Am I naive to think I can give birth without an epidural?Jan 09, 2023
by Stephanie Larson
When you’re pregnant, you envision your upcoming birth. You’re incredibly excited to gaze into your baby’s face for the first time and hold them in your arms. You picture your baby gazing back at you, alert and wide-eyed. You can hardly wait for labor to start so you can meet your baby face-to-face!
Your reasons for wanting a natural (unmedicated) birth may include protecting yourself and your baby from the side effects of drugs, since drugs will reach the baby through your placenta. Perhaps you’re aware of the ‘golden hour’ after birth and how important it is for bonding, and you know that having an epidural can make your baby less alert at birth and interfere with initial bonding and breastfeeding. Or maybe you've seen the 2022 study that showed that the use of nonpharmacological labor pain management methods decreased the risk of cesarean birth by 78%.
Initially, you felt really good about your decision to have an unmedicated birth and not get an epidural, but then people started telling you that you’re crazy to forgo the epidural. You tried your best not to internalize that, or become afraid, but it’s starting to erode your self-confidence. Now you wonder “Am I naive to think I can give birth without an epidural?”
The answer is a resounding "No!" You’re not naive, or crazy, not in the least. Birth is a normal physiologic event. Just because it’s possible to medicalize birth, it doesn’t mean that we should medicalize all births. In my experience as a birth doula, I’ve noticed that parents who experience natural childbirth have higher birth satisfaction than those who get an epidural. I can also answer from my own personal experience. I’ve given birth to four children, each without an epidural, dancing during labor instead of being in bed, and I experienced quick, euphoric births. I even gave birth to two babies who were over ten pounds! If it was possible to relive those glorious moments I would, in a heartbeat. I can tell you firsthand, that a natural birth can be such a positive, transformational experience, that it changes your life forever. It changed mine so much that I switched careers and became a birth professional.
To find out how others felt I asked 100 women to describe their unmedicated birth in one word. I was really curious about what words they would come up with. Well, the words came in and I was floored to see that every single word was positive! Not a single person chose a word like ‘painful’, ‘traumatic’, or ‘hard’ to describe their natural birth. That’s pretty surprising, considering the general assumption that birth is incredibly painful, and that not getting an epidural is akin to asking for suffering. What words did these natural birthers choose? Exhilarating. Bliss. Peaceful. Transcendental. Amazing. Sacred. Healing. Wonderful. Powerful. Liberating. Euphoric. And many more, all positive. This is a very powerful testament to the fact that birth can be satisfying, pleasurable and blissful.
I hope this helps to ease your doubts and reassures you that you’re not misguided to want and plan for a natural birth. The natural birth process is designed to flood you with love and bonding hormones that also relieve pain and elevate your mood. So continue to prepare for the natural birth that resonates with you, and be confident in yourself and your capacity to birth your baby your way.
Rodrigues VADS, et al. Nonpharmacological labor pain management methods and risk of cesarean birth: A retrospective cohort study. Birth. 2022 Sep;49(3):464-473. doi: 10.1111/birt.12617. Epub 2022 Feb 12. PMID: 35150169. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35150169/