“Going natural is the most natural thing to do”
In today’s fast-changing world, we are impacted by the growing advances in science and technology. This has affected us in various aspects of our life starting from what we wear, eat, travel, communicate and procreate. Who would have thought that sitting in a suburb of Mumbai we can speak, see each other and communicate with someone who is in New York city through Skype? Similarly, the medical advances have given us Test Tube babies, IVF & Surrogate mothers. Technology is good, advances in medicine are great and have improved the longevity of life. And yet equally there has been a rise in diseases which are proving to be more lifestyle-oriented ones like diabetes, stroke, cancer etc. Also, equally disturbing is the impact of the medicalization of birth which is not only affecting the mother but also the future generation of babies who are born.
Today, birthing which takes place naturally & normally is overshadowed by Caesarean section and unnecessary intervention. Why is this so? What has gone wrong? The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the C – section rate should be between 10-15% [world health report,2010] in any country, which means that 85-90% of women can deliver normally. However, what is seen is that almost 80-90% of women land up in a C-Section in most of the cities of the world, and more so in private practice. Is there hope? Can a woman give birth normally, more importantly naturally?
Yes, very much and this is a reality; every woman is designed by God to give birth naturally and she can. The history of natural birth is as old as a man. When the first baby was born, he or she was born naturally & unassisted without any intervention or even a doctor being present. Next came the midwives, who assisted the women in labour and helped them give birth naturally without any external intervention. Doctors came on the scene when the need arose for intervention to safeguard the lives of mother & child.
So then what is natural birth? Natural birth is vaginal birth without any kind of intervention. No medication (Pitocin or analgesics), no epidural, and no episiotomy. In simple terms, a non-invasive, non-medicalized, non-interventional birth where you allow the baby to enter into this world at his/her own time without hurrying or rushing is termed as natural birth. It is also a very personal, sacred, warm,
secure, emotional and a physical experience wherein, the woman/mom is in charge of her birth as she introduces her baby to this world.
We need to realize that a woman’s body is designed divinely to give birth naturally and it’s the most primary or basic way for the baby to come out into this world. So even if you do not do anything the baby will find his/her way out of the womb into this world just as other mammals do for eg., cows, dogs, cats and most of the animal planet. I know it is a bit hard to digest, yet nonetheless, it is true. We have medicalized our births & have forgotten our instincts.
At this juncture, it is necessary to mention the important role of midwives in regards to birthing. The first mention of midwives is recorded in the Bible around 1350 BCE in Exodus ch 1: v 15-20 when midwives Shiprah & Puah went against the Pharaoh (king of Egypt) and saved the lives of the male babies of Hebrew women. In India references to midwifery practice are found in the writings of Charaka and Sushrutha, the ancient Indian physicians. Even today, if you go to the villages of India, women give birth in the comfort of their homes and are being attended by midwives who are called “dais”. In India, natural birth generally takes place in rural areas under the experienced guidance of these dais whereas, in urban areas, predominantly births are medicalized and attended by nurses & obstetricians which are interventional.
But, over a period of time, traditional midwifery and natural birthing took a backseat as the midwives were accused of infant mortality and lack of professional knowledge. However, even today in villages of India largely these “dais” have been successfully delivering babies with their ancient wisdom & knowledge handed to them from their mothers and grandmothers who themselves were midwives.
An interesting fact I wish to share is that as we file the birth report to be given to the municipality recording the birth in our centre, it asks where the birth has taken place :
a) Government Institution
b) Private or Non-Government Institution
c) Delivery at house or any other place and who attended the birth:
i) Doctor/ Nurse/Trained midwife
ii) Traditional Birth Attendant
iii) Relatives or others.
This goes to say that the government has given you the privilege to birth where you want, how you want and with whom you want. It is the decision and the willful right of the woman to choose how she wishes to give birth to her baby.
Waterbirth is an extension of natural birth wherein, you give birth or deliver your baby in the water. The water used is warm and is maintained at 37-degree centigrade and the woman is lowered into a birthing pool up to her chest in water. Once in the pool, she remains there until she gives birth to her baby. An adult body consists of up to 60% of water and a three-day foetus is 97% water whereas, an eight-month foetus has around 81% of water. Water is part of us and hence, when the baby is birthed in the water, the transition is very smooth from the mother’s womb into the water as all along the baby was surrounded by amniotic fluid. Waterbirth has many benefits to both the mom & the baby. The warm water relaxes the mom in labour; she relaxes both physically and mentally. It also eases her off stress, anxiety and enables her to concentrate on her birthing process. It has also been noted that labouring in water increases the elasticity of the tissues of the perineum and thus, reduces the incidence & severity of tearing, thereby, eliminating the need for episiotomies.
The water birth equally benefits the baby as he/she comes into this world peacefully, relaxed and with no trauma whatsoever. The babies thus born are alert, open their eyes in water as they come out and move their limbs too. Waterbirth must have started many centuries back as its part of natural birthing and helps the woman in labour.
The earliest record of waterbirth is 1803 in France wherein, a woman, after nearly 48 hours of labour sought relief in a warm bath and delivered her baby just moments after entering the bathtub. Waterbirth came into prominence in Russia, France and other advanced nations like USA, UK, Japan, China, Switzerland etc. One of the chief proponents of a water birth was Dr Michel Odent, a French physician who noticed the benefits of water birth and offered it to all the women who came to the state hospital of Pithiviers, France. And today’s modern-day missionary is Barbara Harper, founder of Waterbirth International; who goes around the world teaching & training people in waterbirth. We have been trained by Barbara and have hosted her workshops in Mumbai, India.
Internationally, natural birthing and water birthing are carried out in hospitals, birth centres (both either stand-alone or attached to a hospital) and even at home. These births are generally assisted by midwives who are professionally qualified as CNM (Certified Nurse Midwives) or CPM (Certified Professional Midwives) who are trained in midwifery. In India, the natural birthing generally takes place in the rural areas for lack of medical facilities and even the trust factor. Most of the rural women still feel comfortable when a traditional midwife is helping her in giving birth. In the cities, this is gradually gaining ground as many women are aware of their options, have travelled abroad and even gone through the internet and having read books & articles have acquired knowledge about natural birth & water birth.
Today’s Indian women are knowledgeable, well-travelled and aware; she is confident and is very clear about what she expects out of life while respecting tradition & ancient wisdom. This is not just about the urban woman but also of the rural woman who is no more silent or an “Abla naari”. An example is Bhanwari Devi who was raped by upper-caste Gurjar men from her own village Bhateri near Jaipur, as she opposed child & infant marriage. She fought against her oppressors and inspite of facing ridicule and challenges, she won. The formation of “Gulabi Gang” by Sampat Pal Devi in Atarra, Banda district, Uttar Pradesh against oppressive husbands and domestic violence. So today’s women know what to do with her life & body. We need to stand by her and give her the privilege and dignity to choose the way she wishes to birth. Going natural is the most natural thing to do.