A holistic approach to childbirth focuses on providing the soon-to-be mother with the safest and most relaxing environment in which to quickly deliver her baby with a minimum of pain. Where the mother chooses to have her baby will help determine the alternatives that will be available to her during childbirth. The first step is for her is to select an environment that makes her feel safe, comfortable, and fully in control.
Choose a Safe, Relaxing Birthing Environment
The increasing demand for holistic approaches to labor and delivery has motivated many hospitals to provide comfortable birthing rooms that offer more privacy. Should a mother wish to have her baby in a hospital, but still wants to have a natural birth, she should arrange for this option with her obstetrician. Options currently available in the U.S. include:
Free-Standing Birth Centers - FSBCs offer a holistic compromise between having a hospital and a home birth. FSBCs often provide a home-like setting in which the mother's friends and relatives may be present during the birth. They are generally staffed by experienced mid-wives trained in prenatal care and birthing. The obstetrician may also agree to be on call during labor. Approximately 15-20% of first-time mothers who choose a FSBC birth need to be transferred to a hospital during labor or after delivery.
Proponents of home births argue that home births are as safe, if not safer, than hospital births in terms of interventions, birth injuries, and maternal hemorrhaging. However, it is important that all women consult their obstetrician before choosing this option. Women with conditions such as hypertension, heart and kidney disease, anemia, diabetes, or epilepsy should only give birth in a hospital. Women who have had previous Caesareans, as well as first-time mothers over the age of 35, are also usually advised to have a hospital birth.
Water births were pioneered in France by Dr. Michel Odent and have become increasingly popular in the U.S. Women who have experienced water births report that they felt more relaxed during their labor because the weightless feeling of the water eased their pain. Others noted that birthing in water reduced the risk of perineal tearing. Advocates of water birthing claim that it is the least stressful way to give birth for both a mother and her baby because it shortens labor and makes pushing easier.
The birthing position(s) the mother uses should be determined by what feels comfortable and most suitable for her body. Standing and walking can enhance the dilation of the cervix and aid the baby's descent through the birth canal. Some women report that they needed fewer pain medications when they remained physically active during labor.
Staying in bed during labor tends to impair breathing, compress major blood vessels, reduce circulation, and decrease uterine blood flow. Some women find it helpful to squat during birthings because it also increases the pelvic opening by half a centimeter to a full centimeter. Other mothers report that they found it helpful to sit in warm water during labor. Each mother should discuss all of these alternatives with her obstetrician or nurse-midwife.
The holistic method of childbirth stresses that women should plan to have a vaginal birth without an episiotomy, vacuum or forceps extraction, or a C-section. Contrary to popular belief, pregnant women can have a vaginal birth even if they previously had a Caesarean.
Many experts agree that one of the best ways to minimize pain during labor is for the mother to be fully conscious of what is occurring in her body. They recommend that women continue to perform yoga, massage, or other relaxation exercises during labor that gently induce the "relaxation response." In the end, each mother will have to trust her own body's wisdom. The most successful births are by women who have confidence in themselves and their birthing team.
Holistic obstetricians do not recommend the use of forceps to pull the baby through the birth canal because infant deaths have been caused by forceps delivery. Forceps deliveries have also been associated with impairing a baby's vision and causing foot problems. Vacuum extractions, in which the baby is sucked through the canal, are also not practiced because they have recently been associated with decreased oxygen delivery and internal bleeding of the fetus during birth. In addition, they have resulted in leg problems in newborns.
Approximately 25% of all births in the U.S. are performed by Caesarean-section, the surgical operation for delivering a baby by cutting through the mother's abdominal and uterine walls. In some emergencies, a C-section delivery may be the only alternative. But it should only be used as a last resort because it increases the risk of maternal complications, including infections, bleeding, a longer recovery period, and less initial bonding with the newborn baby. According to the Public Citizens Health Research Group, Caesareans are necessary in only 12% of deliveries.
Holistic Therapies for Postpartum
Holistic therapies immediately following childbirth focus on mother-baby bonding, and naturally healing the mother's uterus and perineum. It is extremely important that mother and baby bond before the umbilical cord is cut, and the mother nurse her newborn baby before it is given eye drops. Placing the baby on the mother's breast will normally initiate suckling, which is important to future breastfeeding. Most infants will imitate crawling motions toward the breast immediately after delivery and suckle in less than an hour if they're not drugged or disturbed.
Holistic physicians also recommend that a mother nurse her baby before it is given vitamin K injections. If the mother has consumed vitamin K-rich foods or vitamin K oral supplements during the last month of pregnancy, her baby will usually not need injections. There have been several studies released linking intramuscular vitamin K shots with childhood cancer, whereas no such ties were found when vitamin K was administered orally.
The holistic method of childbirth recommends that women breastfeed their babies whenever possible. Breastfeeding has many advantages extensively documented in clinical trials, the most important of which is that it stimulates the development of the newborn baby's immune system. Breastfed babies, for example, have been shown to have lower rates of allergies, diarrhea, colic, stomachaches, dental problems, ear infections, respiratory infections, and meningitis than bottle-fed infants.
During childbirth, the mother's body is depleted of many essential nutrients which must be replaced as soon as possible during her postpartum recovery. Obstetricians normally advise mothers who breastfeed to consume at least three to four servings of calcium-rich foods each day, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meat, or cooked dried beans and peas.
Low-fat milk is an excellent source of nutrients, including protein, calcium, vitamin B2, and magnesium. Mothers who are lactose intolerant should consume foods similar in nutrient composition such as cheese, soy milk, dark green vegetables, and yogurt.
Nursing and Relaxation Exercises
The way a mother touches, nurses, and communicates with her newborn baby directly affects the development of its nervous system. Mothers who nurse their infants in a relaxed manner tend to develop fewer diseases and infections, and so do their babies.
- Simkin, P. (2010). Pregnancy, childbirth, and the newborn : the complete guide. (4th ed.) New York: Meadowbrook Press
- Stoppard, M. (2012). Preparing for childbirth. London : Dorling Kindersley
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