Pregnancy and childbirth are obviously physical events, but they are much more than that - they represent a major life transition. The changes that occur with pregnancy and childbirth affect your whole life: your identity, your relationships , your values , and your beliefs. So it makes sense to consider body, mind, and spirit during your pregnancy and childbirth.
You might be wondering: What will help me have the healthiest pregnancy possible? How can I achieve the best possible physical and emotional health and wellbeing? How can I increase my chances for a natural progression of labor? Reading about a holistic approach will help answer these questions.
Additionally, research demonstrates that many complementary therapies and practices (for example, massage  or acupuncture for low back pain ) offer comfort with a lower risk of undesirable side effects than many medications. Many of these can be found in the topic How Can I Best Prepare for Childbirth? 
Most families welcome the birth of a baby, and you may find that those around you expect you to be happy at this time. However, most women also have periods of ambivalence, anxiety or roller-coaster emotions during pregnancy. After all, having a baby represents a great change, and this can be stressful. It is important to acknowledge those emotions and find strategies that help you reduce your stress  and cope with it in a healthy way.
When you cope well with stress, you experience better peace of mind, and you also reduce the harmful effects that stress can have on your physical health. Reducing stress decreases your heart rate and blood pressure, helps your digestion, reduces muscular tension, and enhances your immune system and your ability to deal with pain and discomfort. All of these are especially important during pregnancy. Some ways to cope with stress include:
During pregnancy, you may begin to realize that your roles and your relationships  will change as you become responsible for a new child. You and your partner may realize that you will no longer have the freedom to come and go as you like, or to spend as much unplanned time together as you are used to.
If you are planning to be a single parent, you may begin to readdress relationships with your family and friends as you identify whom you can rely on for support.
If you have other children, you begin to prepare them for the presence of another child in the family and prepare yourself for expanding your time and love. You might also find your relationship with your own parents changing, as you transition from being someone's child to becoming the mother of your own child.
It's important to acknowledge and welcome these changes by talking about them with your family and others. You and your family members might approach these changes at different times and in different ways. A holistic approach recognizes this.
Just as pregnancy and birth are times of profound physical and emotional change, they can also be opportunities for tremendous spiritual  growth. As you reflect on your role in bringing the baby into the world, your core spiritual beliefs and values shape your expectations and experiences. You may find that pregnancy, birth, and parenting reinforce your beliefs or cause you to make great changes.
In the busy times while preparing for your baby and after the birth of your baby, it is often difficult to set aside time to reflect. However, if you do make time, either in structured ways, such as meditation, journaling, or prayer , or in an unstructured ways, such as walks in nature, you may find great rewards and growth await you.
Carrie has never journaled before. She started a journal at the beginning of her pregnancy as a gift to her baby, but instead has come to realize that it is a gift to herself. She has begun to better understand what it means to her to be a mother and to put words to some of the values she wishes to pass on to her baby.
A holistic approach to childbirth aims to facilitate the most natural progression of labor possible.
You and your support team will begin by learning what enhances the process of labor and childbirth. You will know what to ask so you can confidently give informed consent to the plan of care that your midwife or doctor proposes. Throughout, you will gain confidence in your decision-making and feel empowered to do what is best for your family.
Choosing a holistic approach means learning about the benefits and risks of all childbirth options so you can make good decisions if labor unfolds in an unexpected manner. Let's consider a few examples.
Planning for a holistic childbirth may also mean choosing a healthcare provider who does not routinely use common labor interventions, such as electronic fetal monitoring, forceps, or vacuum extractors. Of course when needed, these can be beneficial. But when unnecessary, these same interventions can cause problems in labor, problems for the baby, a delay in initiating family contact, or long-term health problems for the mother.
Some evidence suggests that interventions are used far more often than needed during birth in the United States. Learning about these options can help you avoid some of the risks associated with the unnecessary use of technology.
We have much to learn from other cultures when it comes to holism and safety in childbirth. Despite its advanced healthcare system, the United States does not have the best statistics for healthy births; in fact, in 2003, it ranked 33rd in the world for infant mortality. In other developed countries, midwives attend the majority of births for healthy women. In some countries, such as the Netherlands, about one-third of all women plan to give birth at home. Interestingly, these countries have outcomes that are as good as, or better than, outcomes in the United States.
Choosing a holistic pregnancy and childbirth is a positive, affirming activity, which supports your ability to give birth because it enhances your health, improves your understanding about labor and childbirth, and helps you find or develop supportive assistants.
One of the questions that often surfaces when talking about holistic childbirth is the choice of pain management. With a holistic approach to childbirth, you may choose to use techniques such as guided imagery , breathing , movement , hydrotherapy, or self-hypnosis in place of, or as a complement to, common options in labor, such as an epidural. But why, with easy access to technology that makes labor more comfortable, might you choose an alternative?
The answer is complex. Pain medication and epidurals may help you be more comfortable during labor. However, like all medical interventions, they do carry a degree of risk. For example:
On the other hand, using holistic measures to manage pain allows you to avoid the side effects of medication or epidurals. These measures help to promote the natural progress of labor, which brings many benefits: your recovery is likely to be quicker, you and your baby are less likely to be exposed to the side effects of medical interventions, and your baby is more likely to breastfeed readily.
Lucia did not use pain medication or have an epidural during her first two labors. She stood during most of her labor, and then sat in a rocking chair toward the end of labor when her pain was the most intense. Roberto's sister combed her hair between contractions, which helped her to relax and conserve her energy. Lucia found that having freedom to get into the most comfortable position was helpful as she coped with pain during contractions. Her babies were eager breastfeeders soon after delivery, and Lucia feels that avoiding medication helped to get her off to a good start at breastfeeding.
Another major issue in childbirth concerns cesarean sections. When necessary, a cesarean section benefits both the baby and the mother. But it is not without risks. These include infection to the mother, risk of injury to the mother or baby, a period of prolonged pain and healing after childbirth, the risks associated with the surgical anesthesia, and even a small risk of death.
The best rate of cesarean sections is the rate at which the health benefits for the baby and the mother are maximized, and women are not unnecessarily exposed to the risks involved in cesarean sections. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that an optimal cesarean section rate is between 10% and 15%. The United States Department of Health and Human Services agrees and set a goal in the Healthy People 2010 initiative to reduce the cesarean section rate among women having their first baby to 15%.
Despite that goal, the cesarean section rate in the United States has continued to grow and is now approaching 30%. This means that some women and their babies are unnecessarily exposed to the risks of cesarean sections without benefit to their babies or themselves. There is even a growing trend in the United States toward an "elective" cesarean section, which means that there is no current medical reason, just a theory that it might help avoid problems such as pelvic floor relaxation later in life.
Taking a holistic approach to childbirth enables you to become educated, make informed choices, and to understand how to reduce the chances of having an unnecessary cesarean section.