The tools and methods used or not used to deliver babies are “natural” subjective only to the culture with which one identifies.
The American definition of “natural” childbirth has come to mean giving birth in a well planned, carefully constructed environment that includes pre-selected attendants, a special location, formal training in birthing techniques, and a determination to exclude pharmaceuticals and the tools of modern medical environments.
In “The Myth of ‘Natural’ Chldbirth” by Mary Ellen Stanton, C.N.M, M.S.N., published in the Journal of Nurse-Midwifery (1), Nurse Stanton says, “It is a commonly held myth that women from traditional societies who deliver their babies in mud huts in Africa or in the South Pacific deliver ‘naturally’ without pain and without need for intervention.” She explains that their experiences of childbirth are as essentially “natural” to their culture as hospital births are to others and no methods of childbirth are uniquely superior to others, although “some modern practices are much more effective and safer than methods used in traditional societies”.(1)
According to Nurse Stanton, here are some of the various ways childbirth is experienced “naturally” throughout the world:
Expression of pain is universal. There are no cultures in which pain and fear are not expressed.
In the U.S. childbirth is private and attended primarily by a male stranger. In some other cultures childbirth is semi-private and only attended by females. In still other cultures childbirth is a community event where the woman spreads her legs and anyone interested in checking it out can stop by and do so.
People induce labor by various means including: breast stimulation, sexual intercourse, herbs, vaginal lubrication, abdominal manipulation, hot bricks pressed on the abdomen, friends beating and kicking the abdomen, hanging the mother from a tree and community members pulling on the abdomen, gagging the mother so she will spasm, slapping and yelling at the mother, episiotomy, and stretching the vagina.
All over the world women give birth utilizing every variation of sitting, standing, kneeling, leaning and squatting. Some use birthing chairs, stools or rocks.
To induce the expulsion of the placenta mothers are asked to blow into a bottle or use snuff. The mother is shaken. People talk soothingly to the placenta, tie a string from the big toe to the umbilical cord, or remove the placenta manually.
The umbilical cord is cut with teeth, fingernails, or surgical instruments. It is covered with dirt or feces. And in Jordan, “the cutting of the cord is delayed several hours so that the child may ‘drink in the power’ from the placenta. The placenta is then wrapped in rags and kept under a grass mat under the newborn who is next to his mother in bed.”(1)
Immediate breastfeeding is common in some cultures, but not universal. Some cultures fast the baby until the mother has expelled all of her colostrum and her milk has come in. Some feed the baby during that interval with milk from wet-nurses or other other liquids and solids. After that, if breastfeeding is continued, attitudes toward that method of food delivery vary from indifference, tension-producing, and expedient to bonding, sexual (masturbating boy babies), and celebratory.
Rituals surrounding the birth of babies are culturally defined and as diverse as can be imagined. Based on observance of cultures the world over, certainly no “right” way to deliver a baby can be defined. And as for “natural”, we can leave that to be defined as whatever makes the mother feel the most comfortable.
It should make all mothers-to-be more comfortable to know that the kind of preparation one has prior to giving birth does not increase or decrease ones risk of having a cesarean birth or the need for the use of forceps. The Department for Woman and Child Health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden conducted a randomized study of 1087 mothers-to-be.(2) Some of them received “natural” childbirth training and some received general childbirth and parenting information classes. At the time of birth both groups had 52% epidurals, 66% spontaneous births, approximately 20% cesareans, and approximately 15% instrumental delivery (foreceps). “There were also no statistically significant differences between the groups in the satisfaction of the childbirth experience or postnatal parental stress (measured at three months).” (2)