Is having a natural birth advisable, inadvisable, or a value-free decision?
If by natural birth, one means giving birth in a hospital or other medical center without an epidural or other anesthesia, then I would say the following: Experiencing pain during birth was a curse given to Chava, but one need not make an effort to fulfill a curse. (Even without pain, childbirth is at least uncomfortable and the curse is realized at least minimally.)
However, if a woman chooses not to have an epidural or another anesthesia, she definitely has the prerogative to do so since these treatments themselves present possible dangers, and a woman’s positive emotional state and sense of security are factors in reducing the threat to life presented by the birthing process.
If, however, by natural birth one means giving birth at home, my feeling is that one should not have a natural birth if there is a complication in the pregnancy such that special emergency equipment and expertise during birth may be necessary. In such an instance, having a home birth would amount to playing with the health of the mother or baby – or both – and would be proscribed by the mandate to guard one’s health.
If no complications are indicated, my experience based on cases I am familiar with has been that having the baby in a hospital is always better in case, G-d forbid, an unforeseen emergency arises.
However, if the woman feels strongly that the hospital environment is dangerous and she will be very agitated if forced to have her baby there – or she absolutely wants a home birth – then her emotional well-being is taken into account and she may perhaps be allowed to give birth at home if no complications are anticipated and all precautions are taken.
(From the rabbi’s wife: I don’t think home births are proper under any condition. One never knows what emergency may arise during birth. I believe a woman giving birth at home is putting the life of her baby and herself in possible danger. True, many home births go well, but one is still taking a chance, chas v’shalom, of needing emergency medical help and not being able to get it in time.)
— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu,
popular lecturer and educator
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There are divergent views by experts whether a natural birth is beneficial to the baby and/or the mother. Since the halachic concern in this situation is health, there is no halachic position on the question.
As far as hashkafa goes: The argument that we should follow what’s natural is not convincing since Adam was charged with improving this world. If it isn’t clear, though, that what we’re doing is an improvement, there is no reason to arbitrarily go against nature. Modern scientists are learning that there is purpose to aspects of Hashem’s creation that are not superficially obvious.
The mother’s mental health is also an important consideration. If she feels strongly one way or the other, her wishes should be followed.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at YU’s
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
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Natural childbirth generally refers to going through labor and delivery without aid of medications and pain relievers such as epidurals. Each woman needs to decide what would be best for herself. The prime consideration must be for her own health and the healthy delivery of her baby.
For some women, a natural childbirth is a wonderful experience, especially if they took suitable classes during pregnancy. Others, though, will prefer to benefit from the advances in medicine that diminish pain.
Natural childbirth classes generally want the father, as well as the mother, to prepare for the upcoming birth. It is advised that the husband be with his wife throughout the labor and delivery. Although some have raised halachic objections to a husband’s presence, Rabbi Haim David Halevy, the late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, offered justification (Asei Lekha Rav 4:58).
Modern research has found that the husband’s presence can be helpful to his wife during delivery. Although our mothers and grandmothers were perfectly able to have children without their husbands being present, it is possible that contemporary women may feel an absolute need for their husbands to be present during delivery.
Without their husbands there, women today may feel they will suffer greater pain and be in greater danger. For women who feel this way, Rabbi Halevy believes that the husbands should be present in the delivery room since this is a matter bordering on pikuach nefesh.
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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There seem to be two discrete questions here. The first question is: Should a person using something artificial to interfere with a process that Hashem put into nature? And my answer to that is: Absolutely one should.
If you live in a generation where there are anesthesias to ease the pain, I believe a person would be foolish not to make use of them – especially when taking into account the severity of the pain involved.
The other question is: Is there a danger involved? The Mesilas Yesharim explains that if there is a danger that’s both known and common, one has to be careful about it. If the danger isn’t known or common, however, one is not allowed to worry about it because that’s where bitachon comes in.
The determinant factor in this issue is strictly the science. What does medical science tell us? Are epidurals safe and common? What are the side effects? What are the rates of injury? If the answer is that there is an element of danger, then a person would be absolutely within her right to say, “I don’t want to take a chance – it’s too risky.”
But if the science tells us that there is no known credible or likely danger involved, then I believe bitachon would say: Trust Hashem. Hashem runs the world, and I’m supposed to trust Hashem to protect me in whatever situation I’m in.
(One last comment: We’re not allowed to be afraid of the possibility that some danger might be found years from now if right now it’s been well studied and well-documented that there is no known and common danger. In such a case, you have to trust Hashem and know that you’re doing the right thing.)
— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz