Much is said about the experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Humans have a long and chequered history with this natural process. With our large heads and upright posture, combined with our body’s somewhat unique way of reproducing compared to other mammals, childbirth is complicated at times. With interventions readily available we need to balance the tendency to over-intervene versus the times when intervention is the life-saving factor.

So why do women choose to partake in this process as ‘naturally’ (i.e. without intervention) as possible? Why endure the intense pain of childbirth when one can use the anaesthetic that is freely available which often provides near complete pain relief? I asked my doctor friend about epidurals early in my pregnancy (still traumatised by my daughter’s pain-relief-free birth 12 years ago) and he simply told me ‘they are not without risk’. That planted a seed that I followed until it grew into another planned birth at home without pain relief (sigh).

I desperately wanted to use the interventions available, knowing that I would most probably regret it when the throes of labour started (on Labour Day), which of course I immediately did when labour progressed! But overall I have to admit that I am pleased by the outcome. Fear upon fear entered my mind as I progressed into full spontaneous pushing which I had no choice but to let slide away. Other thoughts replaced them which reminded me that I could in fact birth without splitting in half, that I could manage the pain until baby was out, that it was all going to be over soon and that I had support – I wasn’t alone.

Midwives play a crucial role in this historical process – it is simply women helping women give birth, as has been happening for eons. I felt so blessed by the direction and guidance from my midwives that I felt I couldn’t have given birth without their aid. Add the strength of my husband to hold me up when I couldn’t and the gratitude is endless. I did it – with support. Natural childbirth is having the right knowledge and support around you throughout.

I used as many techniques as I could throughout pregnancy in order to remain well. Primarily, this list is topped with my practitioner-strength multi-vitamin, which I believe is one of the best on the market. On the days that I forgot to take it my energy would dwindle and I wanted to sit down at the desk. It became such a  obvious pattern that I could not deny (I am not the best at taking things daily!). Secondly, was my probiotic, which solved several problems for me throughout the pregnancy and is a solution that is now backed up by more and more research, the latest being a reduction in post-natal depression. Other benefits include a reduced risk of allergy in newborns, better breast health during breastfeeding, as a treatment for mastitis as well as the benefits to baby’s digestive system, a reduction in yeast infections, urinary tract infections and Group B Streptococcus during pregnancy among others. This list is not exhaustive!

Many aspects of natural childbirth have made it into the post-childbirth routine – skin-to-skin contact as soon as baby is born (where possible), a delay in cutting the cord until it has stopped pulsating and breastfeeding within 30 minutes of birth where possible. A home birth is said to promote a faster recovery for mothers.

Exercise and healthy eating was also a big part of keeping well during pregnancy. Once again the multi-vitamin added to this by helping with energy for light exercise. In fact a good diet pre-conception means you have stored nutrients for the first 3 months, which is often the time many women experience morning sickness and can’t eat a full balanced diet. Nutrients like zinc can also in theory help reduce the process of stretch marks forming, a problem where the collagen repair is inhibited by the stretching skin. A good weight before and during pregnancy also reduces baby’s risk of diabetes later in life (as of course diet does throughout life).

Breastfeeding is a continuation of the theme whereby the main job of mum is to eat well and continue to supplement with wholesome foods. There are many superfoods out there for breastfeeding: Dark beer, molasses, brewers yeast, oats, flaxseed oil and of course fruits and vegetables. The handy multi-vitamin also plays a big role here too. I admit I am far too lazy not to breastfeed but the benefits are for both mother and baby. If only support was given to parents to keep mum at home for one full year to allow for proper time to feed and nurture baby.

As a believer in the process that nature has provided us with I can also acknowledge from experience that sometimes pregnancy doesn’t go as we want to. Nature has a cruel way of reminding us that we are merely part of the whole and not the centre of the universe. Pregnancy is not as well understood scientifically as it should be. Science has only just acknowledged that stress can affect the outcomes of pregnancy, something women have always understood intuitively. There are many things as yet unanswered for the many women and couples who have miscarriage, stillbirth, complications, infertility and even still today, death. Once again there is nothing we can do but accept this and where interventions, both natural and medical can help, then we use everything at our disposal to help create the marvel that life is.

There are so many things we can do to help and support ourselves if we want to have a natural childbirth: Herbs (where appropriate); Nutrition; Supplements; Acupuncture; Hypobirthing and support for Home birth as well as medical experts who can help our outcomes such as Obstetricians, GP’s, Naturopaths and of course Midwives. I, in fact, used all of these.

I believe a natural pregnancy and childbirth is one where we start before pregnancy, and continue after baby is born. It is a way of life rather than a single outcome. It doesn’t mean we didn’t use interventions, it means even if we had to, we were well equipped. It is a lifestyle where we aim to reduce our carbon footprint and use what nature has provided us with and then we can get the benefits of faster recovery from birth, less use of medications when pregnant and a healthier immunity for baby going forward.

Acknowledgements: My husband Steve; Mum; Garden City Midwives (Molly and Sylvia); The Apothecary Team (Sarka, Simone-Lena, Melody); Charlotte Clements photographer.

For information on our Pregnancy Wellbeing Clinic click here

Simone Reddington is the founder of the Apothecary, a Medical Herbalist and thinker. She holds a degree in Psychology and is a professional member of the New Zealand Association of Medical Herbalists.