Do spiritual women have an easier time giving birth? A recent study suggests they do. The study, published in The Annals of Family Medicine, looked at 17 years of medical records for a birthing center serving Amish women in southwest Wisconsin. It found that the Amish women had fewer cesarean sections, lacerations, and other labor-related complications than other American women. The national rate for C-section birth in the United States is 33 percent, but the C-section rate among the Amish studied was less than 4 percent, even though many of the women at the birth center were considered high-risk because they were of advanced maternal age, had already had several children, or had previously had C-sections.
Many factors contributed to the positive outcomes, the study says, including the cultural background and lifestyle of the Amish women, as well as the low-intervention philosophy of the birth center. But birth professionals have also noticed that, regardless of their particular denomination, deeply religious or spiritual women need less intervention during labor, have less chance of surgical birth, and even experience labor as less painful, more enjoyable, and gentler than women with no spiritual beliefs.
“When a woman is grounded spiritually, it gives her grace under pressure,” explains Diane Speier, a childbirth educator who has taught classes on holistic birth for more than 20 years. “She has resources that help provide her with a level of inner peace and harmony to allay her fear.”
Eden Fromberg, a New York obstetrician-gynecologist and the owner of Lila Yoga, Dharma and Wellness studio, believes women who are spiritually minded have less complicated labors because they stay aware of what is happening in their bodies.
Becoming a mother “is a big spiritual transition for women,” Fromberg says. “It’s also a huge biological shift. There’s a natural cascade of neurohormonal activity that starts even before labor begins, occurs throughout the process, and continues after birth. . . . If we don’t interfere unnecessarily with the process, it can be exhilarating.”
Retired midwife and author Peggy Vincent, who attended over 2,500 home and hospital births, noticed that women deeply grounded in faith needed little support from her. Normally, Vincent says, she played an active role during births—rubbing the women’s backs, looking into their eyes during contractions, reassuring them they were doing a good job. But women of spiritual faith turned inward for strength.
“They were really independent,” Vincent says. “They didn’t need me to be with them eyeball to eyeball. I pretty much sat and watched them do their thing, which was not my usual style.”
She remembers one devout Catholic who birthed holding rosary beads. Propped up on the bed, this mom-to-be rocked and hummed softly during contractions. During her home birth—which lasted only a few hours—she gazed at the three-foot-tall statue of the Virgin Mary in her room. “I felt I was in the palm of the Virgin Mary,” the mother explained to Vincent afterward. “She was protecting me.”
It is not a particular religious denomination that helps women have enjoyable, vaginal, and medication-free childbirths. Rather it is the belief that their bodies are doing what they’ve been made to do and that they are connected to something higher—be that God, the spirit, the universe, or even an awareness of women in the past who have given birth before them.
“Spiritual practice gives you a sense of curiosity,” Fromberg explains, “and the sense that there are options to explore when you encounter pain, as opposed to clenching up against it or running away from it. We can soften in the light of pain, open, breathe into it. We have a relationship to the pain and see how the pain helps us have our baby.”