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Friday, April 8, 2011

The Hidden Risks of Natural Pain Relief"

By:Echo Dawndancer
Doula and Childbirth Educator

Fellow Earth Mamas,
I'm here to speak to you about something a lot of women don't even think about when planning their all natural, empowering, healing birth experiences. Did you realize that there is another person involved whose experience you may want to consider in your birth plan? No, I'm not talking about your midwife, I'm talking about the baby! Ladies, as you plan your homebirth, consider this: natural pain reduction methods harm your baby. And remember, it is never to early to start being a martyr for your baby. You're going to spend the next 28 years fostering a secure attachment and protecting your child from every slight pain or disappointment in life, why not start worrying a few minutes earlier? That's why, as a doula, I not only encourage women to forgo natural pain relief, but I actively try to increase pain in labor.
Obviously, those unfortunate mamas giving birth in hospitals don't love their babies or trust their bodies sufficiently. But what you may not know is that they are actively hurting their babies with their epidural addiction. I’ll try to make this as simple as possible. During labor, the mother’s body produces endorphins, naturally occurring opiate-like substances that influence the transmission of pain impulses. Endorphins present at the synapses of nerve cells result in the cessation of pain. Failure to release endorphins allows pain to occur. When pain medication is administered, natural endorphins are not produced. The epidural provides pain relief for the mother. This does not have the same effect on the baby (although it can depress the baby’s heart rate, etc). The endorphins produced during a non-medicated labor cross the placenta and provide pain relief to the fetus during the stress of labor and delivery. If mom isn’t making them because of an epidural, the baby can’t get it. I wish I was making this up, but I'm not. I read about it in a comment on a blog. And I've since heard about it on lots of other natural birth forums. You just need to do your research.
Clearly, if ceasing endorphin release with medication is bad for baby, then so is doing so naturally. In my practice we discourage any and all natural pain relief methods, because any reduction in the pain a Birthing Goddess is intended to feel during labor - just like an epidural - will harm her baby. This long lasting damage could possibly stunt the baby's development, hinder breastfeeding, and damaging baby-mama bonding. Harmful practices include:
-birth balls
-waterbirth/dolphin assisted birth
-meditation or hypnobirthing
-breathing techniques
Rather, we look for ways to increase a woman's pain, so that she can be sure she's making the ultimate sacrifice for her soon-to-be-earthside baby. For example, I don't provide physical support for a woman during a contraction - better for her to fall over and increase pain. I find candles to be a great addition to a homebirth - they look great in your youtube birth video, and provide an opportunity for minor burns. Flogging is recommended instead of massage or meditation. Positive affirmations are discouraged, and instead we turn our attention to insults and insinuation that birthing mothers simply aren't doing things right/aren't womanly enough. Many CPMs I've worked with excel in that area. And of course, when the time to push rolls around, I insist that women stay in the lithotomy position - because what could be more torturous that being forced to deliver on your back?
Pain in labor is pain with a purpose - protecting your baby - so we need to emphasize it rather than reduce or eliminate it. One of the more popular services provided by my doula practice is that we actually do give out medals to our clients after their births. Mamas seem to really enjoy getting a hand-made commemorative award that they can display for their friends as a testament to how educated and committed they are to natural parenting. I understand that my methods are controversial even in the natural birth community, but I think as women learn to love pain in order to love their babies even more, these methods will catch on. My mantra on pain relief is "educate before you alleviate".


  1. Whatever! If those wimmin were doing it right, they wouldn't be feeling any pain in the first place! The whole concept that we're supposed to feel pain during childbirth is all just a part of the evil patriarchal paradigm that's terrified of birthing wimmin and the power of our collective yonnis!

  2. While I agree with you to a point, I think there is some good facts behind making labor a more painful experence! We are still making up for Eve's sins BTW

  3. *dreamy sigh* This post is EXACTLY why I read your blog. You are always teaching us something new. All that good pain I wasted with my breathing practice, I'll never get those endorphins back. So sorry!

  4. Thank you for appropriately calling out moms who neglect their motherly responsibilities. Really, it's sad how few moms are willing to endure the full experience of a vag blowout for the sake of their LOs.