What is "Natural Birth?"

When discussing plans for labor and birth, often the question arises as to whether the mother plans to “go natural.” It seems, however, that there is a relatively wide range of ideas about what exactly “natural birth” means. For some, it simply means that baby is born vaginally and not surgically. On the other end of the spectrum, some define natural as entirely undisturbed by even one interruption. And there is a large variety of options in the middle.

A quick search at merriam-webster.com for the definition of the word natural sheds a little bit of light on this dilemma. Under the term are 15 separate definitions, several of which have sub-definitions.

Many people agree that natural birth refers to no or very few medical interventions or medications. However, taken to its most extreme definition, it becomes impossible for almost anyone to have a completely natural birth. For example, giving birth in a human-constructed building could be considered unnatural, and certainly having an IV catheter in place is not “occurring in conformity with the ordinary course of nature” (definition 8a). One could also contend that even without any medical interventions or medications, a mother who pushes her baby out while lying flat on her back, with bright lights shining on her vagina and a room full of strangers counting to ten and shouting at her to push harder is not giving birth in a “natural” environment. Does a labor count as “natural” if the mother had her labor induced and/or augmented but used no pain medication? What if she had IV fluids? Does the mother “get credit” if she had medicine to help her relax in early labor and nothing else later on? Is it “natural” if the mother used herbal supplements?

Rather than asking the questions above, perhaps the question we need to ask is whether the mother was encouraged to labor and birth instinctively? Did those who were around her trust her to know what was best for her and support her in that? Unlike the 15 definitions of natural, instinctive only has two, the second is “prompted by natural instinct or propensity : arising spontaneously.” And perhaps an even more important question is: does she feel good, at peace, and regret-free about her labor and birth? Did she feel valued and respected? Is there anything she needs to help her process anything, and how can I support her in that?

Of all the definitions for “natural” birth that are available, our favorite is Cynthia Gabriel’s definition in her book Natural Hospital Birth: “the most instinctive, self-directed, intervention-free birth possible.” This leaves room for those situations where it is just not possible for mother to avoid interventions, and includes those key ideas that to be natural, it is important that the mother is setting the tone with her instincts and needs.

Check out our Birth Choices booklet for a step-by-step guide to preparing for your birth experience. 

Disclaimer: All content provided is for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease and no alterations in lifestyle should be taken solely on the contents of this website. Consult your physician on any topics regarding your health and pregnancy. Plumtree Baby, LLC does not assume any liability for the information contained herein, be it direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages.

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1 comment

  • Jill

    I like that you are clearing up what some of these terms mean.

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