As you’re getting ready to give birth, you may find that certain hospital standard practices and medical interventions clash with the birthing experience you want. Many of these medical interventions, research shows, are done more for convenience than for medical reasons. So it’s important to educate yourself and get involved in the decisions related to your labor and birth.
For example, a second-time mom once told me after a childbirth class that the hospital staff had confined her to a semi-reclined position as she was pushing her son out. She struggled, and though she did have the vaginal birth she desired, she was disappointed when she realized there were other pushing positions that could have made her son’s birth easier. So what can you do to avoid the medical interventions that go against your birth plan?
Here are 4 common labor interventions and tips to try and avoid them.
INDUCTION. There are various medical reasons to induce labor, but inductions are on the rise in the U.S. due to a recent trend of scheduling them for non-medical reasons — like to avoid going past the due date and to have a favorite healthcare provider attend the birth. That said, many women would like to avoid going that route. So what can you do if you want to kickstart labor naturally?
How to avoid: Some experts believe that acupuncture is a very efficient way to jumpstart labor without putting too much stress on the fetus. Placing thin needles into specific areas of the body is supposed to help it release the hormones that are responsible for ripening the cervix and for triggering contractions. Stripping the membrane, which needs to be performed by a doctor or a midwife, consists in inserting two fingers inside the cervix and separating it from the amniotic sac, which can then stimulate the body’s production of prostaglandin to soften and ripen the cervix.
Sex is also a great (and more fun) way to induce labor, as semen contains prostaglandin and can thus soften the cervix. What’s more, the body releases oxytocin during orgasm and nipple stimulation, which can get the uterus to contract. That said, if you are worried and stressed about your due date and about birth, relaxation can help quiet the mind and prepare your body for labor. So take a warm bath, catch a movie or take a stroll through the park. The more relaxed you are, the more open your body will be.
FULL-TIME FETAL MONITORING. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now considers that full-time external fetal monitoring is unnecessary for women who have had a low-risk pregnancy. Yet, full-time monitoring is still the norm in most hospitals.
How to avoid: For more freedom to move around, discuss intermittent monitoring or the use of a hand-held doppler scope. It can get you a more comfortable experience and more efficient contractions, and it can even aid baby get into an optimal position for birth.
EPIDURALS. With almost 70 percent of American women reportedly receiving them, epidurals have become such standard practice that we may not consider the side effects as much as for other interventions. But side effects do exist: a drop in blood pressure, headache, itching, backache, fever, accidental dural puncture, nausea, vomiting and shivering. Fetal side effects can cause be worrisome as well: fetal heart rate, fever, and delayed breastfeeding.
How to avoid: To go sans epidural and manage pain throughout labor, try massages, moving around, diaphragmatic breathing, water therapy and a variety of relaxation techniques.
PINS AND NEEDLES. An IV may not seem like a big deal, but it can stop you from moving, and some women who want to keep using their hands find it painful. The fluids that are administered through the IV, which are supposed to help prevent dehydration in women who are barred from eating and drinking during labor, have also not shown to offer better outcomes for the mother and child. Fluids can also affect breastfeeding and newborns’ ability to latch on. Plus, while baby is still inside the womb, he’s likely to receive excess fluids, which can skew his weight and cause doctors to worry if the baby loses significant amount of water weight.
How to avoid: Discuss the possibility of eating and drinking lightly throughout labor. As long as you are not planning on getting an epidural or on being induced, this should be an option.
Don’t let the commonality of these interventions fool you — there are many different ways to give birth. In fact, as long as you have had a low-risk pregnancy, you’re likely to have many options to explore and consider. So start to lay out your birth preferences, map out your priorities and communicate them as soon as possible to your provider. If you feel like he or she can honor your wishes, then great. Otherwise, you may want to consider changing practice. Any additional comfort and support you can get, from a doula or a partner, will go a long way too.