Holistic Pregnancy & Childbirth
What is Holistic Pregnancy and Childbirth?
Ginny and Charles are having their first baby and have started to consider their options for prenatal care and childbirth. While they are both healthy, Ginny will be 37 when the baby is born. They wonder if she will have to take any special steps to stay healthy, or if her age will limit her options. They are also expecting a lifestyle change after the baby is born, as Ginny plans to quit her job and stay at home.
Lucia and Roberto are having their third child. Birth has been relatively easy for Lucia, and she feels confident about her upcoming birth experience. However her first two children were born in Mexico City, and she wonders about what to expect with the American midwife and hospital. While Lucia is fluent in English, she is quiet and not accustomed to asserting herself. She wonders if her preferences regarding pain relief, breastfeeding, and infant care will be honored. Rob feels he can be more assertive, but because he "knows nothing about childbirth," he doesn't feel comfortable asking the midwife questions.
Carrie is having her first baby. She writes about her pregnancy experience in a journal and has learned a lot about herself so far. She relies on her sister Tina, who has two children, for emotional support and sometimes for financial support as well. Tina tells her to "get an epidural as soon as you can," but Carrie wonders about other options. She wants to make the healthiest decisions for her pregnancy and birth.
Lorinda and Marcus have just found out that they are expecting a second baby. They have integrated complementary therapies, such as therapeutic touch, chiropractic care, and herbal medicine, into their family's healthcare for some time and approach pregnancy and childbirth in the same way. They face a few challenges, however, as their healthcare providers and even their own families sometimes misunderstand and question the decisions they have made.
Ginny, Lucia, Carrie, and Lorinda all have different expectations about childbirth and what they should do while pregnant. This is typical - each family has their own beliefs and hopes.
It is a challenge to discuss holism in pregnancy and childbirth within this wide range, but we hope to provide information that is useful and respectful of your values, whatever your background or previous experiences with holistic care.
What is a holistic approach?
A holistic approach to pregnancy and childbirth has the following characteristics:
- Considers all aspects of an individual, including the body, mind, and spirit.
When we think of health, we most often consider the body and how
exercise, nutrition, and other care impact the physical person. But the
mind and emotions also play a role, shaping our values and beliefs, our
responses to events such as stress, and our relationships and support
networks. Finally there is the spiritual component, which is often the
hardest to describe. We all have a spiritual aspect, even if we don't
have a specific religious tradition, but we may not be sure how to
recognize and develop it. If considering spirituality is new to you,
start by considering times, places, or things that make you feel
A holistic pregnancy and childbirth recognizes the impact of the mind and spirit, as well as the physical body, on the experience of pregnancy and birth. Physical health, values and beliefs, relationships, emotional wellbeing, and spirituality all affect pregnancy and birth. In turn, the experiences of pregnancy and birth influence body, mind, and spirit.
- Trusts the natural progression: A holistic approach to pregnancy and childbirth also recognizes that a woman's body is naturally designed to conceive, nourish, and give birth to a baby. It trusts the natural progression of pregnancy and labor.
- Distinguished from "natural childbirth."
Natural childbirth is a term that holds many different meanings to
women and healthcare providers. To some, it means a complete avoidance
of medication or interventions. To others, it simply means that a woman
gave birth vaginally as opposed to having a cesarean section.
A holistic approach to childbearing includes both low-intervention approaches and the appropriate use of technology in a thoughtful and well-considered manner. Each situation is unique, requiring individual choices and care. A holistic approach respects the normal processes of pregnancy and birth, but recognizes the need for assistance if appropriate.
- Incorporates complementary therapies: Finally, as obstetrician Joel Evans notes, a holistic approach to pregnancy and childbirth includes the "use of alternative and complementary therapies to prevent or treat common discomforts and complications of pregnancy, in a way that is consistent with the belief system of the patient."
What does all this mean to me?
A holistic approach incorporates all of who you are and all you know about pregnancy and childbirth. You and your support team recognize your innate capabilities and seek to enhance them. You deliberately make choices that maximize your potential to have the healthiest pregnancy and the most natural progression of labor possible.
These choices cover all aspects of health that can affect your pregnancy and birth - not just physical factors like diet and exercise, but also social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual factors, such as your relationships, your support system, and how you manage stress.
We will discuss these decisions in more detail in the sections that follow. As you will see, they generally lead to the best outcomes for both you and your baby. Of course, expectant mothers always try to choose what they believe is best for their baby and themselves, but they sometimes have incomplete or misleading information.
It is our hope that the Holistic Pregnancy and Childbirth website will provide you with accurate, evidence-based information that will help you make the best choices for your pregnancy and birth.
Boston Women's Health Book Collective (2008). Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth. Boston: Simon & Schuster.
Evans, J.M., Aronson, R. (2005). The Whole Pregnancy Handbook: An Obstetrician's Guide to Integrating Conventional and Alternative Medicine Before, During, and After Pregnancy. New York, NY. Gotham Books.
Evans, J.M. (2007). Why we need holism in pregnancy care: A review. Alternative Therapies, 13(3).
Gawain, S. (1997). The four levels of healing. Novato, CA: Nataraj Publishing.