You Want a Natural Birth – But What Does that Mean?

Today we’re talking about a term that Lamaze doesn’t use — “natural birth.” 

The term “natural birth” or “natural childbirth” has been used by parents seeking a certain kind of birth for a decades. In fact, “natural childbirth” was coined in 1933 by British doctor Grantly Dick-Read who published a book of the same name. Dr. Dick-Read defined “natural childbirth” as one where there is no physical, chemical, or psychological intervention that interferes with the normal sequence of labor and birth. In other words, a birth without pain relieving medication (anesthesia, among others). Instead, he believed in helping people learn to how to interrupt the fear-tension-pain cycle in order to reduce the pain of labor. 

Though many parents and some practitioners continue to use the term “natural birth,” it is problematic for a few reasons. When a certain kind of birth is described as “natural” — an adjective that is defined as something in agreement with or caused by nature (synonyms are “normal” and “pure”) — other births, by default, become “unnatural” or “abnormal,” or less than. When it comes to describing the human condition, language matters! All births are natural, no matter the mode of labor or delivery.

Some parents use the term “natural birth” simply to describe a vaginal birth (as opposed to a birth by cesarean section). Using the term “natural birth” in this case can cause confusion as well as cast judgement on birth by cesarean, implying that one is “natural,”/preferred/better than the other. Parents who give birth by cesarean deserve to know that their birth matters as much as any other kind of birth. 

In an effort to be clear, accurate, and mindful of how language impacts people, Lamaze uses terminology that describes birth accurately. For example:

  • birth without pain medication
  • low-intervention birth
  • vaginal birth
  • cesarean birth 
  • epidural birth
  • or simply, birth

For clarity as well as consideration of others, we encourage you to get specific with the language when preparing for your upcoming birth. 

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