Normal childbirth

What is normal childbirth?

There has always been some uncertainty among women and care providers about what defines ‘normal’ childbirth. Words like normal and natural are often interchanged and there is a wide range of situations and experiences that can be considered ‘normal’ childbirth. In the broadest definition, normal childbirth includes a labour that begins spontaneously, usually between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy. Normal birth also includes skin-to-skin holding after delivery, and breastfeeding within the first hour after delivery.

Unless there is a valid medical reason to intervene in the delivery process, all women with low-risk pregnancies are encouraged to pursue normal childbirth. Elective C-sections are not recommended.

  • Natural childbirth. The baby is born head-first, through the vagina, at term, in the presence of a health care professional who ensures that the mother and baby are well. No medical interventions are provided throughout labour and delivery.
  • Normal childbirth. The baby is born head-first, through the vagina, at term. A health care professional ensures the wellbeing of the baby and mother, and some medical intervention may occur to support or help the delivery. Examples of interventions include rupture of membranes, helping labour progress with medication (e.g., oxytocin), and using medications or epidural for pain relief.

Less intervention in childbirth is always better but not always feasible. Some women require interventions during labour to help them birth their baby. For women who hope to experience an intervention free birth (natural childbirth), good preparation, a positive attitude, good support in labour, and a care provider who is supportive of the goal are key. Many women want minimal intervention but may need help with pain relief or other medication to help improve contractions if labour is prolonged.

What is assisted childbirth?

At some point in the delivery process, a health care professional may determine that there are signs that the baby or mother is having difficulties. Medical intervention is then needed, since the labour is not going normally. Interventions such as labour augmentation, forceps, vacuum, or C-section are needed to assist with the delivery.