10 Questions about Early Labor

Most first time moms wonder what labor will feel like, and wonder how they will know when they are truly in labor.  Many of my clients have plenty of questions regarding early labor, so I’ve compiled the ten most frequent questions I receive about early labor with their answers to help you through your early labor.

  1. What are the first signs that you’re in early labor? It is difficult for most women to know when early labor begins. Some women will notice contractions, but for other women who experienced many Braxton Hicks contractions throughout pregnancy, it will be difficult to pinpoint. Some women experience flu like symptoms like nausea or diarrhea.  Others will feel antsy and energized.
  2. How do you know it’s real and not Braxton Hicks? Time will answer this question. Though Braxton Hicks contractions can be regular, they don’t increase in intensity. Real contractions will become more intense over time, last longer, and will get closer together.  It could take hours to know the answer to this question!  Braxton Hicks contractions often dissipate with a relaxing bath and by drinking lots of water.  If contractions continue to pick up if mom is resting and well hydrated, it is probably early labor.
  3. How important is it to time contractions? What’s the best way to do this? Focusing too much on contractions during early labor is usually a waste of energy and focus. Contractions can easily be more than 10 minutes apart, and women should continue to function normally as early labor can last for hours, even days.  For couples wanting to time contractions, the correct way to do so is to time from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next.  So if one contraction begins at 12:00 and the next one begins at 12:13, contractions are 13 minutes apart.  About 5% of early labor is spent having contractions, the other 95% is waiting and wondering.
  4. What are some techniques for handling contractions early on? For the most part, early labor will not be very painful. Moms may feel antsy, and it may be hard to find a comfortable position, but she should not need to actively cope through most of her early labor contractions. Resting in bed, taking a shower or bath, doing yoga, stretching, or taking a short walk can help.  Distraction can also help.  Games, movies, tidying up, even finishing up the work day can be appropriate activities, depending on the woman.  Save the big comfort measures, like massage-deep breathing- and hypnosis for active labor!
  5. Is it better to rest up or stay active to keep things progressing? Activity should be minimal to preserve energy for active labor. I always remind my clients that you can’t speed up early labor, so there is no point exhausting one’s self by walking 6 miles! Early labor should be a time of resting, hydrating, eating simple-healthy food, and preparing emotionally for active labor.  It’s a great time to meditate, or even watch a movie or play a board game.  For women who already have children, it’s a good time to connect with older children with snuggles and reading books.  Some families enjoy baking cupcakes or a special treat to eat together once the baby is born.
  6. What should you eat (or not eat?) Food should be healthy, simple, and easy to digest. Steer clear from extreme pregnancy cravings!  Many women find fruit to be refreshing.  Fruits with lots of water like watermelon and grapes are popular.  Simple carbs like toast, crackers, and cereal are nice, too.  Many women get upset stomachs during active labor, so foods with onions and garlic can come back to haunt you later on.  Staying hydrated is very important.  Water is best.  Drinks that are high in sugar and stimulants should be avoided.
  7. What are some last minute things you should throw in the birth bag? To avoid last minute stress, the hospital or birth center bag should be packed before early labor. The only last minute items should be things that you need in daily life (like phone charger, toiletries) or fresh food items. Everything else should already be packed.  (clothes for mom and baby, diapers, camera, labor supplies etc) Items that women often forget are chapstick and bobby pins.  Labor is hard work, with lots of open mouth breathing.  It often leads to dry lips and crazy hair!  Some women also like to bring slippers and robes from home.
  8. When is it time to go to the hospital or birthing center? Most couples head to the hospital or birthing center too soon. Everyone is afraid of not getting there in time, but in reality, most births have more than ample time to get to the correct location. Arriving too early makes labor seem like it is lasting longer, and studies show that women’s perception of pain increases as soon as they leave their homes.  As long as the baby is moving and mom is not losing large amounts of blood, couples should stay home until they are well into active labor.  This means, having contractions every 5 minutes  that last for about 60 seconds, for at least an hour.  Contractions should be strong enough that mom cannot function normally through them.  She should actively be coping with her labor with deep breathing and other comfort measures like massage and relaxation.
  9. What are some “do’s” for early labor?
  • Do take care of personal needs. Enjoy one more nap, fix your hair/makeup/nails if that makes you feel better.
  • Eat and drink.
  • Pray/meditate
  • Smile!  Not only is today the day you have a baby, but smiling releases endorphins. 🙂
  • Alert your partner/doula/midwife.
  • Update Facebook status (kidding!)
  • Do make out with your husband (not kidding, it gets those labor hormones going!)  Oxytocin, the hormone of love is also the hormone of birth.
  • Do take time to clear your mind so you can enter active labor focused, relaxed, and free of stress and distraction.  Listen to lullabies, write your baby a letter, or finish up that baby blanket.  Thinking about your baby increases oxytocin, which is a vital hormone for childbirth.  Focusing on your baby during early labor helps your body and mind come together for a smooth active labor and birth.

10: What are some “don’ts” for early labor?

  • Don’t get hung up on time, early labor is not supposed to be short.
  • Don’t alert the world, (unless you want your labor to be interrupted with dozens of texts asking for updates).
  • Don’t eat fast food (you will regret it later).
  • Don’t go to the hospital during early labor UNLESS your baby isn’t moving, you are bleeding heavily, or your water has broken and it wasn’t clear.  (Water that is smelly or dirty is a sign that the baby has already pooped, and your baby will need extra monitoring.)
  • Don’t panic.  Your body was made to do this!

Presentations by Marie Bigelow, MT, AdvCD(DONA)

Professional Presentations

Do you run a professional or church group that would benefit from a guest speaker?  Today I am excited to announce 7 classes/presentations that I would LOVE to present to your group!  By combining LDS doctrine with scientific data, my presentations are sure to inform, engage and excite your group.  With over a decade of teaching experience and public speaking engagements, you can trust that you will be educated and entertained.  Currently, all of my presentations are available in the Treasure Valley and the Wasatch Front/Salt Lake Valley.  Contact me here for more details or to get something scheduled.

Below you will find my options.  Want something different?  Just let me know!  I’m happy to cater my presentation to your group’s needs.


Complimentary Presentations

Appropriate for Activity Days, Young Women/Young Men, Youth Firesides, Relief Society Meetings, etc.

Each presentation is approximately 1 hour- 45 minutes plus 15 minutes for questions/discussion.

  1. Redeeming Childbirth: Understanding God’s design for childbirth and how it fits into the plan of salvation. Also discusses how women are changed and magnified through the process of giving birth.
  1. Historical Birth: From pioneers to millennials, understanding how birth has changed for better and worse.
  1. Heavenly Mother: Where did She go and how can I find Her?

Stipend Presentations ($50-$100 depending on distance traveled.)

Appropriate for expectant couples, doula groups, childbirth educators, parent support groups etc.

Each presentation is approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes plus 15 minutes for questions/discussion.

  1. What is an empowered birth and how can I have one? Evidence based decision- making will also be discussed.
  2. A doula’s role to educate and still provide unconditional support. Finding the line between judgement and trained support.
  3. Make or break: How those you invite to your birth will influence it for good or bad.

Tuition Class (outside of Boise)

3 hour Music Birth Class, $75/couple.  Minimum of 2 couples.

As a one-night comprehensive class, Music Birth is perfect for busy parents-to-be, a great refresher course for experienced parents and an empowering class for all parents who want to have a safe and comfortable birth. This class teaches moms how to become deeply relaxed, support people how to effectively encourage and comfort the birthing woman, and is the only class that teaches how to effectively use music during birth.

Class tuition includes 3 hours of professional instruction, one signed copy of my book The Sacred Gift of Childbirth: Making Empowered Choices for You and Your Baby, Music Birth Class Manual, Playlist sample CD and Imagery practice CD.

Presentations by Marie Bigelow, MT, AdvCD(DONA)

Empowering the Next Generation of Birthing Women


Have you ever heard someone quip that showing a birth video to teens in health class is “a good method of birth control”? Like… to scare them away from ever wanting to experience something so terrible? I can see their logic, sort of.

Most of us don’t want our teens having babies at this stage in their lives. We hope they will use this time to learn, grow, get an education, and invest in their futures. (Futures that we do hope will include some grandchildren for us, am I wrong?)

But do the possible short-term benefits of this fearful outlook outweigh the long-term consequences of such conditioning? I’m sure, like me, you have heard girls and women express that they never want to give birth because it’s so scary and painful. The fear they experienced while watching that birth scene in the movie stuck with them.

So this begs the question…

How do we undo the negative conditioning?

How do we reverse the cycle? What does the next generation of birthers need from us to have more positive birthing experiences that they will look forward to, and not dread?

First, we need to point out to our daughters that media portrayals of birth are not the norm and are extra dramatic to add to the plot of the movie. 

I know my children have heard it a hundred times, but still I speak up and set the record straight whenever we see a media portrayal of birth that is sensationalized.

Second, we need to educate ourselves about the natural process of birth.

It is natural to fear things we don’t understand, so gaining a personal understanding of birth is key to helping the next generation understand it.

Yes, labor is work! But it doesn’t have to be torture. There are pains in this life that are healthy to fear, and that we should avoid: falling off a ladder, getting burned, or hitting your thumb with a hammer. We need to teach our daughters to differentiate between danger and discomfort. But childbirth is a healthy, natural function of the body. It is not something we need to fear and tense up about. The discomforts of childbirth are different than getting burned, or injured in some way. The pains and surges are the body’s way of working hard, aiding the baby’s descent, and telling you how to move to find and facilitate the easiest exit path for your baby.

Understanding the normalcy of birth, and learning ways to work with our bodies, can make a noticeable difference in how we regard the sensations we experience during the process of birth. This understanding also makes labor less frightening to the young woman who has never given birth before, and empowers her to view birth in a healthy, confident manner.

Next, we need to share positive stories with the younger generation so they know the wonderful possibilities of childbirth.

If all they hear is negative, they will assume that negative experiences are the only possibility for them.

My first four births were good experiences, but I believe could have been much better if I hadn’t been so tense and fearful of the pain. I hadn’t studied yet about different labor positions or healthy pain management techniques. I’m sure I told others how painful and difficult those births and recoveries were! ~Thus perpetuating the fear!

I remember going to a baby shower for a friend who had just had a peaceful water birth. While all the other women shared more of the horror type birth stories, she talked about how she labored privately, in the dark, on her hands and knees and the baby slipped out without too much pain. I wondered…

How could anyone experience childbirth, without fear and excruciating pain?

I continued to meet with this friend and absorb her trust in the birth process. She helped me so much! I wanted to have what she had! I studied every natural birth book I could get my hands on. I knew birth could be so different than what I’d previously experienced. I went on to have three natural births with trust and relaxation.

Wanting to empower my own family members with a healthy view of childbirth, I invited my children to attend the water birth of their little sister.


After this experience my oldest daughter has had many opportunities to tell her friends that she doesn’t fear birth, and that she looks forward to that special time in her future! Also, when relatives came to town to see my new baby, I let my niece watch my birth video, and afterward she exclaimed, “I’m so glad I saw that! Now I’m not so afraid to give birth.”


Lastly, we need to help young women appreciate and understand their divinely designed bodies and trust their innate capability to give birth.                                                            
In an age where our bodies are critiqued and objectified at every turn, we must fortify ourselves and our daughters with truth! We are wonderfully made! We must stop criticizing our reflections in the mirror, and learn to speak kindly about ourselves- and others. We need to tune-in to our bodies and understand how we function. When those around us complain about their periods or post-partum bodies, we can listen, and then add how grateful we are for the ability to conceive and carry a child and bring them into the world. We can talk openly about the rewards and marvelous blessings of giving birth, and not just focus on the challenges. We can breastfeed and nurture our babies confidently, knowing that young women around us are watching and learning. These fundamental changes will help the next generation to have a healthier view of their bodies and their capacity to give birth.

Questions to Ponder

* What do you think would have helped you to have more positive views of birth growing up?

* Who was most influential to you in your beliefs about birth?

Resources I Recommend

A great resource I recommend for helping you with the four items I discuss in my article is the book The Sacred Gift of Childbirth.


Written by Rhonda Cazier, birth doula and mother of 7

Serving women in the Boise, ID area.


4 Things that are Hard to Understand about Birth

As I wrote my book, I dreamt of giving women the birthing information they desire and deserve.  Information that empowers them to make the best choices for themselves and for their babies.  I dreamt of changing the world, one birth at a time!  But once people actually started reading it, I experienced a pretty big case of nerves!  As reviews started coming in, my nerves were eased with the glowing remarks of many readers and reviewers.  But there were a small handful of readers who did not like what they read.  I was prepared for that.  I knew it was unrealistic to expect everyone to sing my book’s praises.

As I contemplated the few negative reviews I received, I began to see similarities in all of them. Misinterpreting the message, not understanding the data, and attaching righteousness to scientific outcomes were common themes.

So today’s post is geared towards addressing these common concerns and hopefully adding some clarity to a very difficult and new concept regarding childbirth.  I worked tirelessly to find the perfect way to explain everything in my book, and overall, readers are understanding and appreciating it.  But I haven’t found the perfect way to explain it to everyone so I want to take the opportunity right now to try to fix that with my list of four things that are difficult to understand regarding birth.


1: There is a physiological aspect of childbirth. 

There is a physiological component to most, if not all, physical aspects and actions of our bodies.  This is not a hypothesis and is not up for debate as it has been scientifically proven time and time again.  The primary difference between my writing and other scientific writing is I am saying that God purposely created the physiological aspect of birth.  Other researchers believe that evolution created this physiology in order to promote survival.  You may believe whichever theory you choose, but they both have the same science behind them, and the same ultimate goal of a healthy birth with a thriving mother and a thriving infant.

When birth occurs naturally, there is a physiological chain reaction that promotes bonding, increases breastfeeding success, and strengthens the woman physically and emotionally.  While many of my critics have tried to discredit it, the physiologic component of childbirth is well-documented and as such is one of the strongest arguments in my book. Believing in the power of physiology does not discredit the power of the atonement or free agency, but gives a broader understanding of the mind-body connection, and helps us make choices that can lead to greater health.

The physiology of birth is another testament of God’s love for His daughters because it shows His love in every tiny detail of childbirth.  No, not everyone will experience birth the way God intended, but that doesn’t make the information less important or less true.  We wouldn’t dream of discontinuing teaching about the Word of Wisdom just because followers of the commandment will not have perfect health.  Healthy physiology is not guaranteed during birth, but is a goal women can reach for when planning for a safe and healthy birth.

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2: Mortality prevents physical and physiological perfection.

My book teaches that the design of childbirth is perfect, but our bodies are not.  We are able to apply this thinking to most aspects of our health, but for many it is difficult to apply to childbirth.  Surely God designed every aspect of our mortal bodies.  Every synapse and response is purposeful and perfect in theory.  Mortality takes a perfect design and allows it to be imperfect.  But the imperfections of mortality do not mean that God doesn’t have a plan for the human body and its many functions.

Physical injury, physical illness and mental illness, are all (to a certain extent) an expected part of mortality, as none of us are immune to them.  Since childbirth encompasses the physical and physiological aspects of a woman’s body, we can safely assume that mortality often interferes with the birthing process. God allows mortality to interfere with birth, just as He allows it to interfere with every other physical and physiological aspect of our bodies.  While God is capable of removing our earthly pain and illness, He often doesn’t, as experiencing these trials is part of His plan for us to experience mortality and opposition in all things.  God is also bound by natural laws, and mortality is a condition that we all agreed to – knowing we would be tested and tried.

Along with mortality, we can’t ignore how our personal choices have an effect on our overall health and on our births.  Just as proper rest, nutrition and exercise increase our chances of a long and healthy life, proper preparation and decision-making skills increase our chances of a healthy birth.


3: Our choices during birth often interfere with the physical and physiological aspects of birth, but that has nothing to do with righteousness.

Utilizing our free agency isn’t always a matter of right and wrong, and personal worthiness is not relevant to birthing outcomes. This is a difficult concept for the Christian who has always viewed choices as good or bad. There is no righteous or sinful options during birth, just safer options with no religious tandem.

People really struggle with this one because usually choices that lead to poor outcomes are also labeled as sins, and that makes it easier for us to know what God wants us to choose.  This is not the case in birth.  Receiving an epidural or needing a cesarean are not sins (a point I make several times in my book), but they can lead to poor outcomes.  Since we are always attaching labels of sin and righteousness to our choices, this makes childbirth choices difficult to process and understand.  If getting an epidural isn’t a sin, then why can it increase my chances of having postpartum depression?

Plainly because it interferes with physiology.

Physiological interference disrupts the birthing and bonding process for many women.  This information is crucial for women to understand, as Latter Day saints are encouraged (not commanded) to make decisions that support good health. Of course there are the big commandments like avoiding drugs and alcohol, but things like getting enough sleep and low sugar intake are healthy goals to strive for, but won’t keep you out of the temple.  Our food and sleep choices often lead to poor health.  Poor health, however, has never been deemed a sin.  But poor health does make life harder and prevents many of us from using our mortal bodies to their full potential.

The physical and physiological potential of birth is miraculous and life-changing.  When understood this way, we can’t help but see God’s influence and our own personal influence on the experience.  A natural birth without complications is not a badge of righteousness just as a difficult birth with many interventions is not a scarlet letter.  They are both the combination of mortality and personal choices. The purpose of my book is to give black and white information categorized into risks and benefits and empower women as they make choices for themselves and their babies.  There is absolutely no talk of worthy or righteous choices.

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4: Science doesn’t have to be politically correct.

Just like our LDS culture wants to assign sin or righteousness to everything, our modern-American culture wants to assign equality to everything.  Our politically correct world wants to give women the right to make any choice they want during childbirth, and present all choices as equally safe and rewarding.  While I agree that women should be given the right to make birthing choices for themselves, we should not ignore how those choices can affect a birth and the long-term physical and emotional health of the mother and child. 

As we strive for equality, we still must be able to admit that every choice will not lead to the same outcome.  Thankfully, data doesn’t have to be politically correct.  We can choose to honestly look at the data and admit that many of the choices we are given during childbirth interfere with the normal processes and functions of birth.  It may not be politically correct or popular to admit this, but the truth often isn’t.
For those who have misunderstood my work, I hope this has helped clear things up. For others, I hope you have enjoyed learning more about the incredible design of birth. Understanding the divine design of childbirth gives us more reasons to feel God’s love. This understanding also empowers women to make safe choices based in data and doctrine.  Choices that improve outcomes, build testimonies, and strengthen families.

A Necessity Disguised as a Luxury

“Therapeutic massage has been used for centuries to improve overall health, reduce stress, and relieve muscle tension”. *


As a licensed massage therapist, birth doula and postpartum doula, I have seen first-hand the benefits and effects of massage on pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period.  Today I want to tell you how I incorporate massage into all my areas of support and expertise, and teach you the many ways massage can support a mother from conception through postpartum.


During pregnancy I recommend at least one massage a month, but more if they are experiencing pain and tension. Some of my clients get massages every 2 weeks. I’ve had others who get far less. Whatever you decide, there is no doubt it will have a positive effect for you and your pregnancy. One of my clients decided to get massaged on the same schedule as her doctor’s appointments; once a month until 28 weeks, then every 2 weeks until 36 weeks when she started coming every week. I thought it was a brilliant plan.

Massage provides many benefits during pregnancy including: “*Reduced back pain, reduced joint pain, improved circulation, reduced edema, reduced headaches, better sleep and reduced stress.”  Plus, it feels amazing! Many women I know just do not take the time to take care of themselves. To me, massage is therapeutic, not a fancy “rich person” thing to do. My business slogan is; massage is a necessity disguised as a luxury. I get massaged every two weeks because I need it, and not just when I’m pregnant! My body goes through a lot and If I don’t take care of myself then I won’t be able to keep doing the work I love for long.

Some pregnancy symptoms that I have personally helped clients with include; SPD, carpal tunnel syndrome, TMJD, headaches, back aches, round ligament pain and edema. I cannot guarantee results but most of the time women see a lot of improvement.

Labor Induction:

Many women contact me during the end of their pregnancy for a kick-start labor massage. This is actually one of my favorite massages to do. Of course it doesn’t always work, but well over half the time it does. I have even had women go into labor on my table! (Which I never get tired of.) A kick-start labor massage includes relaxing the back, neck and hip area as well as focusing on the acupressure and reflexology points that are known to start labor. If it doesn’t work, at least the pregnant mama got some needed relaxation and tension relief.  I’ve learned special points to induce labor in classes and from mentors that have done this for years. I have practiced and honed my skills in the 6+ years since I’ve graduated from school.


There is a small percentage of women who don’t like touch during labor but most of them find that massage relaxes them and lessens their discomfort.  When my clients ask me if I can massage them during labor I always respond with “Yes!  And it will feel amazing!”

Almost all of my doula clients love foot rubs and back rubs during labor, as well as the counter-pressure techniques I do. There are certain acupressure points I use to make sure their labor progresses smoothly, especially if they have an epidural. I also use clary sage oil and some blends made by my doula agency, Beautiful Birth Doulas.

Since I specialize in massage I include one massage in every doula client’s birth package, with the option of adding on more massages if requested. I actually have a good reason to include this, besides the fact that everyone needs massage. First, women seem to go into labor when they are relaxed. so keeping them relaxed in the final weeks of pregnancy is very beneficial. Second, by giving my pregnant clients a massage before they are in labor, I can gage their pressure preferences, ticklish spots, and tense areas. This allows me to know exactly what each client prefers and automatically do it when I’m massaging during labor! (Sneaky, I know, but it really does make me seem like I have “magic hands”.)  Just as you want your doula to get to know you, it’s a good idea for her to get to know your massage preferences, too.


As a postpartum doula, I cannot neglect the “4th trimester.”  Though the first 6 weeks after birth are critical for recovery, this is a time most American women seem to skimp on. They feel the need to get up and go to church or go to the store mere days after giving birth. Here is my opinion, if you feel a surge of energy, save that energy for healing! And massage can be a great way to facilitate postpartum healing.

Massage is appropriate and useful any time after a woman has given birth. Massage done within the first few days postpartum is typically most comfortable for the woman inside her own home, and I am always happy to provide these (even when mom is wearing her postpartum underwear!).  Most moms who’ve had epidurals find that their back muscles around the injection site are sore and tender. Also many women give birth squatting or are bouncing on the birth ball during labor, which leads to sore legs and glutes.

Generally I tell women that 2-6 weeks postpartum is an ideal time to come in and get a massage. During postpartum massage I always include the stomach, which most women love. Don’t confuse this stomach massage with the often painful “uterine massage” nurses perform soon after a woman gives birth. This is a very gentle, soothing massage that can help your uterus shrink down to normal, organs return to place faster, helps with constipation and also with digestion.

If you have had a cesarean birth, I can’t do stomach massage until 6 weeks. If you are breastfeeding, postpartum massage can help with your strained back and neck from those awkward breastfeeding positions we sometimes find ourselves in.

Pregnancy changes the body drastically over 9 months. I believe massage can help facilitate these changes and make for an easier birth and recovery. I would encourage all pregnant women to make prenatal massages a part of their pregnancy journey.


Written Jennifer Anderson LMT, Beautiful birth doula and postpartum doula

Owner of Tachi Massage

898 S State St STE 310, Orem UT 84058

Mention this post and get $15 of a massage or $50 off a doula package.

Jennifer has been a licensed massage therapist for over 6 years. She graduated from UCMT. She’s loved every minute of it. The last few years especially, Jennifer has focused on prenatal massages, and is now a birth doula and postpartum doula. She usually incorporates massages into everything. Over the years she has worked at spas and chiropractor’s offices as well as private practice. She is always hungry to learn and grow her knowledge to share with clients and friends. Jennifer is married to an amazing guy Dennis and together they have 2 daughters, 6 and 4 as well as another on the way!


*I am not a doctor and you should discuss any lifestyle changes with your doctor or midwife

An Honest Approach to Natural Childbirth

It’s no secret that I love natural childbirth.  Not only do I love it, but research overwhelmingly shows that natural birth is the safest way for low-risk women to deliver.  That being said, I absolutely hate the natural vs. medical birth fight.  Why fight for a side when we should be fighting for safe birth?  For most women, natural birth is what is safest, but not always.  And just because something is safe, doesn’t mean it is easy!

I can’t fully support either side of the childbirth debate because both sides downplay certain aspects of birth, and both sides exaggerate.  The medical world downplays the risks associated with interventions, focusing solely on their benefits, giving women the false assumption that everything they offer is safe and prudent for every situation.  The natural world focuses on the physiological benefits and safety of giving birth, but downplays how physically difficult and painful natural childbirth can be for many women.  My writing typically focuses on giving women the omitted information regarding medical interventions, but today I’d like to focus on three areas that need improvement from the natural birth camp.

  1. Making natural birth out to be easier than it really is. Can natural birth be painless, even easy?  Yes, to some; but the overwhelming majority of women find labor to be painful.  Our epidural rate is all the proof we need to see that that general consensus is labor is painful.  It seems like natural birthers (educators in particular) are insistent on telling women that birth is not painful, as a way to almost manipulate them into wanting a natural birth.  But how does this serve the woman who will eventually go into labor and find out for herself that natural birth is not easy or painless?

Some women will have a 3 hour labor with a baby that was optimally positioned, but others will have a labor with a posterior baby that causes intense back pain that not only makes labor longer, but more painful, too.  Natural birth can be hard.  Incredibly hard!  And telling women otherwise is insulting and dishonest.  If a woman is strong enough to give birth she is strong enough to handle the truth.

Whether you call it a pressure wave, a surge, or a moment of intensity, it’s still a contraction.  You can change the name, but you can’t change what it is or what it does.  Yes, we can give women helpful tools to lower their perception of pain, but we can also give them realistic expectations of how difficult labor is to many women.  I like to tell my clients to expect labor to be difficult, but to also expect themselves to be strong enough to handle it.  This lets them know that perceiving their birth as painful is not them failing at birth, but merely experiencing birth.  It also lets them know that their body and pain threshold will rise to the occasion, and they will be able to cope.


If a woman is strong enough to give birth, she is strong enough to handle the truth regarding birth.


  1. Making their clients hostile towards medical professionals. Something happens when women learn the real risks associated with interventions.  They get mad, and they get afraid that a medical professional will take advantage of them.  However, taking these strong feelings of distrust and defensiveness into the birthing room can bring a lot of unneeded contention into a birth.

It is not only acceptable, but preferable for birth educators to teach their clients that although birthing interventions are grossly overused, that most medical professionals are merely just doing their job- providing the medical care they were trained and hired to provide.

It’s an interesting predicament for both parties.  The nurse is trained to give medical care, and the couple has chosen to birth in a medical setting, yet does not want anything the nurse is accustomed to providing.  Instead the nurse is met with contempt.  I see this frequently, and it serves no one and only makes what should be a peaceful environment one of tension and mistrust.

A truly educated and empowered couple can go into their birth without defensiveness because they trust themselves to discern what is happening during their birth and they have found a care provider they trust.  When they want to decline a procedure or option, they can do so without contention.  If they enter their birth feeling like they need to arm themselves against everyone who will walk into the room, they have chosen the wrong location to give birth in.  (Unless they live in an area where hospital birth is the only option.)

  1. Not preparing women for when they truly need interventions. I loved giving birth to all four of my children naturally. It made me feel strong and competent.  But when I wouldn’t stop bleeding after giving birth to my fourth child, I begged for Pitocin, feeling nothing could be more excrutiating than the uterine “massage” my midwife was giving me; and knowing my options were uterine massage, Pitocin, or hemorrhage.  Yet, I have seen women reject Pitocin after birth because they have been so engrained to decline interventions that they can’t even see that they need one!

We need to teach our clients that our goal isn’t to avoid intervention at all costs.  The appropriate use of interventions is our goal.  Our goal is not to routinely use interventions or routinely deny them.  Our goal is to understand them fully, and use them when they are needed and avoid them when they are not.

I remember supporting a woman over the course of several days who was planning a birth at a birthing center.  After days of intense contractions, very little sleep, and no progress with her labor, the midwife and my client jointly decided it was time to transfer to the hospital.  Yet when we arrived, my client was hostile towards the nurse (see example 2) and refused Pitocin for almost 6 hours. (ex. 3) She truly thought her job was to avoid medical interventions, even though she clearly needed Pitocin as her labor was not progressing and her body was showing signs of exhaustion. After “giving in” and accepting medical support she told me she felt like a failure, and didn’t understand why all of her friends could have an easy birth but she couldn’t. (ex. 1)

Sadly, I knew I had not prepared her for this moment.  I had prepared her for her beautiful, out of hospital birth.  Giving her little information on the possibility of having to transfer, assuming she would understand that transferring meant she needed an intervention the birthing center could not provide.

Childbirth education needs to be inclusive and extensive. In today’s world of options we can’t just focus on the safety of natural birth or the risks of interventions.  True childbirth education isn’t one-sided, but educates on the full spectrum of possibilities and options.  And that means not making your side of the debate seem infallible.

We need to educate honestly so women do not enter their births with unrealistic expectations, feelings of mistrust and hostility, or inability to determine if they need medical support.



Written by Marie Bigelow, MT, AdvCD(DONA).  Author of The Sacred Gift of Childbirth: Making Empowered Choices for You and Your Baby.   Marie lives in Boise, ID with her husband and four children.  She attends births as a doula and teaches childbirth education classes.