Let’s talk about how to ease the pain of childbirth.
You know you can get drugs and maybe you want them and maybe you don’t.
But even if you do want the drugs, you’re gonna have a period of time when labor has started and you’re in pain and you have to cope.
So it’s totally worth learning a few strategies to ease that pain so you can make it to hospital – or even have a natural birth if you want to.
Not medical advice – please note that I am not a medical professional and nothing in this post or on this site should be taken as medical advice.
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Why prepare for natural childbirth?
Early labor’s not fun but it’s ok.
No one really enjoys feeling their uterus contract – except in a ‘Yay, it’s finally starting!’ kind of way. The contractions hurt but they’re not that bad yet.
You’re preparing for what comes later.
For that moment when the pain is so bad that you are desperate for anything to stop it.
The moment when you want the epidural even though you don’t want it.
So mindset matters if you want a natural birth – let’s talk about that first.
#1 Get into your natural birth mindset
By baby #3 I knew that hoping for a natural birth was not enough.
Thinking that I would give it a go wasn’t enough.
“Oh, I’ll see how it goes and there’s always the epidural,” is fine if you are really okay with getting the epidural.
You have to believe you can do it.
I had to admit to myself that I wanted a natural birth and I’d be disappointed with anything else. And that opens up fear of failure. What if I let myself want it so badly but then couldn’t cope?
But admitting that you really want a natural birth – to yourself and your partner at least – is the first step in preparing yourself.
So from the get-go, I told myself I wanted a natural birth, I could do it and I would do it. And then I got prepared.
And preparing is the key to success, in my opinion.
#2 Educate yourself about childbirth
Don’t hesitate to get formally educated about the birth process.
Understanding what is happening to your body at each stage of labor and why it feels as it does will make the pain less frightening and the entire experience more manageable.
Take a prenatal class
A prenatal class is a great way to prepare yourself for labor – whether face to face or online. Sometimes it can feel impossible to fit one more thing into your week but this is something you’ll be glad you did.
And for less formal preparation, talk to your friends and family who are moms – especially if you know they had natural births. You never know who will give you that one awesome tip that makes all the difference.
Try actively looking for positive birth stories – the type that make it sound like something you could easily manage – because there’s no point terrifying yourself with horror stories now.
Remember, you want to go in with confidence, not fear.
#3 Pick a supportive provider
You’ll want to be sure that your provider will support your wishes to have a natural birth – so be sure to mention it when you speak to your hospital.
If you get to choose your doctor or midwife, find one who encourages natural birth and is skilled in supporting you.
I had an amazing midwife who fully supported my goals – and also had a knack of making me comfortable when that seemed impossible.
She had so many ideas to help me cope with the pain without drugs – and that’s what you need from your provider, too.
#4 Prep your team & consider a doula
Whether you are having a couple of people to support you in labor or just your partner, they need to know what you need from them.
Don’t assume that they know already – they do not.
Brief them on how they can help, from pain coping strategies you want to use to how they can advocate for you.
If your team knows what you are trying to achieve and how, they will be better equipped to help you achieve it.
Should you use a doula?
One optional team member to consider is a professional doula. A doula is not a medical professional but a birth supporter who is skilled in helping laboring moms cope with pain and have a positive labor and birth experience.
Your doula will help to keep you calm and boost your confidence as you move through labor. They will advocate for you and be your cheerleader when you need it most.
Beth of DGAF Mom has no doubts that her doula was crucial to her natural birth plans:
Hiring a doula was essential to my success. Even though I was fully ready with a plan b, I knew that I needed a “coach” to help me through the process.
And Mrs B of One Weird Mama agrees:
We had a doula with our first, and I would say it is the best money I’ve ever spent!
#5 Surrender and let your body do its thing
Labor pain is so intense that it’s hard to relax into it – to accept it and allow nature to take its course. But if you don’t give in to labor, you can actually make it worse for yourself.
Surrendering actually makes it easier in the end, as Jenni from Roots of Truth says,
Don’t try to fight what’s happening. It’s so hard to NOT do this because every inch of your body is in extreme distress and you want to fight that feeling like hell.
When we fight what’s happening, we are tensing up parts of our body that don’t even need to be tensed up. This can actually slow your labor down.
Natural childbirth pain relief techniques
There are a hot of ways that you can ease your pain naturally during labor. The first one, unlikely as it seems, is to relax.
#6 Relax during labor
It’s so important to relax during labor, because if you tense up, you can make your own pain worse!
Tension and pain can become a vicious cycle – where you tense up with each contraction and feel more pain than you need to.
You have to find a way to relax your body as you feel a contraction coming so let’s look at a few ways you can do that.
#7 Controlled breathing
A lot of things happen during childbirth that you can’t control – but you can control your breathing and that feels good.
Controlling your breathing means you will be getting more oxygen for yourself and your baby than if you are taking short, panicked breaths.
The easiest way to control your breathing is simply to count.
Counting the seconds of your in- and out-breaths gives you something that you can control to focus on and that helps you stay calm.
Count 1-2-3-4 slowly as you breathe in and then 5-6-7-8 (or 1-2-3-4 again if you prefer!) as you breathe back out. Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth may also help.
And for more specialised breathing techniques, there’s hypnobirthing.
#8 Consider Hypnobirthing
Hypnobirthing is amazing for helping moms to cope with labor. It’s a pain management method for birthing moms that uses self hypnosis, relaxation and breathing techniques to reduce pain and fear in labor.
Many moms find it extremely helpful and I learned some hypnobirthing breathing techniques before my third labor, which helped me cope with my contractions better than I ever did before.
In this video, birth professionals teach you two hypnobirthing breathing techniques that you can practise right now to prepare for your delivery.
#9 Water and warm compresses
Gentle heat will also ease your pain and comfort you in labor.
A warm bath or shower at home will help you to relax through those early contractions, and if you book yourself in for a birth pool, you can enjoy the benefits of warm water right through labor.
As well as feeling warm and lovely on your sore body, the water supports you and can release tension and help you find a better position.
Many moms find they can cope with contractions better in the comforting warmth of a birthing pool and feel more in control of what’s happening to them.
If you’d rather stay dry, a warm compress will have some of the same effects.
Try a heat pack
Warm compresses can be surprisingly effective and soothing for easing contraction pain. The warmth is relaxing and comforting – and can give you more relief than you might expect.
In my head, no way was a simple heat pack going to help and I was surprised when my midwife suggested one – but it turned out to be a pivotal part of my pain management right through established labour.
She fixed the pack on – and it worked its magic. It didn’t take away the pain but it certainly soothed it.
It got even better when we combined the heat pack with a Tens machine – but we’ll get to that in a minute.
You need to relax in labor – and what’s more relaxing than a nice soothing massage? (Maybe a nice soothing massage when you’re not in labor?)
Massage is soothing and comforting at any time, but especially during natural labor when you’re drawing on every resource to cope with the pain.
Have your partner massage you gently – shoulders, lower back, wherever you need it – to try and work out the tensions and help you stay as calm and comfortable as possible.
Here’s a video to get you started.
#11 Positions and movement in labor
All the TV moms seem to lie down for labor and birth, belly up, feet up – you know, the glamor position.
But there are SO many more options – and most of them will be AT LEAST as comfortable.
You can actually find natural relief from your labor pain by changing position because the new position may change how the baby is lying or where they’re pressing on you.
Leaning, squatting, kneeling or using a birth ball can all help you keep active – and upright – during birth.
Practise the positions you think you want to use in advance – even if you feel silly pretending to be in labor. You need to know what’s comfortable for you and what isn’t.
By practising, you can find a few positions that you like so you can make changes easily when you start to feel uncomfortable.
By moving from position to position you can help your labor move along while making yourself more comfortable.
#12 Stay upright in labor
How will staying upright help? I’ll be too tired to stay on my feet?
If you can stay upright, you’ll have gravity to help your baby move into position. That little human is pretty heavy now and when you are upright, their weight presses down on your cervix, encouraging it to open. (Source)
The further through labour you get, the more tired you’ll be – and you’ll just want to lie down (and be transported to a place where you’re not in labor).
But if you’re wondering how to deal with labor pain naturally, staying upright really can help.
And I believe this because I’ve lived it.
Late in my labor with #3, I had to walk to the bathroom. It wasn’t that far but obviously I got a contraction in the bathroom – but now I was standing up instead of lying down.
That contraction (that I breathed and rocked through while hanging onto the sink for dear life) was SO much easier than the previous ones lying in bed with gas.
#13 Focus on this contraction right now
Just get through one contraction at a time.
Thinking about how many more are coming won’t help you – it might even make you feel like giving up – so just stay in the moment and get through it.
Counting as I breathed helped me to get through my contractions as they intensified and Rachel from This Crafty Home says,
I found with my natural birth finding something repetitive to focus on helped. I sang the abc’s in my head.
And Beth was lucky enough to have some expert help when she needed to focus:
My husband is a psychotherapist and uses meditation a lot with his clients and at one point after my water broke and the contractions were so painful he led me through about an hour and a half of guided meditations to help me focus my pain and energy until my doula arrived and we went to the hospital.
Sadly, we’re not all going to have that kind of help but we can be prepared with ideas for staying focused, whether it’s abc’s or meditation.
#14 Hands on pain relief techniques
As well as massaging you to help relax you (as great as that is), there are actual hands-on physical things that your doula, midwife or partner can do to give you instant pain relief.
Specific techniques that you can learn to ease your labor pains, such as the double hip squeeze can give your baby wriggle room and you a little respite.
Likewise, applying counter pressure – having someone press into a spot that’s giving you a lot of pain – can actually make it feel better, as explained here.
You need a partner to do these for you and it’s a good idea to practise beforehand so they know what to do and you don’t have to try and gasp your way through an explanation!
#15 Try a Tens machine
A Tens machine is a pain relieving gadget that passes a mild electrical current through sticky pads attached to your body.
The effect is to block pain messages from travelling to your brain – which is obviously a great thing in labor.
It’s commonly used by athletes and those suffering from back pain and chronic pain conditions – under medical advice.
A Tens machine could also be a great way to ease your contraction pains during labor – assuming that your provider is happy for you to use one. I used one during my third labor and I wish I’d had one every time!
What does a Tens machine feel like?
My midwife attached the pads to my lower back and showed me how it worked.
It gave repetitive light pulses between contractions and had a button to hit when a contraction came. The button changed the action to a constant buzz of tiny electric shocks that felt weird but did a lot to dull the pain.
The Tens machine felt like something between prickles and being repetitively pinged with 100s of elastic bands. It wasn’t a very fun sensation but it did ease those contractions.
The magic combination of heat pack and Tens helped me throughout labor and I recommend it if you’d like a natural birth.
What to do now for an easier, less painful birth experience?
It’s so important to feel confident – and know what to expect – when your labor starts.
If you’re ready to get better informed so you can rock your labor, check this out: