For potential mothers, preparing for the arrival of your baby is an exciting time. Aside from learning how to change a diaper and painting the nursery, it is important for pregnant women to make decisions regarding how to bring their child into the world. There are risks and benefits associated with natural, drug assisted or surgical deliveries.
During the Middle Ages, the business of childbirth was in the hands of the midwife, which, in Old English, means “with woman.” Pregnant women were attended by their female friends, relatives and local women who were experienced in helping with childbirth.
No anesthetics were available for childbirth pain but midwives typically used ungents and oils to reduce perineal tearing during childbirth.
There was a significant shift in the business of childbirth during the 1700s. Newer technologies played a role, as did male midwives or physicians, who began taking over for the female midwife. In fact, during this time, female midwives lost much of their status and were portrayed as unhygienic and unenlightened, and they were even associated with witchcraft.
This era heralded the use of instruments such as the vectis, which was used to alter the baby’s position in the womb, forceps to pull the baby out and a crotchet like tool which was used to remove a dead fetus from the mother’s body. By the late 70’s home birth rates in the US fell to 1% as more women opted to go to the hospital to give birth.
The C Section
Childbirth is very different today than it was in the 20’s.
In 2009, 32.9% of deliveries in the US were through c section. In 2012, the CDC reported that out of 3.9 million births registered, 1.3 million of these babies were delivered through c section.
When vaginal delivery is deemed too risky for either the mother or the baby, c section is deemed a medical necessity. Some women opt for elective c section when there is no medical reason for it. It is important to note that this is a serious abdominal surgery that carries many risks including;
- chronic pelvic pain
- long recovery
- up to 14% increased risk of still births or ectopic pregnancy following a c section during a woman’s first birth
- c section babies commonly develop respiratory problems requiring neonatal intensive care
- vaginal births are common after c section deliveries but the risk of uterine rapture during subsequent deliveries increases
Drugs or No Drugs?
The Bible’s Book of Genesis has God condemning Eve to painful childbirth for eating the forbidden fruit (“In pain you shall bring forth children”), but modern medicine has uncovered causal biological mechanisms behind the pressure women experience during labor.
Labor happens in 3 stages
- stage 1, early active labor
- stage 2 birth
- stage 3 delivery of placenta
Stage 1 is the opening phase that encourages the baby to move down the birth canal. During this stage, mild contractions in regular intervals can be expected. This lasts anywhere between 6 to 12 hours for first time moms. This time period will lessen after each delivery. Early labor is not very uncomfortable and some women can continue with their usual routine
Cramping, nausea, back pain and contractions begin to get stronger, last longer and come closer together during the active labor part of stage 1. This is when most women start heading for the hospital or preferred birthing area. Active labor can last up to 8 hours. This is when the epidural comes in.
Epidural anesthesia numbs parts of the body so as to block pain. This medicine is administered through shots or a catheter around the woman’s spine. They are considered safe to use and anesthesia compilations during childbirth are very rare.
Natural Birth Methods
There are still some women who opt to do things as close to natural as possible . For such women several options are available;
Women who participate in a yoga program during gestation have higher levels of maternal comfort during labor, experience less labor pain, and have a shorter duration of the first stage of labor as well as the total time of labor, compared with those who do not participate in a yoga program.
The Journal of Family Practice by Dr. Paul G. Schauble – notes that hypnosis has been used for pain control during labor and delivery for more than a century, but that the introduction of anesthetics during the late 19th century led to its decline.
In the UK and the US, a method called HypnoBirthing is taught by practitioners in various areas.
Women should educate themselves regarding the different options for childbirth available and speak to their physicians to determine the best course for them.
Have you made your birth plan yet?
For more articles on birth planning read our other articles:
First published at medicalnewstoday.com