Instinctiveness of giving birth in humans

Partly GQ and partly anecdote request from ladies who’ve given birth: In every other animal that I’m aware of, the giving birth stuff is basically instinctal rather than learned. How much of that applies to giving birth to a human? Is it even possible to tell given all the ante natal classes and so on?

I suppose if you don’t do anything, nature will take its course or you die trying.

Based on the number of stories about women who gave birth alone (usually followed by abandoning the live baby in a dumpster or something, which is why it makes the news) the process is not too difficult but not something I’d want to try, even if I could. You don’t actually have to “know” anything, just let things happen.

As an previous thread on similar topics said, if everything goes right, you’re OK. If something does go wrong as it occasionally does, it can go horribly wrong, resulting in 1 or 2 deaths. This is where a little professional help - like untangling the umbilicay cord or turning the baby - might make all the difference. Then, knowledge is very important.

The question is - in what proportion of births is this help really needed?

I don’t know if my experience is really a good example of giving birth “instinctively” but for what it’s worth…

I’ve had four babies. All were born in the same midwife-run birth center and all the births were unmedicated. I did read a lot and take a different kind of childbirth prep each time. None of the births was easy but each was easier than the one before it.

When I was getting ready for number four I was wondering what (if anything) I could do to make pushing easier since the pushing part was really awful with the first three. I asked around on a lot of natural childbirth boards and the advice that came up a number of times was “don’t push”

That is don’t try to push the baby out, don’t bear down because someone is telling you to, don’t push because you want this to be over faster, don’t push because you can’t think of anything better to do…do not use any act of will or muscle to push. When pushing is required it will happen involuntarily(was the gist of the advice, not a statement of the absolute truth).

So I resolved not to push and I asked my midwives not to suggest pushing or announce that it was Ok to push after a certain point or mention it at all unless it seemed urgent.

The pushing part of the fourth birth was orders of magnitude easier than the first three. The pushing really did happen on its own and was much briefer than the other births. AND my whole vaginal area was much less swollen and traumatized and “bounced back” much more quickly than the other times.

So one way of thinking of that is that when I tried to let my body be more instinctive birth was easier.

Or maybe fourth babies just come out easier. I could see why someone would think that.

If it wasn’t instinctual nobody would have a baby in the back seat of a cab. (Obviously, sometimes intervention is needed to prevent injury or death. Not in most healthy women, though.) Nobody wants to have a baby in the back seat of a cab.

This sounds like one of those Directv get rid of cable commercials.

The prenatal classes are mostly about pain management and instruction on what happens during the birth process so you’re more informed. As well as info about hospital policies and the like, depending on what type of class you’re in.

You definitely don’t need the classes in order to push a baby out effectively. With my third baby, I was in denial that I was in active labor until it was almost too late to get to the hospital on time. At some point in the process, my body just took over. There was no thought of, “Oh, I should push now.” My body was simply pushing. It’s sort of like when you sneeze - you don’t deliberately decide when to sneeze. Once the process has started, it’s just happening, with or without your approval.

Obviously in some cases, the baby is positioned improperly or there are other complications, and then you need medical assistance. But as a general thing, no, you don’t need instruction on how to push a baby out. It will happen on its own.

Anecdotes like these make me wonder why this style of “hands-off” birthing is not the default method encouraged in hospitals. Why tell women to push, try hard, breathe correctly, etc. when just letting it happen seems to be a more than viable option?

And if something should go wrong? You’re already in the hospital, and modern mediciine can take over.

You’ll get no argument from me (or from a lot of other people). Medical management of labor and delivery is a hot topic. There are a lot of practices (like having the woman in stirrups while someone counts to 10 to tell her when to push) that are outdated and senseless and are being phased out. In my experience, a lot of birth management procedures are there mostly because the hospital staff feels like they should be doing something, since you are at the hospital and all.

(Note: This may sound like I am a big homebirth proponent. I am not. But I do think that too many hospitals have an overly heavy hand when it comes to labor management.)

Does everything still happen automatically if you’ve had an epidural?

Mostly, the classes and attendants emphasize when NOT to push. The breathing instruction is for pain management. It mostly gives a woman something to think about besides how much it hurts, when will it end, and when can I push. Although that does usually translate into OK, it’s time to push now, which I’d be willing to believe at least some people may be better off without.

My experience with animals has been that they are shocked to learn what their bodies have been up to. I’ve attended the delivery of 15-20 litters of puppies, with about 10 different bitches, and even those who were on their second go seemed surprised to see the first pup.

I can’t get to the link, but there’s a fantastic example on youtube of a giraffe who is obviously utterly shocked to see her baby on the ground behind her. She does imemdiately start caring for it, thank goodness. But that’s exactly what I’ve seen.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that expelling the infant is a natural bodily function - an involuntary process. Saying it’s instinctual implies that there is some action to be taken which we don’t have to be told in advance. Carlotta and MsWhatsit seem to be saying the same thing.

It’s certainly also true that more humans survive the process due to intervention from educated humans. I don’t think there’s any instinctive actions taken or avoided int hat process either though.

Building on what **TruCelt **said, how much of *post-delivery *behavior is instinctive in humans? Most non-human animals, such as the giraffe in the example above, appear to have a built-in drive to start caring for their offspring (cleaning the newborn, standing while it nurses, protecting it, etc.). This is aided by the newborn’s instinctive drive to nurse (this can also go wrong - I’ve heard plenty of accounts of female animals that either had no idea what to do or were actively hostile to the new, strange animal in their space). Human infants are supposed to have a rooting response that helps with feeding, but I also gather from comments on the board that breast-feeding is NOT something that works automatically 100% of the time. Would it even occur to a woman to put a newborn to her breast if she hadn’t seen/heard about the practice before?

What about primates in general? Do female chimps, for example, automatically know what to do with a newborn, or do they need to learn by growing up around other females with infants? I’ve heard of zoos having to train captive-born gorillas how to handle infants, so I suppose the answer is often “No.”

I know that dogs instictively eat the placent and clean up the afterbirth, biting free the umbilical cord int he process. Very unsure of whether this would occur to a human, nor do I want to find out.

Breast feeding was certainly instinctual to Celtling, she was “asking” (not crying but a sort of high-pitched piping sound) within the hour. I twasn’t easy, but there was no question what she wanted. Whether I’d have known what she was asking for? HArd to imagine that the fullness and leaking wouldn’t have clued me in.

According to my wife, it varies. Epidurals can stall your labor–but don’t always.

I honestly don’t know, but I suspect the answer is no. I certainly didn’t feel any innate instinctive desire to hold my newborn to my breast or anything. I mean, I knew what I was supposed to do because I’d been told so, and the baby certainly instinctively knew how to suck, but overall this is not something I think I would have thought to do on my own, in like an Island of the Blue Lagoon situation or whatever. Maybe eventually you’d put two and two together, but I really don’t think it’s instinctive.

I think she would figure it out eventually–her breasts would be extremely sore, would squirt liquid when pressed, and her baby would keep putting its mouth on things. It would probably all go together on accident eventually, at least.

It’s not instinctive, but I have to think you’d figure out how to keep the baby alive, even on a deserted island.

Even a complete moron knows that people need to eat, and there’s not much that a newborn would be able to eat/drink besides milk. (If something is available that the kid would eat, then it would survive without breast feeding and the issue would be moot. Nutrition may not be optimal, but survival happens even with all kinds of sub-optimal scenarios.)

Maybe she’d come up with something weird or inefficient, like dripping milk into the baby’s mouth, but anyone presented with a crying baby will try everything and anything until the kid quiets down.

Then you have the baby’s rooting instinct. In many of the most natural postures for lying down or holding a baby, this instinct is going to lead the baby to find a nipple.

Yes, good points. I just think that the ability to figure out what should be done (which I agree most people would be able to do eventually) is different from a true instinct. Mind you, I am talking completely out of my ass and could easily be proven wrong with actual cites to the contrary, if any exist.

I mean, a hungry baby’s going to cry, and surely you’d pick it up, right? And you have to hold it relatively close to you because it’s all floppy.

Oh, good point actually. I misread your meaning. I doubt it’s instinctive in that sense as well. (Though if I found out it was I wouldn’t be dumbfounded or anything.)