The pure definition of labour is: work, especially hard, physical work. So it’s no surprise that the labour associated with childbirth is no different. Luckily, we have many options when it comes to pain relief, especially natural pain relief. For me, doing research and reading up on childbirth really helped put everything into perspective. When I knew and understood what was happening within my body, it was easier for me to accept the pain and remember the mantra I used: Pain with a purpose. Knowing it was only temporary and happening for a reason made it easier to accept in the time, knowing it would all be over soon and I would be left with a beautiful little baby. Having many remedies, from water to counter-pressure, also helped tremendously. Every woman is different so what works for one might not work for the other and vice versa, but if you’re hoping to go medicine-free when it comes to childbirth, this list of natural pain relief for labour includes some of the best options out there if you’re looking to go drug-free.
I cannot stress enough how much water helped my contraction pains. They were still painful, but being immersed in water made a massive difference. Being in the water creates a natural buoyancy which decreases the mom’s weight and allows for easier movement and positioning. According to the American Pregnancy Association, this buoyancy “promotes more efficient uterine contractions and improved blood circulation resulting in better oxygenation of the uterine muscles, less pain for the mother, and more oxygen for the baby.” Being immersed in water can often lower anxiety-induced high blood pressure and reduce stress-related hormones. With the research of hydrotherapy backing up what a lot of moms already know, many hospitals and birth centres are now starting to equip tubs in their labour/birth rooms. If you’re planning a home birth, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a doula, midwife clinic or birth centre in your area who will rent out a tub. Birth Pool in a Box is one of the most popular ones.
Many birth classes now offer tips on counter-pressure techniques, an incredibly helpful tool. Counter-pressure massage and the infamous hip squeeze are both wonderful at helping combat back labour, which many women experience. Birthing Naturally has a great post on how to apply counter pressure as well as tips on doing the hip squeeze, both of which are really beneficial to women during labour, especially during contractions.
I’m not talking about the stereotypical lamaze (although that can be helpful, too) many of us have grown up with in movies, but really just plain good relaxed breathing. We often naturally tighten up during contractions, but trying to keep up with steady, slow breaths can make a world of difference. Rhythmic breathing will also help increase the amount of oxygen in your own lungs as well as to the baby, helping ensure you both keep steady heartbeats. A good birth partner or doula can remind you to keep breathing steadily and to breathe through the contractions.
Research on the roles of doulas during labour consistently shows that having a doula can drastically decrease a woman’s chances of needing intervention as well as help with pain relief. Both my partner and I found our doula incredibly helpful not only for assisting with things like counter-pressure on the back but also constantly reminding me to breathe, and also being that calm presence that I think we both needed (especially as first time parents!) Doulas are there specifically to support the labouring mom and her family both physically and emotionally, but they do not serve in a medical capacity in any way. Having an experienced woman there to help provide support in any way necessary as well as offer encouragement can really help a woman continue with her desired plan to birth naturally. Check out local doulas in your area or ask around for recommendations. Prices vary widely and many doulas will offer services on a sliding scale.
Using a yoga ball can allow you to get into particular positions that help relieve pain, such as sitting on the ball with your legs apart to relax the pelvic area, or lying on the ball face-up to relieve back labour.
Changing Positions/Moving Around
Every woman is different, which is why being able to move around and change positions can really help. While one mom might prefer to labour sitting on a yoga ball, another might prefer to hang over the edge of the tub. Just being able to freely move, whether it’s walking around or squatting, will enable a labouring woman to get into the position that best works for her and find that more comfortable place in which to get through contractions. Many women also find that walking during early labour can help them keep their mind off the pain.
Heat packs can also help relax and soothe tight muscles since they can be applied directly to the area that is experiencing pain. Make sure you wrap up the heat pack in a towel or pillowcase first to prevent burning.
TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is another natural option that can even be utilized at home. It is non-invasive and doesn’t restrict movement. TENS is supposed to work best if started in early labour as it can take some time for the labouring mom to feel any difference. The possible benefits are that the electrical pulses prevent pain signals from reaching your brain, and also help distract you from the pain of contractions. Babycenter has some good information on how the TENS machine works.
What natural pain relief did you use for labour? I’d love to know!
I actually have an at home TENS system that I hope to take along the next time. I had an epidural with my first deep into labor. It was after many hours of crazy intense contractions – to the point that the midwife recommended I have one to conserve my energy. The main problem was that they rushed to give me Pitocin 6 hours after my water broke. I wish they had given it more time to progress naturally to some extent. Hours and hours of pitocin really ruined things for me…. But next time I will come more equipped with these natural alternatives. The epidural caused a new host of problems, and a very prolonged recovery….
I’d love to know how the TENS works for you. I haven’t tried it in labour. I’ve heard contractions with Pitocin are very difficult to manage naturally, I can understand why you chose the epidural. Sorry to hear it resulted in problems too:( I hope everything goes well for you next time.
Clancy Cash Harrison MS, RD, LDN says
I tried labor without pain meds. I really which I knew about this when I was pregnant. I am going to share it with my mom’s to be- thanks!