Why We Need to Stop Talking About Giving Birth ‘Naturally’

Originally Published on August 17, 2020 Labor & Delivery | By Jenn Sinrich

Here’s a closer look at what people really mean when they use the term “natural birth,” and why it’s time to nix this phrase from the conversation around labor and delivery.

On the laundry list of inappropriate questions people leap to ask you as soon as they find out you’re expecting is usually whether or not you plan on having a “natural birth.” Aside from the fact that such personal and intimate information about how a pregnant person chooses to labor and deliver a baby is absolutely no one’s business, the question itself is complicated. What does “natural birth” even mean? Is there actually a way to give birth “unnaturally?” Plus, even if you think you understand the question, you might still be undecided on the answer. In fact, most spend the bulk of their pregnancy still learning their options and deciding on their preferred birth plan (if they even choose to make one). At Parents, the editorial team is making the call to move away from the phrase “natural birth” to instead focus on what pregnant people actually experience during labor and delivery. Here’s why.

What is a “Natural Birth,” Anyway?

Historically, a “natural birth” has been used to describe a birth that occurs vaginally without the use of pain medications (like narcotics or an epidural) or medical intervention of any kind. There’s been a shift in the last few years, however, in the language around “natural” childbirth. For instance, some people may say that they are hoping for a “natural birth,” but confuse the description to mean having a vaginal delivery versus a cesarean section. These are two wildly different birth experiences, but who is to say that one is more natural than the other? And then there’s the concept of medicated delivery versus unmedicated delivery. If you deliver vaginally, but use medication, is your birth deemed “unnatural?” After all, isn’t the act of giving birth in and of itself the most natural thing we experience?

The History of the “Natural Birth” Talk

It’s not to say that the terminology is being misused today—but rather that it’s been misused for decades. “After the erasure of Granny Midwives in the 1900s, birth became increasingly medicalized and childbirth was viewed with a new lens,” says Saleemah J. McNeil, reproductive psychotherapist, certified lactation consultant, birth doula, and founder and CEO of Oshun Family Center. “Modern birth practices and the rise in midwifery tap back into our ancestral roots and return to unmedicated birth practices which are deemed natural.” As a result of these changes, there’s been a new emphasis on giving birth without medication and it’s falling under the umbrella term of being “natural.”

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