You might feel pressured to have a natural birth or an epidural, but the fact is that one isn't necessarily better than the other.
You might feel pressured to have a natural birth or an epidural, but the fact is that one isn’t necessarily better than the other.

There is no wrong way to give birth. You might feel pressured to have a natural birth or an epidural, but the fact is that one isn’t necessarily better than the other. What’s better for you depends on your health, your pregnancy, and your views.

What is natural birth?

Natural labor and childbirth happen when you have vaginal childbirth without any medication. Some women have different opinions on what qualifies as natural childbirth.

Some feel that a baby delivered vaginally is a natural birth regardless of whether pain medication is used or not. Others feel that natural births are only vaginal births without medication.

Either way, while the mechanics of birth are the same for all women, the experience of natural birth is different for everyone.

What is an epidural?

An epidural is the most common type of pain medication used in childbirth. It involves putting a tube in the epidural space in your spine to deliver medications. This numbs the nerves that carry the pain signals from your birth canal to your brain.

Epidurals are safe for most people and your baby. There are some potential risks, as is the case with all medications and procedures, but they are low.

Pregnancy labor: natural vs. epidural

How do you choose which option is best for you? Talk to your doctor about your pregnancy and your health. If you have a healthy pregnancy and baby, then think about what is important to you.

You might want to have a natural birth because you love a challenge. Or you might just want to have the experience to see what your body can do. You might also be keen to avoid pain and want to have an easy experience. Both options have pros and cons.

Pros of natural birth

There are some benefits to natural birth that outweigh the pain. During a natural birth:

  • You can walk around during labor. This can relieve boredom during early labor, help move your baby into place, and ease the intensity of contractions.
  • You won’t have any side effects of medications
  • You can have a sense of accomplishment
  • You can labor in the bath or shower
  • You’re less likely to need more interventions like catheters, drugs, or the vacuum or forceps for delivery
  • You’ll recover faster after delivery

If you choose to have a natural birth, you might want to make a natural birth plan for other ways to manage your pain. A support team that includes a doula, your partner, a friend, or a family member can motivate you when you’re feeling tired.

Cons of natural birth

While your body is designed to give birth, there are disadvantages to natural birth. These include:

  • You’ll have a lot of intense pain
  • You can become very tired
  • Your labor can slow down when you get tired
  • Getting through the pain is mentally hard

There are also times when a natural birth might not be best. Your doctor might suggest you have an epidural to be ready for a C-section if you have certain complications and health conditions like:

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Pros of epidurals

Lots of women have epidurals and usually have full pain relief. This can be beneficial if you’re having a long and difficult labor, especially for your first baby. An epidural also has other benefits, including:

  • Relieves pain
  • Helps you rest
  • Helps you relax
  • Helps you have a positive experience because of pain relief
  • Allows you to stay conscious

Different types of epidurals, like a walking epidural, can relieve pain but also allow you to still feel pressure. This can help you to feel when to push, which can make delivery easier.

Cons of epidurals

There are risks and drawbacks to epidurals. While the procedure is safe, there is potential for side effects and complications. Some disadvantages of an epidural are:

  • You can’t move around once the epidural takes effect
  • It can slow down contractions and labor
  • Sometimes it doesn’t work
  • You can have side effects
  • You’ll need a catheter to help you pee during labor

Epidurals have common side effects. These generally are minor and include:

  • A headache
  • Temporary heaviness and numbness in your legs
  • Temporary tingling in your legs
  • Itchiness
  • Trouble peeing
  • Sore back
  • A dip in your blood pressure

Complications are rare but possible. These include:

Some people should not have an epidural. If you’ve had back surgery, have a bleeding disorder, or have neurologic disorders, your doctor likely won’t recommend one.

Bottom line

Both natural birth and epidurals have benefits and risks. Any time you introduce medical procedures and medications, there is potential for side effects and complications. Which is better for you depends on your pregnancy, your health, and your personal choice. Talk to your doctor to help you make a decision. Also, be sure to discuss it with your partner and support team.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/2/2021
References
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Medications for Pain Relief During Labor and Delivery."

Beaumont Health: "Natural Childbirth."

Dignity Health: "Choosing Between Natural Birth & Epidural in Las Vegas and Henderson, NV."

NHS: "Epidurals," "Pain relief in pregnancy and labor."

The Journal of Perinatal Education: "Why Natural Childbirth?"

University of Texas Southwest Medical Center: "5 tips on natural childbirth from an Ob/Gyn who experienced it."

UNC School of Medicine: "Childbirth."