As your due date gets closer, waiting for the big day can be both nerve-wracking and exciting. While each birth experience is unique, it’s helpful to know what to expect.
Birthing your baby through the “birth canal” is called a vaginal birth. This is usually the safest way for your baby to be born and most women have vaginal births. Even if you’ve had a previous C-section, you may be able to have a vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC) for another birth.
An unmedicated birth is sometimes referred to as a “natural birth” or “physiological birth”, but simply means that you don’t use or need any medication during labor and delivery. This usually means you won’t use pain medication, such as analgesics or an epidural. However, it can also sometimes mean you don’t have certain types of monitoring or interventions like being induced or fetal heart monitoring. What one mom considers natural may be different than another mom.
There are benefits to not using pain medication such as not experiencing possible side effects. An unmedicated birth may not be a safe option for you and your baby if you have a high-risk pregnancy.
Medicated Vaginal Birth
Most people think of a medicated birth as one where you use pain medications. But it also includes when medications or interventions are used to induce labor or assist with delivery.
There are different options for pain medication during a vaginal birth.
- Epidural is an analgesia that is administered into your lower back that numbs sensation in your lower body. You probably will still feel pressure during contractions and delivery. The medicine does not cross the placenta to the baby and does not affect your awareness.
- A spinal block is similar to an epidural but is shorter lasting. It is commonly used during C-sections.
- Analgesics are medications that reduce pain throughout your body through an injection/shot or IV. It provides a calming effect and dulls the pain but does not take it away. You may feel “out of it.” These medications do cross the placenta so they will affect your baby for a short time. Because of this, you should not receive any analgesics close to delivery.
- Nitrous oxide is an odorless gas that helps dull pain and ease anxiety. You breathe this in through a mask right before and during a contraction and stop after the contraction is done. You may feel a bit dizzy, but the sensation usually goes away quickly. This gas is also helpful if you have a needle phobia or anxiety related to vaginal exams.
- General anesthesia puts you completely to sleep. This is only used during emergency situations.
As with all medications, you may experience side effects like itching, nausea, headaches, or low blood pressure. Depending on your health situation or current medications, you may not be able to take certain types of pain medication. Talk to your provider to learn what pain medications may be right for you.
Medicated births also include births where certain interventions are used to induce or assist labor.
Your provider may use medications or non-medical interventions to start (induce) labor or move labor along. These can include
- A foley bulb – a catheter that is inserted vaginally with a balloon that slowly expands to ripen your cervix
- Using medications called prostaglandins to help ripen your cervix
- Membrane sweep – your provider will use their finger to separate the sac from the cervix and uterine wall which can help start contractions
- Rupturing membranes or breaking your water – your provider will make a small hole in the amniotic sac to help labor progress
- Using a medication called Pitocin to help start contractions or move labor along
There are different reasons your provider may recommend an induction like if you are already past your due date or having certain pregnancy complications. In these cases, it can be safer to induce labor than to wait for it to begin naturally.
Your provider may also recommend certain interventions to assist with delivery if there is a concern about baby’s position or how you and your baby are handling labor.
- Episiotomy – a surgical incision to help enlarge the vaginal opening and make more room for baby to come out.
- Forceps – instruments that look like spoons that a provider will use to help the baby out of the birth canal
- Vacuum extraction – a small suction cup that is placed on the baby’s head to help the baby move out of the birth canal
Interventions like these are not usually needed.
Caesarean section (C-section) birth
A C-section is a surgical procedure when a baby is born through an incision made in your abdomen. C-sections may be planned or unplanned.
Your provider may recommend a planned C-section if:
- Your baby is not in the right position for a vaginal birth
- You have a pregnancy complication or a health condition that makes a vaginal birth more risky
- You are having twins or triplets
- There is a problem with your placenta or umbilical cord
- If you have had a previous C-section and a vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC) is not a good option for you
You may need an emergency C-section if:
- Your labor is not progressing and there are concerns about you or your baby
- You or your baby are in distress
Many moms have a preference of what they want their birth to be like during pregnancy. While it can be helpful to create a birth plan, but it is important to be flexible and be educated about the benefits and risks of what may be presented. Work with your provider on your birth plan to determine what the safest options are for you and your baby. Remember, every birth is unique and there is no wrong way to give birth. You are an active participant in the choices about your body and your baby. It is essential to make sure your voice is heard.
Blog Writer: Maria Bruzzo
Expert Reviewer: Rose Horton