #5: They only happen at home.
While many natural births are also home births, it’s not the only option. A couple can also choose to have a natural birth at a hospital with an obstetrician. Doulas, who act as advocates for a couple’s desired birth plan, as well as provide mental and physical support, are welcome in most hospitals while others encourage births with midwives. Another option is to deliver at a birthing center, a home-like setting specifically designed for childbirth. Some birthing centers are independent and unaffiliated with any hospital. Others are located within hospitals, or have close working relationships with a nearby hospital. The choice of where to deliver is a personal one, and it’s different for every couple.