Looking for natural ways to manage your pain during labor? In search of the best tips and tricks to avoid an epidural?
The pain during childbirth can be excruciating, especially as your contractions start to get stronger and longer. But, it is totally possible to minimize your pain with natural methods and avoid an epidural. Even if you have do be induced due to medical reasons.
By going natural, you’ll provide so many benefits for both you and your baby. You’ll be able to move freely and work with your body to birth your baby. You’ll decrease your risk for a cesarean and other interventions, be more likely to have a shorter, easier labor, and have a quicker recovery time. Plus, you’ll be so empowered just by being present and being able to feel all your birth sensations.
In this post, we’ll cover 13 natural pain management techniques to use during labor, talk about the most intense part of labor, and even give you a peak into how I managed my epi-free births.
13 Natural Ways to Cope with Labor Pain and Avoid an Epidural
Listed below are 13 natural pain management techniques to help you avoid an epidural and have the natural birth you’ve been hoping for. You can use these in combination or use different ones at various points throughout your labor.
You may find that some work well for you, while other’s you just can’t tolerate. You won’t know what works until you’re actually in labor, but don’t be afraid to speak up and let your doula, nurse, or birth partner know if something isn’t working.
Just do what ever relaxes you and makes you more comfortable. It’s your birthing day after all!
1. Change Positions
The best piece of advice I can give you is to change positions and change positions often. This will help encourage baby to move down, shorten your labor time, and help relieve pain and pressure.
During early and active labor, you can try:
- Walking the halls
- Slow dancing with your partner
- Doing some squats or lunges
- Bouncing on a birthing ball
- Sitting backwards on the toilet
When things start to pick up, it’s important to keep changing positions to maintain progression and manage your pain. Ironically, transition can be the most difficult time during labor to change positions.
But, by being brave, you might be able to find a more comfortable position and even speed up your labor. Positions you can try during transition include:
- Hands and knees
- Side-lying with a peanut ball
- On your knees with your upper body leaning forward
- Standing and leaning onto your partner, the bed, or the wall
- Sitting on the bed or a birthing ball
Essential oils are a great way to help reduce pain, nausea, and fatigue during labor. In fact, recent research has proven that lavender oil is an effective tool in reducing the severity of labor pains.
I wouldn’t recommend using a diffuser or applying topically though. You want your baby to be able smell your scent to encourage breastfeeding, and you’ll want the air to be clear for their developing lungs.
Instead, stick with personal inhalers, and use as needed. Lavender and frankincense are both great options for pain, as well as for keeping you calm. Citrus and mint oils can give you a boost of energy, and ginger, citrus, and mint oils can help reduce nausea and vomiting.
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Now, you won’t know if you’ll want to be touched or not until you’re in labor, but massage can be an excellent pain management tool if you are able to tolerate touch.
Massage can help you relax, release tension, and help you breathe better. It releases endorphins, which are feel-good hormones and natural pain-killers (source). You may want to have your doula, midwife, or birth partner try massaging your lower back, hips, shoulders and neck, hands, or even your feet.
While I was in transition, the amount of pressure on my tailbone caused me so much pain and agony. But, my doula came to the rescue and had my husband massage and apply counter pressure to the outside of my tailbone. This was a huge relief for me! Total lifesaver technique really.
4. Breathing Techniques
Patterned breathing can bring relief from any pain, discomfort, anxiety, or fear you may be feeling throughout labor.
Try your best to breathe through your contractions and “breathe your baby down.” Keep your breathing slow, deep, and rhythmic, and try to relax between contractions.
By concentrating on your breathing, you’ll be interrupting pain signals to your brain and giving it something positive to focus on. And, much like massage, breathing techniques release natural pain-relieving hormones, called endorphins (source).
If you let the pain and fear get to you, and you start holding your breath and hyperventilating, you’ll be reducing your baby’s oxygen supply. You do not want this. Keep your breathing slow, deep, and consistent for less pain, more oxygen, and enhanced relaxation.
Distraction can be an excellent tool during early and active labor to help keep your mind off the contractions. Labor can also just be quite long sometimes, and you’ll need something to help pass the time.
Try playing your favorite music, playing a card game, or just having a conversation. You could even write a beautiful letter to your baby on the way. My hubby was an excellent distraction, as he told lots and lots of jokes. Quite the comic, that one. 🙂
While distraction is a great pain management tool for the early parts of labor, it can often make you irritable or upset during transition and pushing. When things start to get intense, you’ll need a calm birthing space so you can focus.
Try shutting the curtains, dimming the lights, and playing soft, soothing music. My doula even brought some flameless candles to help create a more harmonous birthing space for me in the hospital.
And, don’t be afraid to speak up. If you want your birthing room quiet with no guests, don’t hesitate to make it known. If you don’t want to be touched, say so. Your doula, husband, and nurse are there to help YOU, so let them know what’s working and what’s not. This is YOUR BIRTHING DAY mama!
One of the most common ways to use a rebozo during labor is to sway the birthing mom’s hips from side-to side. You’ll have the shawl wrapped around your hips while you’re standing, lying down, or on your hands and knees, and your doula or birthing partner will support and control the motions of the rebozo (source).
You can also use a rebozo for support during squatting, so you can save your energy for the latter parts of labor. Tie a knot in one end of the rebozo, and throw the knotted end over the top of a door. Close the door tightly, and then hold on to the rebozo while you’re squatting. This will help open up your pelvis and encourage baby to move down into the birth canal.
A rebozo is an excellent pain relief tool to have packed in your bag for your birthing day.
Rebozos have traditionally been used in the Mexican birthing culture, but are becoming more and more popular in other parts of the world. A rebozo is basically a woven shawl that can be helpful before, during and after birth.
8. Soak in the Tub
Soaking in the tub can be a great way to ease your pain during labor and can be used whether or not you’re planning a water birth. The warm water can help relieve tension and allow you to relax, which ultimately can help speed things up.
If you’re not planning a water birth, you may find comfort taking a soak in the tub, or you may want to take advantage of gravity and enjoy the water pressure from a nice, hot shower.
However, be aware that a soak in the tub, especially during early labor, can actually slow down contractions for some moms-to-be. Your contractions may even stop altogether if your body isn’t quite ready for labor.
Self-hypnosis can help remove the fear, anxiety, and tension that’s connected with your pain during labor. This natural pain relief option can help prevent your stress responses from kicking in and help you remain calm and focused, with minimal pain signals reaching your brain.
Hypnobabies and Hypnobirthing courses teach expecting moms specific hypnosis techniques that can greatly minimize their labor discomforts. These are both great classes to take if you’re preparing to have a natural childbirth.
Continue reading below.
10. Heat or Cold Packs
Most hospitals and birthing centers have heat and cold packs offered as a natural pain management tool (if they don’t, you can always just wet a rag in the sink). Warm compresses can help you relax and can feel soothing on your lower back, pubic bone, or neck. They can also just help to warm you up if you’re experiencing the chills during labor.
A cold compress can be helpful if you’re having acute back pain, as the numbing effect can help decrease the sensation and awareness of the pain. The cold can also help boost your energy and reduce nausea.
11. Low-Key Vocalizations
Vocalizations can extremely helpful and empowering. They can help channelize your energy, set your focus, and help you cope with contractions.
However, the key is to make sure they are LOW KEY vocalizations. High-pitched vocalizations, like screaming, can make you feel out of control and frightened and can tense your entire body up, preventing labor to progress.
Lower-toned groans, grunts, moans, and chants are very common sounds for laboring women to make and are great for relieving pain and progressing your labor. Allow yourself to let go and make whichever low-key noise(s) comes naturally to you.
12. Don't Fight It
Try to have realistic expectations going into labor, and try not to fight what’s natural. Accept your labor and accept that labor hurts.
When you get scared and try and fight the pain, your body tenses up, and you can actually prolong your labor. By surrendering your body to this natural process, your body will open up, and your birth will be powerful. Remain confident, keep your muscles loose, and embrace your birthing sensations.
Reminders and encouragement can go a long way for an unmedicated birth. Meaningful words can help you feel inspired, brave, and focused. The words you hear can also play a huge difference in how you’ll remember your labor and birth experience.
Hang some birth affirmations to help you maintain a positive attitude and reduce fear. Hire a doula for constructive and optimistic guidance. And, be sure to only invite friends and family to the hospital or birthing center that will be encouraging and supportive of you.
You could even write up a little cheat sheet for your hubby to remind him to say things, like “you’re doing a great job,” “you’ve got this,” “you’re a warrior,” or even just “I love you.”
Pro-Tip: Be Aware of Transition
Transition is the most intense stage of labor and is a major sign that your baby will be here soon. Ironically, this is when most women cave and ask for an epidural. Then, they end up having their baby not too long after.
Be aware of transition, and try to remind yourself that this intense pain is for a purpose. Each wave of pain brings you closer and closer to your sweet baby.
Signs you might be in transition include:
- Contractions are long, strong, and close together (it might feel like you’re not getting a break)
- Trembling uncontrollably
- Feeling very warm and sweaty
- Feeling cold and shaky
- Strong pressure in your perineum and/or lower back
- Intense pressure in your rectum (with or without the urge to push)
- Difficulty finding a comfortable position
- Afraid to change positions
- Getting discouraged or looking for a “way out”
- Asking for pain medication
My Experiences with Epi-Free Births
My first birth: My first birth was short, fast, and intense. I ended up being induced early for gestational hypertension at 36 weeks. I had cervical ripening the night before and the OB broke my water the next morning.
Things got serious QUICK. Contractions were long, strong, and close together from the get-go. It felt like I wasn’t getting any breaks. I found relief sitting on the toilet and being leaned over on my hands and knees. Heat packs on my groin also helped relieve some of my pain.
My first birth ended up going so fast, it was all just basically a blur. I remember vomiting quite a bit, asking for ice chips, hiding in the bathroom, and plotting an escape to go home and “only have corgis” (true story).
I didn’t have a doula, I had just gotten transferred to the OBs from the midwives, and my nurse wasn’t very hands on. I did start to feel defeated towards the end, and I did honestly end up asking for pain medicine, but the nurse made sure to remind me that an epidural isn’t what I wanted. And shortly after that, (3.5 hours start to finish), my sweet baby girl was born.
I honestly think I wouldn’t have made it if my birth wasn’t so short that first time though. Having a supportive birth team is SO important for having a natural, unmedicated birth.
My second birth: Unfortunately, I had to be induced for gestational hypertension again with my second baby. But this time, I made it to 39 weeks, I had an awesome midwife group, an excellent doula, and a more experienced nurse and husband.
I didn’t have to have cervical ripening, as I was already dilated to a 5 at check-in. Instead, I was started on the lowest dose of pitocin, which was gradually increased over the course of my birth. Labor was much slower than my first, but still only took about 11 hours total.
During early and active labor, I found comfort walking the halls, doing lunges, bouncing on the birthing ball, and listening to my favorite songs. I also quite enjoyed talking with my doula and joking with my hubby. I did have to take frequent rests lying down for my blood pressure though.
As things started to get more intense, I found a lot of relief side-lying on the bed with a peanut ball between my legs. As things picked up even more, I winded up taking a soak in the jetted tub with the lights dimmed down. I remember getting shaky and having a metallic taste in my mouth in the tub and shortly after I got quite nauseous. Transition was happening.
I got back out to the bed, and baby was getting closer and closer to coming. Which, meant more pain for me. There was so much pressure against my rectum, and I was so sweaty and hot! I found relief being on my hands-and knees, and leaning forward. My doula, nurse, and midwife were all so encouraging.
My doula helped remind me of my birth affirmations, my nurse kept telling me what a great job I was doing, and my midwife told me how strong I was. And, I felt encouraged knowing my husband was right there by my side.
After 15 minutes of pushing, baby boy was here! Another epidural-free birth in the books.
Even though I had to be induced due to medical reasons for both of my births, I am beyond thrilled that I was still able to have two epidural-free births. They were so empowering!
Embrace Your Birth Sensations
Natural childbirth is painful, but empowering. And, luckily there are several tools we can use to help manage our pain without an epidural.
Changing positions, focusing on your breathing, diffusing some oils, or taking a soak in the tub can help you feel more comfortable as your labor progresses. You could even have your birth partner help you relax with a nice massage or by swifting your hips with a rebozo. Encouraging words can also go a long way in reducing your fears and maintaining your focus on a natural birth.
By minimizing your pain with natural methods, you’ll start to feel safe, relaxed, and comfortable, and your labor will actually be more likely to progress quicker.
Remember to accept labor, and embrace your birth sensations. YOU CAN DO IT MAMA! I believe in you!
What About You?
What helped relieve your pain during labor? Do you plan to use any of these natural techniques for your next birth? Drop a comment below, and be sure to share this post with other expecting mamas.
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