Childbirth is unpredictable, wild, and primal. We have “modernized” childbirth, making it clinical, sterilized, and on a timetable. Genevieve Howland, a.k.a Mama Natural, recognizes that pregnancy and birth are normal, and that having a baby is a wondrous biological process and rite of passage – not a medical condition.
In that light, Genevieve discusses how to prepare for a more natural childbirth experience and how to “naturalize” a C-section. Her goal is to educate mothers and fathers about their options during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. She covers everything from nutrition choices that aid in labor and delivery, steps to take to avoid “the cascade” of medical interventions, and the importance of skin-to-skin contact immediately after baby is born.
Genevieve offers tremendous insights on pregnancy and childbirth throughout the entire episode. It is beautiful to recognize that wise traditions apply to food and nutrition, of course, and also to childbirth.
Listen to the episode here:
Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda.
My guest is Genevieve Howland, better known as Mama Natural. She has the number one natural pregnancy channel on YouTube. She is fantastic. She is a regular mom who has become a fount of information on healthy pregnancy and practical parenting. I love that she is raw and real, like our topic. She talks to us about how to shoot for a more natural childbirth experience. She has tips about what to do during pregnancy for easier labor and how to handle the pressure and cascades of interventions at hospitals and how to even naturalize a cesarean birth.
Hilda, it’s great to be here.
You were telling me how we have modernized childbirth in the same way as we have modernized our diet and how that’s impacting us. Can you explain this a little bit?
First, let me be very clear. Thank God we have birth interventions and the different medical tools that we have because they do save lives. Birth can be a dangerous situation for some mothers and some children. We are grateful for C-sections. We are grateful for the different things that we can do to take care of babies who are born prematurely but, in the majority of cases, most moms have pretty uncomplicated, low-risk ordinary pregnancies. That’s more of what we are targeting. Those are still put through this modernized medical process and a lot of simple, basic health-promoting activities are not being done in hospitals and it’s affecting the health of babies and moms.
For example, our C-section rate is over 30% and the World Health Organization likes to see a 10% to 15% rate. We are over double what we should be and that has consequences. I could go on and on. There are many other things. We have definitely modernized birth. We have sterilized it. True birth is wild. It’s unpredictable. It is primal and a lot of times when it’s done through a hospital, it tries to be clinical, sterilized and on a timetable. If it’s not, then it gets heavily managed. That’s where you can run into lots of interventions and potential complications.
We are going to talk about natural childbirth, its benefits for the mom, for the baby for all involved, and then even how we can naturalize the C-section. Sometimes, as you say, people go into that delivery room and with all their heart to have the child vaginally and it can’t happen or doesn’t happen for some reason and so they have to have a C-section. I’m happy that we are going to look at all the sides of this but let’s take it from the top. What’s your history? Did you have C-sections when you had your kids?
I have two children and my mom actually had two cesareans. I remember as a kid looking at her scar. She has a large scar because they used to do a lot bigger incisions and I remember thinking, “Is that going to be me?” Genetically, I take after her. “Is this going to be my fate?” I worked hard and my 1st and 2nd pregnancy are to inform myself and to try to go for a natural birth as much as I possibly could, knowing that, of course, sometimes they can’t happen. With my first birth, I did give birth vaginally. It was 27-hour labor. It was super hard. There were many things I did not do right and I learned a ton from it. My second birth was like a joy ride.
I literally almost gave birth in the car. When I’ve got to the hospital, I was fully dilated plus two or something. It was the craziest, easiest, fastest birth. It motivated me to share as much as I possibly could about any tips or tricks to help moms have an easier birth, an easier pregnancy. It motivated me to write that book, The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth to get the information out there so moms can be empowered and they can implement as many tools as possible.
To be able to do that, there are things you need to do before that moment comes when you are about to give birth. What can women do to prepare for natural childbirth?
The first thing is diet and exercise. It’s so basic, eating high-quality organic, balanced food. Not eating a ton of carbs, being sure you have protein and fat with each meal, keeping your blood sugar steady, getting daily movement, as best as you can, whether it’s walking around the block, swimming, doing yoga but keeping your body moving. If you think about it, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, women were more active probably when they were pregnant. A lot of us aren’t designed to sit at a desk for eight hours a day at a computer and yet that’s what most of us do. That’s what I did when I was pregnant with my first child. I was at a desk all day. To be fair, most second births can be easier because your body has done it before but it was a lot easier. I was so active because I had a toddler and I was at home.
I was always running around and we are going to the park, we are walking here or we are going there. Staying active and eating well. Obviously, people who are reading this know how to eat well. Weston A Price has tons of great information on that. Another thing that they can do is drink Red Raspberry Leaf Tea. Of course, they would want to get their doctor or their midwives’ permission. I started drinking it in my second trimester and I drank it throughout the rest of my pregnancy and it is a uterine tonic. It strengthens the muscles and the pelvic wall. I could notice the difference in my contractions between my first pregnancy and my second pregnancy.
In my first labor, my uterus got exhausted towards the end because it had been going for so long but with my second birth, I labored for a while at home. It wasn’t that necessarily a ton shorter but my contractions were much more effective. I could feel the strength in my uterine wall. I don’t know how else to describe it. Red Raspberry Tea, it’s a great tool that moms can incorporate.
Drinking a cup or two a day can help. There has also been a study about dates, believe it or not. If women eat dates in their last trimester, particularly their last 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy, in this study, it resulted in shorter labors, fewer interventions, less need for Pitocin and things like that. That’s a fun and delicious way to potentially have an easier pregnancy and birth.
In my book, I talk about different exercises you can do to keep your pelvis open, to keep it balanced, to keep those muscles so that your baby is going to nestle down in a position that’s more optimal for birth. Many bodyworkers can help us. Some chiropractors are trained to work with pregnant women. There are massage therapists who can help and there are different exercises, yoga, things like that to keep that whole pelvic area open, balanced and in a good position. When you are ready to give birth, you are not stuck with a sunny-side-up baby or dreaded back labor.
I wish I had heard all this before I had my kids. Actually, I did have them naturally because I had a feeling though, I wasn’t as well informed as I am now, that fewer interventions would be better for my baby and me. Let’s back up a bit, Genevieve, and let’s talk about that. What are the benefits of natural childbirth for the mom, and then what are the benefits for the baby?
For the mom, obviously, she recovers quickly. It’s an easier recovery. I will never forget delivering my babies. I was up walking around a half-hour later and eating food. It was amazing. It’s an easier recovery, generally speaking, for moms. They also get a huge hormonal boost because if you don’t interfere with the hormonal cascade, they get a boost of oxytocin, of this wonderful endorphin that helps them bond with their baby. It helps to boost their mood. It helps with their milk production for breastfeeding. All of that is wonderful and that’s a huge benefit for natural childbirth. You also can bond with your baby right away, do skin-to-skin contact, which is beneficial to boost hormones and to help regulate the baby’s body temperature and breathing.
From a baby’s perspective, first of all, being squeezed through the birth canal helps to eliminate a lot of the fluids that can get caught in the baby’s lungs. That’s good. They are going through the mom’s tract, basically, and they pick up good bacteria. In a lot of ways, it helps to inoculate their microbiome because they are swallowing this fluid, coming down and picking up all of this good bacteria to help blossom their guts and to develop their immunity. That’s huge and there have been so many studies coming out showing that C-section babies have higher risks for inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, allergies, all these things that we have tied to bacteria balance in the gut. Even arthritis and cancers. It’s a huge benefit for them in terms of their microbiome.
I can speak from experience. I’m a C-section baby and my gut has been the bane of my existence. I had more challenges in that area and I have had to work hard to balance myself. That is a huge benefit for children that are born through the birth canal. We can talk about it though, you can echo or recreate some of that through a cesarean if you have to go that route and naturalize it to help the baby. Another benefit that doesn’t often get talked about is emotional and mental.
For moms, it boosts their confidence. When you go through birth, which is intense, primal, something in you changes but this is for any type of birth, no matter how the baby comes into the world but particularly with natural childbirth. It’s so much you and baby through this process and you are not having all these interventions. It can boost your self-esteem, your confidence, your strength, and it gives birth to that mama bear, that mama heart in you. That’s another wonderful benefit of going natural.
I remember after I had my first, my husband took a picture of me with my arms up in the champion pose and I was like, “I am not a wimp.” I did it without any interventions. It was awesome. It was an amazing feeling but I’m thinking of my sister, who labored for a long time, and then she ended up with a C-section. Let’s talk to the mom who’s had or who may have another C-section after the first one. I know it’s hard to go vaginal after you have had a C-section. Let’s go to that, Genevieve. How can you naturalize a C-section?
I was going to say quickly that in studies that show that a baby that goes through any type of birth, like any amount of birth, even if it ends up in a cesarean, is still beneficial. It’s more beneficial than a child that might have gone in for an elective C-section or a scheduled C-section.
What you are talking about is labor. They have gone through some sections of the labor. Instead of an appointment, I’m going at ten to have my baby.
The majority of cesareans aren’t emergencies. They are more if things don’t progress, the baby might be getting a little distressed and then they do it. Most moms do experience some labor, and then they go into a cesarean. I want to put that out there so moms know like, “It’s still beneficial. Any amount of labor is still going to be beneficial.” There is a practice called gentle cesarean. Unfortunately, it’s not common in US hospitals. That’s why I’m such an advocate for this and wrote a book about birth and want to get it out there that we are practicing this and more hospitals but there are a lot of little things you can do to help naturalize the experience for mom. Some are technical but it’s moving things like blood pressure cuffs, EKG, monitoring and stuff like that, and put them into areas where it doesn’t infringe on mom being able to see her baby and to see the process.
Some women will choose they don’t want to see it. It’s too traumatizing. It’s too upsetting, they are squeamish or whatever but for many moms, it’s emotionally helpful for them to see and witness their child actually being born. That’s something that they can do. Another thing is, and this goes again with visibility, is adding a clear drape. A lot of times, hospitals will have a drape to protect from bacteria and keep it sterile but that clear drape allows the mom to be able to see what’s going on to watch her baby come out.
Another thing, this is very cool is a gentle cesarean. They will let the baby’s head come out, and then let the baby linger for a while and the incision to come around the baby. It echoes a little bit of that squeezing of the lungs of helping him get rid of fluids and it’s more of a gentle entrance into the world versus being whisked out of the womb quickly. That’s something that you can do.
Also, leaving the cord intact and is something that’s not being practiced even with vaginal births. A lot of vaginal births in hospitals will cut the cord right away. The World Health Organization and many other organizations recommend a delayed cord clamping because it gives babies a lot of their blood back. It helps to boost their iron stores. This could potentially help people not put their babies on iron-fortified baby cereal or whatever because you are giving the baby back their blood, like a third of their blood.
That’s something that they can do with this gentle cesarean. Let the cord key pulsating until it’s finished. It usually takes a couple of minutes for that to happen. You also could have the baby be swabbed with the protective bacteria from the mom’s vaginas. Basically, go into the mom’s vagina, they take that fluid, they will put it onto the baby’s skin. The skin is a big place where the baby starts to get inoculated with that bacteria. That’s why sometimes in hospitals, babies born via C-section can actually pick up bacteria that are in hospital rooms and bad stuff. By smearing the baby with this vaginal discharge, so to speak, it does help the baby pick up some of that natural familiar bacteria for them.
I have heard of that. I saw a video or something about it and I thought that’s fantastic. I also heard about not bathing the baby right away.
There have been studies that show kids that are bathe too much have issues with asthma, allergies or eczema. Our skin is part of our microbiome. We don’t want to be constantly scrubbing and washing. I did a whole post about this, why I don’t use soap that much. I don’t. I use them on my bits and pits. The baby’s skin is so delicate as it is. It’s easy to get irritated and stuff like that.
When the baby comes out with that vernix, you want to rub it in. That is protective for the baby. It actually contains antibodies that help with our immune system. It helps with body temperature regulation. Rub that vernix in and don’t bathe your baby right away. Some parents are like, “I can’t deal with it.” Let’s say after 24 hours. Wait 24 hours, then you can bathe a baby but give them some time to have that skin have all the good bacteria, have the temperature regulation be there before you start stripping that away. That’s a great point.
The other thing with a gentle cesarean is that baby can then immediately be placed directly on to moms for some skin-to-skin contact because skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for the baby for regulating. A lot of times, we have seen babies get whisked off, get bathed, get swaddled and they have put in an incubator or something to keep them warm. The best place for them to stay warm is on mama’s chest. It’s more effective. It keeps the baby’s stress hormones low. It helps to initiate early breastfeeding and if mom is under general anesthesia or something like that, dad can do it. Dad can do the skin-to-skin contact.
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All those basic newborn procedures, aside from the Apgar testing or something like that, weighing and measuring, can be waited. There’s this golden hour after birth where you want the baby to bond with the mother and the father to get adjusted to life outside of the womb and to take it all in and to get that first latch for breastfeeding. That’s another thing with a gentle cesarean you could do. Even having a doula present in the operating room so she can be with you and be that emotional support.
Those are some of the things that moms can do to recreate a natural experience. I do know of a couple of moms that have done them and they are like, “It is night and day. It helped me so much.” It helps with that emotional component because it is personal. You have been carrying your baby for nine-plus months and to have a fast, dramatic, jarring C-section experience can throw you off. If you can make it feel more natural, more slowed down, listening to the pace of the natural bonding process and stuff like that, it can be beneficial.
As you said earlier, this is all in keeping with Wise Traditions. I’m sure out in the desert and Egypt, women didn’t have their babies, had them whisked off, and then they see them four hours later to breastfeed them. They stayed with them and they were inside you. Why wouldn’t you want to keep them close? We have succumbed to this in the way they do it and one important goal of this show is for people to become informed that they know how to take ownership and advocate for what they want.
I went to a regular hospital to have my kids and I still advocated for what I wanted, and I’ve got it because I said, “This is how I want it to go.” We are not saying you need to go out into a tent somewhere, in terms of Wise Traditions. We are saying, “Let’s follow those traditions that are healthy, wonderful, natural, and they will blossom in good health for you and your baby.”
The majority of women still give birth in hospitals. That’s where 95% plus of women give birth but you can have a natural childbirth in a hospital. You will have to work harder. You will have to be more proactive but it’s absolutely possible. You can actually teach the doctor and the nurses some things. You can show them a different way. I have had so many students who take our birth class saying that the doctors and the nurses were amazed at how calm the pregnant mom was. How was she able to manage her discomfort and the pain that came up? How was she able to breathe through her contractions? All these different things and can help educate even the hospital staff, which is pretty powerful.
That’s neat to think about because they, too, have been through a conventional educational process. They were told, “This is what you do. “This is how you avoid this and that,” and it’s all about the interventions. Talk to us about that. What are some interventions that will be in place when you go into the hospital? What are some of the first things they want to do?
They always say the first intervention is putting on the gown. You don’t have to put on a hospital gown. Some moms love putting it on because it’s clean. It’s not their clothes. They don’t have to launder it when it gets bloody but that’s like the first choice that you can make. You can take ownership of what you want to labor in. A lot of hospitals will hook you up on an IV. It might be a port but they want to have easy access to your veins for an epidural, for an IV, for Pitocin and things like that. That’s another intervention that often is done right away that you don’t have to consent to. You can consent to it as needed but you don’t necessarily have to have it right away.
Another intervention is having your water broken. Some practitioners want to rush that instead of letting it break on its own as labor progresses. Most women, their waters will break naturally around 7 or 8 centimeters. It varies, of course, but that’s another intervention that you don’t have to consent to unless it becomes necessary or unless you feel you want to. Maybe you are stuck or plateaued for several hours and you are ready to try to move things along. The biggest thing is once you get into the hospital, you are on a timetable. Hospitals have expectations about how long moms should labor and how much progress they should make. The thing about birth is it’s not linear. There can be peaks and valleys.
I remember one time I would dilate 4 centimeters in an hour or a half-hour, and then I would be stuck in that area for 2, 3 hours. It goes in bits and spurts. That’s why, as best as you can, try to labor for as long as you can at home. Obviously, you want to be safe. You don’t want to be going through a transition on the way to the hospital necessarily but trying to stay at home as long as possible. This is where you have a doula who can help coach you. With my first pregnancy, I probably would have gone to the hospital at 1 centimeter dilated because I was had no clue and it was really painful. I’m like, “I’ve got to be about to push this baby out.”
With the doula, she helped me stay home for another seven hours. By the time I’ve got into the hospital, I was there less than twelve hours. They weren’t pressuring me. That’s another thing I would recommend to keep those interventions low. Something was very eye-opening for me as I was a late bloomer. By the time I was pregnant, most of my friends had already had kids. I remember going out to lunch with them, and asking them about their births and their experience. 4 out of 5 of them had C-sections, which was shocking to me. All of them almost had the same process where they went past their due date, which by the way, is very common for first-time moms.
If you looked at it statistically, the highest probability for a mom to give birth in a week and a day after her due date. They would go past their due date. They would get induced but most of them got induced on their due date. A couple of them, it was the day after. Their body wasn’t ready for labor. The baby wasn’t ready but they were forced into it. They were going along.
They were given Pitocin, which makes the contractions increase and they are a lot more painful. They are a lot closer together. This is more of an artificial way to stimulate contractions. It then got painful. They said, “I need to get an epidural because I’m dying over here. This is too intense.” They would get the epidural and then everything would slow down. It’s a depressant. It’s a pain reliever
They’ve got stuck. It was like, “Failure to progress. We need to do a C-section.” In some cases, the baby’s heart rate got a little funky and that was the rationale. For some cases, it was just because it wasn’t progressing and so they needed to move forward and get the cesarean. They call that the cascade of intervention. It is this cascade of different things. That one thing leads to another, which leads to another. One of the biggest things is it’s like getting with good care, get it with a midwife or have a doula. I have these people who support natural birth from the beginning working with you and that will increase your odds for natural childbirth.
I actually had a midwife in training with me in the hospital and I’m sure she advocated when I was groaning and dealing with the contractions. She was there for me and that did help it. I didn’t tell you this. All my babies weighed over 9 pounds and I’m 5’2” and weigh 110 at the most. The doctor, when she first saw me, was eyeballing me and she told me later, “I was thinking C-section but I didn’t say anything.” She could see how big the baby was going to be in how small I was but I had her. She was 9.15 lbs., my first one. It was amazing. It was fabulous. All of my kids that came after that were perfectly fine in natural childbirth.
Part of the thing is we need to educate ourselves ahead of time. That we can know exactly what we want, as we have been saying but we also need to keep in mind that when we make choices out of convenience, either for our schedule or the doctor’s schedule. That definitely isn’t the most natural. It reminds me of people who sometimes choose bad food choices out of convenience. “We are tired tonight. Let’s order a pizza. Let’s stop at the fast-food place.” We have to be careful not to fall into that convenience trap, what works best for the doctor or what’s best for me and my timing because I don’t want the baby born on this day. I’m being a little facetious now. I doubt people make choices like that but don’t we fall into that trap, Genevieve?
As you said with the food when you were pregnant and the exercise, some of that stuff, it is sacrifices. It does take time. You have to up your game a little bit or going to bed earlier, all those things but it does add up. That does make a big difference because if you do end up getting gestational diabetes, preeclampsia or all these different things, which can be attributed to the way you are taking care of yourself during pregnancy, not always but sometimes, that’s just going to make it harder. I’m all about how I can make this as easy as possible because it’s intense. Natural childbirth is intense. It definitely takes you to the end of yourself. It’s totally worth it.
That’s something I talk about in my book, too, that there’s also a big mental, spiritual component to it because it’s like a mental game, I feel like birth was. I didn’t realize how intense it was going to be. If you practice deep breathing and saying affirmations or doing visualizations, all those things can help you when the going gets tough in labor to get you through it. I actually had two doulas. It’s a long story but they were wonderful. In the end, I was getting completely delirious. This is my first one and I was like, “I need a C-section. I can’t do this.”
This is called going through a transition where you start to say irrational things. She looked at me and she’s like, “Genevieve, you are so close to birthing this baby. You need to focus. You can do this. Let’s go.” She woke me up like, “I can do this.” It was helpful. Finding what is going to motivate you when the going gets tough. Are you a numbers person? Do you need soft touch? Do you need to be alone? Do you need dark space? What is going to work for you? It is a mental game.
A certain playlist of songs that are going to make it to that finish line. It’s like a marathon. You need to know what’s going to get you across that finish line. He actually quoted scripture, which was relaxing to me and the nurse was like, “It was like he was giving you drugs every time he quoted something. You would relax much. I wanted you to know.” This has been fantastic, Genevieve, and I want to pick your brain.
I’m hoping we can have a future conversation but as we wrap up now, I simply want to ask you what I ask a lot of my guests. If the readers could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend they do? If a pregnant mom could do one thing to improve her pregnancy or push toward that natural childbirth, what should she do?
I would say giving up sugar or reducing sugar. I have found in my experience, refined sugar can produce cravings. It can lead to overeating. It can lead to blood sugar spikes. It can lead to moodiness and it can lead to GBS positive, which we didn’t talk about, which is Group B Strep positive. They can lead to gestational diabetes. It has a ripple effect. It can lower your immunity. I would say for moms to follow a low sugar diet and they can definitely have fresh fruit. That’s the thing that’s so great. Raw honey, all these delicious sweets that we can incorporate that are natural but stay away from that processed, refined sugar and you will feel better. Your blood sugars will be balanced. Your moods will be balanced. You will feel better in your skin and potentially ward off other things that will affect you and your baby.
Genevieve, thank you so much for this conversation.
You are welcome. It was great talking with you, Hilda.
My guest was Genevieve Howland, Mama Natural. Go to her website, MamaNatural.com, for her videos and resources. Don’t forget to look for her comprehensive pregnancy guide called The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide To Pregnancy And Childbirth. A big thank you to intern Olivia Stanforth for her help with this show notes and to Sara Fernandez from Podcast Village. She literally helps us put the show together week after week. Thanks so much, you two. Check out Podcast Village’s website at PodcastVillage.com. Please rate and review the show on iTunes. We are inching our way to 100 reviews. Help us get there, please and thanks ahead of time.
- Mama Natural
- YouTube – Mama Natural
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- WestonAPrice.org Podcast page
- Nourishing Traditions
- The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth
- The Nourishing Traditions Cookbook for Children
- iTunes – Wise Traditions