Discover the secret to natural pain relief in childbirth with these 10 ideas that will leave you feeling confident and fully equipped for your big day!
DISCLAIMER: I am not providing medical advice. The information listed below is strictly for informational purposes. No material on this site is intended to be substituted for medical advice. Consult a midwife, physician, or childbirth educator for help with your individual needs.
As I count down the days until our “due date,” I can’t help but review all the important lessons I’ve learned as I’ve listened to other mothers talk about their natural birth experiences.
I also follow lots of different experts in the field of midwifery and obstetrics on social media, so I have a lot of great advice and education at my fingertips.
I’ve read several books on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and postpartum days (including newborn care), and you could say I have a little experience with babies. I’ve been an aunt for 15 years, with several nieces and nephews.
But I can’t help wondering what will happen in the unknown of labor and birth. Birth is natural and beautiful, but it is unpredictable.
It can vary greatly from woman to woman, and even birth to birth from the same woman. No two births are exactly alike.
I can’t help but remind myself of this to accept that I can’t control everything that happens on our baby’s birth day.
However, I can control my attitude and strongly influence my birth. I can equip myself with knowledge, tools, and coping skills. And I can give myself the confidence to not worry excessively or dwell on that what-ifs. I can choose to give birth without fear.
A natural birth experience is really important to me and I hope with all my preparation that my fate will play out the way I feel it’s supposed to be.
That’s why today I want to share some of the best ways to achieve natural pain relief in childbirth, because yes it is possible. Women do it every day and have been for thousands of years. We are capable.
And while, yes, I know there’s “no trophy for unmedicated birth,” it’s what I desire for a multitude of reasons. I am thankful for the autonomy I have to make these decisions for myself and my baby. I’ve also been lucky to find a provider and hospital that specialize in low interventions and natural birth.
Maybe you’re in the same boat, but you haven’t taken a course or read an entire book yet. Hopefully this can be your starting place for gathering more information to achieve the empowering birth you seek…
Can I use these tools even if I get an epidural?
Many women may choose to use some of these ideas even if they aren’t going the unmedicated route. Perhaps they want to labor at home for a while first, in the privacy and comfort of their own home, before getting an epidural. Or perhaps they want to be prepared in the case that they are in the 10% of women whose epidural fails. (Yes, this absolutely happens.) It’s always best to be equipped with coping tools just in case. You just never know.
Pain relief or pain management?
Many of these are great for relieving pain. They will actually help you perceive pain much less. However, it is important to note that you shouldn’t expect pain-free labor. This is unrealistic, although some women claim it has happened for them. It is okay to want this and to prepare for this, but don’t get hung up on no pain at all, start to finish. That shouldn’t be the end goal. It will be intense and hard, at the very least.
Many of these ideas I’ll talk about will instead help you prepare your mind and body for managing the pain that will inevitably occur. Managing it is essential. It is very possible with lots of planning and practice.This in turn helps you increase your chances of a natural birth without interventions and medications.
At what point in labor do I use these?
Some of these will be best used in early labor, while others will benefit laboring mothers more in active labor or even transition. Your nurse, labor partner, or doula will be able to help direct you. You can also prepare beforehand to know which methods work best in each stage. For more information on all the stages of labor, I recommend this website HERE.
Gripping hair combs in the palm of your hands, the teeth facing inward toward the palms, can distract you from pain in the middle of a contraction. It sends signals to the brain and helps you direct pain to another area of your body to give you a break from labor pains. This is a cheap, easy way for natural pain relief and something I’m interested in trying once I make it into the hospital during active labor. Although it may sound silly, it is highly recommended in medical spaces and from women who have used this technique before.
Water is one of the best ways to relieve labor pains. Whether showering or sitting in a tub of warm water, it can be very relaxing for joints and muscles. Everything feels lighter in water and it can feel really refreshing for mom. Some hospitals these days are equipped for water laboring and will provide a tub for you, but may also have some limitations on when you can labor in a tub. Always speak with your provider beforehand to have clear expectations about this.
The only warning I have about this one is that sometimes, in some women, sitting in a tub like this can actually stall labor, even if it makes your body feel really good in the meantime. In that case, it may be best to try another method after a certain amount of time.
Although I personally don’t plan on using a TENS unit, many moms find these useful during labor. A TENS unit is a device that can be purchased from a drugstore that is placed on the laboring mother’s body. It sends mild electrical currents through pads that are placed on the skin. This in turn blocks pain signals from reaching the brain. It also stimulates the body in ways to release natural endorphins that help mom feel good. These are painless to use and many athletes or those with injuries swear by them. Just be sure you specifically buy a maternity one.
These three in particular are all about developing a pattern, a strong rhythm, that will provide some sense of comfort and control to a laboring woman. Breathwork may look different for every woman and it really comes down to what feels most natural to you. I’ve seen lots of variations on the “correct” way to breathe during labor, but none of them feel that natural to me.
As someone who has practiced yoga and meditation on and off for years and years, I find that I can find my own natural rhythm and that feels best to me. Focus mainly on deep, slow breaths and use the pattern that works for you. Just be sure to practice this beforehand.
Additionally, visualization is a very strong way to manage labor pain. In a sense, it is a way of temporarily dissociating in a controlled way. There are many exercises that can help train your brain to focus on envisioning specific things to help you through any pain or intensity of your labor. This is often used along with breathwork in hypnobirthing as a technique to manage labor pain.
Low moaning can also help open and relax the throat, while also allowing mom to let out her frustrations. Physiologically, keeping the throat open and relaxed helps the pelvis open and relax. This helps move things along faster, and the less tense mom is, the less pain will be perceived. Horse lips (blowing raspberries) and low cow moaning are techniques recommended by many midwives, L&D nurses, and doulas in efforts to encourage this. It probably doesn’t sound very evidence based, but it has been shown to improve outcomes.
The main takeaway from most of these techniques is to encourage relaxation and comfort. Tensing up will always increase pain and the perception of it, while relaxing the joints and muscles will help relieve and prevent pain.
The double hip squeeze is an excellent technique to manage pain. The birth partner, whether husband, doula, or someone else, stands behind the mother bending down and proceeds to squeeze and put pressure on the sides of her hips, pressing inward with the palms to give counterpressure during an intense contraction. This is said to be very powerful and effective.
Other forms of massage can relieve pain and tension and overall help a laboring woman relax which is a pain reliever (and preventer). Anxiety and tension are the biggest enemies of a laboring woman. The goal is to reduce these as much as possible to counteract pain. Have your partner focus on massaging parts of your body where you hold the most tension. You can even use tennis balls for this. This is great to practice with your partner well before the day of. I have been working with my husband on this for months. Massage isn’t very intuitive to him, but he’s working on it and gets better as he continues to practice.
Birth affirmations are essentially one-liners that can empower mama to keep going and to focus on the finish line. They are little motivators and reminders for her to focus on the positives and to tune into her strength.
I had the women at my Mother Blessing help me write these out on flashcards and decorate them before I laminated them. I’ll be placing these around the room when I’m laboring to read in between contractions. During intense contractions or when I feel like giving up (during the transition phase), I want my husband to repeat some of them to me.
Birth affirmations are highly correlated to having a successful unmedicated birth. Don’t underestimate them.
Movement can be powerful for labor because it is statistically shown to really help labor progress. (And isn’t that what we all want–a quicker labor?!) Of course, you won’t want to overdo it too much and run all of your energy out too quickly, too soon. But light walking, dancing, swaying your hips with your partner, and even moving around on an exercise ball can do wonders.
These movements can also help keep you comfortable during labor. The birthing ball especially can help your baby engage by opening the hips and pelvis and giving them that extra space they need to move through your body.
Squatting on or near your bed, in a water bath, or even on a toilet, backwards, can help keep joints and muscles comfortable and help the baby move down. That doesn’t mean it’ll be pain free. There will be pressure, but these can all help labor progress and allow the body to do what it needs and wants to do while also providing some extra comfort and rest for other parts of the body.
One of the top recommendations for early labor, especially if you’re waiting at home for a while before heading into the hospital/birth center, is to distract yourself. According to some experts, first-time moms especially are tempted to start timing contractions from the get-go. This can set them up for failure as they may feel like it’s dragging out and really lose mental stamina quickly. It can also be discouraging thinking of exactly how long you’ve been laboring. Most first-time moms labor for longer than previous mamas. This is normal and to be expected (and if it goes faster then consider it a blessing and a nice surprise).
But the best thing to do if you think real contractions are occurring is to keep moving about your regular day doing whatever you’ve been doing at home. Staying active in and of itself can help labor progress more quickly. Additionally, distractions can take away the anxiety and help you focus your energy elsewhere so you aren’t mentally exhausting yourself. You can still take short breaks during contractions or lay down to rest for a bit to keep stamina up. But light cleaning or cooking, a short walk outside, watching a funny movie, or dancing can all be great ways to distract yourself during this time.
In reality, most providers agree that you don’t need to start timing contractions until they become very regular and start getting closer and closer together with more intensity. It will be hard to gauge this from the get-go, but most women will be able to tell when they’re getting much closer together and getting too strong to go about their day with usual distractions. Your provider will let you know beforehand when it’s time to contact them and/or head into the hospital.
Music has a tendency to evoke strong emotions and help us through tough times. We also use it to celebrate and enjoy life. Why not use it during labor too? Building a playlist of some of your favorite songs can help keep your attitude lifted throughout labor. Music can help keep your mood stable and your mindset focused during the duration of it.
I personally plan on making one with more upbeat songs I can move around to and keep my spirits up during early labor. Then I’ll switch to a calming, more relaxing playlist during the intensity of active labor. Everyone’s playlist will look vastly different. Do some research for ideas, but don’t be afraid to use the songs you know and love. Familiarity is a beautiful thing as the unknowns of labor unfold.
Aromatherapy is an excellent way to manage labor pain. In fact, olfactory senses (sense of smell) are one of our stronger senses. These senses are connected to the amygdala which is involved in memories and emotions.
Aromatherapy can help calm an anxious mama and recenter her during an intense contraction. It may not take away all of your pain, but it gives you the chance to focus on something else for a few seconds. Certain essential oils, dabbed onto a cotton ball, can be especially helpful in women experiencing nausea. Peppermint and lavender oils are the top recommendations if you’re interested in investing in these beforehand. You can even opt for a battery powered diffuser if you have room in your hospital bag.