Natural childbirth, in the way that we know it today, was a philosophy of childbirth that began due to the efforts of a British doctor in the 1930s. The term was started by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read who wrote two books about the childbirth experience without the use of external intervention. Natural Childbirth was published in the 1930s and his second book, Childbirth Without Fear, was published in 1942. The books also spearheaded what we now know as birth preparation classes that present the benefits of natural birth while still educating the women about optional or necessary medical intervention.
Natural Birth Stories: 1800s
Historically most women had home births without medical intervention. Originally these births were attended to by a midwife and female members of the birthing woman's family. In the early 1800s this was still generally the case, although the transition from midwifery care to physician care was already starting. By the mid-1800s middle and upper classes often sent for a doctor when a woman started to labor instead of a midwife.
Women were still mostly having their babies at home, but medical intervention like forceps use was becoming more common. Forceps use increased the necessity for episiotomies and stitching. Ether and chloroform were beginning to be used more often during labor. Sometimes chloroform was administered by female relatives before the doctor arrived. Other times it was the doctor who providing this type of pain relief.
The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century could be seen as officially the end of natural childbirth. More women gave birth in hospitals since birthing at home became more difficult due to crowded and dirty living conditions. Originally it was just the lower class or urban women who gave birth to their babies in hospitals while middle-class and wealthy women still labored and delivered at home. This changed rapidly as birthing in the hospital became viewed as a safer and pain-free way of laboring.
By the 1920s a condition called Twilight Sleep was the popular way to treat the pain of labor. Women were drugged to the point that they didn't remember labor or delivery. The women weren't officially unconscious, but they were on the verge of unconsciousness and not able to push the child out. Often forceps use was the only way to deliver babies.
Why the Natural Birth Movement?
Proponents of birthing as a non-medical event sometimes show natural birth pictures and natural birth videos where laboring women are strapped onto a special labor table or undergo procedures they don't really want like an unnecessary c-section or induction. The purpose is not to scare women into having a non-medical birth. It's more often to reinforce the decision a woman already had to have a natural birth by showing her potential outcomes of a medical-centered birth.
There's been a debate about c-sections vs. natural birth among some practitioners and mothers. Sometimes medical intervention can increase the likelihood of a c-section such as in the case of induction. In some places c-sections can be an elective procedure for women who don't want to go through labor. There is a place in the world of natural child birthing for c-sections. Even many of the most strenuous promoters of natural childbirth will acknowledge that. These include situations when the life of the fetus or mother is at risk like bad baby position for delivery, preeclampsia and heart conditions in the mother.
Pain Management in Natural Birth
Medication is not used as a way to relieve labor pain for women who choose natural birth. But techniques like massage, hypnosis, relaxation therapy, visualization, hydrotherapy (possibly as water birth), one-on-one labor support, vocalization and breathing exercises are common. There are many natural birth stories where these methods reduced tearing, the need for an episiotomy and ultimately shortened the after-delivery healing time.