If you’re pregnant, you’ve likely heard people talking about natural childbirth. But what is natural childbirth, exactly? Not surprisingly, it means different things to different people. Let’s discuss the meanings of the terms commonly used to describe childbirth.
What is natural childbirth?
Typically, natural childbirth is defined as giving birth without the use of epidural or narcotic pain medication.
With that said, “natural” birth really isn’t our preferred term. Whenever possible, we try to use the phrase “unmedicated childbirth” instead. “Unmedicated” is a much more accurate description of the experience. However, the phrase “natural childbirth” persists in familiarity and popularity.
Unfortunately, the word “natural” carries a sense of superiority to some people. The term risks encouraging women who choose pain medication to feel like their birth is suddenly less than ideal.
Natural childbirth is not something every woman should do. However, at Kopa Birth®, we believe it’s something every woman should have the option to do. Preparing for a natural childbirth empowers you with a wide range of options. This includes practice in a variety non-medicinal coping tools as well as information about pain medication options.
What is natural childbirth vs vaginal birth?
Sometimes people mistakenly use the term “natural childbirth” to describe a vaginal birth. When talking about the path of delivery, it’s most accurate to describe the birth as vaginal or cesarean and to just leave “natural” out of the conversation entirely.
What is natural childbirth vs normal birth?
Another term you might occasionally hear tossed around is “normal birth.” For example, the mission of Lamaze International is to promote normal birth. Yet, they recognize that the meaning of the words “normal” and “natural” have many interpretations. A Lamaze study found that 36% of women felt that ALL vaginal births are “normal birth”, while 63% of Lamaze Childbirth Educators defined “normal birth” to be a birth without medical intervention (1). It’s confusing, right?!
The World Health Organization (WHO) adds clarity by defining normal birth as one that has the following elements (2):
- Labor starts on its own
- Low-risk pregnancy, labor, and delivery
- Baby is born in a head down position between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy
- After birth, mom and baby are in good health
A natural childbirth (one without pain medication) that is low-intervention and meets the above criteria is a normal birth.
As with natural childbirth, the phrase “normal birth” can evoke a feeling of judgment. It can be hard to read the word “normal” without focusing on its opposite — abnormal. Given the risk for miscommunication, most organizations have switched from the phrase “normal birth” to promoting birth that is safe and healthy. Still, most agree that for low-risk women, the safest and healthiest births avoid unnecessary intervention. According to WHO, “In normal birth there should be a valid reason to interfere with the natural process.”
Kopa Birth’s online childbirth classes allow you to prepare for a natural childbirth in the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class to learn more about preparing for natural childbirth.
(1) Prusky, Sharon. (2017, February 17). What is the Meaning of Normal Birth? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.scienceandsensibility.org/p/bl/et/blogid=2&blogaid=188
(2) World Health Organization. (1996). Safe Motherhood Care in Normal Birth: a practical guide. Department of Reproductive Health & Research, Geneva.