The term "Natural Childbirth" is most widely used to describe a birth in which the mother labors without the use of pain medications.
In some cases, the term "Natural Childbirth" is used to refer to a birth in which the mother labors without the use of any medical intervention. However, most mothers will still consider themselves to have had a "Natural Childbirth" if they used medical interventions such as Electronic Fetal Monitoring, IV Fluids and even labor stimulating drugs such as synthetic oxytocin as long as they have not used pain relieving medications during labor.
For most healthy women, Natural Childbirth is possible. The female body is designed to labor and give birth, and centuries of history attest to the fact that a natural birth usually results in a healthy mother and a healthy baby.
Some women are concerned that a natural childbirth is dangerous for the mother or the baby because of stories they have heard about necessary cesarean surgery or other interventions. There is also a general belief that women "used to die" during childbirth, and therefore natural childbirth is unsafe.
The United States national cesarean rate, which hovers somewhere around 24%, is a relatively new phenomenon within the last 20 years. The maternal death rate dropped by half in the 1940's from 20 deaths per 10,000 live births to approximately 8. It dropped by half again during the 1950's to around 4 deaths per 10,000.
Infant death rates dropped from approximately 100 deaths per 1000 births to 47 from 1915 to 1945. The rate was cut in half again before 1970, when the death rate was approximately 20 deaths per 1000 live births. The current infant death rate in the United States is approximately 7 per 1000. All of these advances in maternal and fetal health occurred before major jumps in the national cesarean rate, leaving one to believe that cesarean surgery is not necessarily the major factor in the safety of childbirth in the United States Today.
No one will deny that adequate medical care improves the outcomes for mother and child. However, it is important to remember that medical care for most women consists of screening for problems. The health of the mother and baby is still the responsibility of the mother who will either live a healthy life-style or will not.
Every intervention has a risk. Sometimes the mother or baby are in danger and the risk of not using an intervention is greater than the risk posed by the intervention. When an intervention is used without a real medical reason, there is added risk for the mother and the baby that does not outweigh the benefits of that risk.
During labor, most interventions are not used because the mother or baby is in danger. The most common use of interventions are synthetic oxytocin to begin or speed up labor and pain reliving medications. It is rare cases in which beginning labor is necessary for the safety of the mother or baby.
There is no way to determine before the labor begins how much pain a woman will experience during labor. Some variables which affect the amount of pain are out of the mother's control, such as the position of the baby and the length of the labor.
Most of the variables that determine the amount of pain can be influenced by the mother. Simple things such as keeping herself healthy and well rested, staying hydrated and emptying the bladder frequently can decrease the painful sensations a woman feels. Other factors can play a large role in a woman's comfort level. Freedom to move and changing positions, a relaxed and supportive atmosphere and feeling that she has control over how her labor is handled can greatly increase a woman's ability to handle the stress and pressure of labor.
The most telling sign that the pain of childbirth is not overwhelming is studies that show the presence of a Doula decreases request for medication by 60%. In further studies, Klaus and Kennell had the same results by just having a woman stand in the room with a clipboard, not act like a doula. This leads some to believe that simply believing she is safe reduces the amount of pain a mother feels in labor.