13 Natural Ways to Cope With Labor Pain and Avoid the Epidural

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.

Natural Pain Relief Option #1: Doulas

“I found one of the best forms of pain relief during labour was definitely our doula. Whilst I may have had different techniques to help me through labour pains, my doula was the one who helped me to find the best method of drug free relief for the stage of birth I was at. The support she offered throughout also helped me to stay focused which in itself is pain relief, as stress only leads to pain and she was able to help me keep calm.”

According to many studies, women who use doulas have fewer requests for epidurals, fewer c-sections and are less likely to require forceps or vacuum births (amongst many other things).

In a recent review of all available doula studies, it was concluded that doulas were more effective at supporting a woman than hospital staff or the woman’s friends or family.

This is likely because a doula provides a trifecta of care which no other person present in a hospital birth room can provide.

These are:

• Continuous care – she doesn’t leave your side for shift changes (there are 3 in a 24 hour period)
• Experienced in birth and is trained in support skills
• Familiar – she known to the woman.

Many studies tell us that having a doula present at your birth will make it less likely that you’ll want or ask for pain relief.

A doula is trained in the art of birth support, where she learns about helpful positions, support methods and tools to help labouring women feel more comfortable and feel more supported.

Natural Pain Relief Option #2: Water

“I would have to say hot showers running on the lower back was my favourite during labour, I can’t recommend it enough! I had 6 or so showers and didn’t want to get out but, I was worried about water usage, because they had a sign up in the shower. Next time, i’m not getting out!”

Water immersion in labour offers significant benefits for the labouring woman, including pain relief, relaxation and comfort.

According to a Cochrane database review:

“Water immersion during the first stage of labour significantly reduces epidural/spinal analgesia requirements and reported maternal pain, without adversely affecting labour duration, operative delivery rates, or neonatal wellbeing. Immersion in water during the second stage of labour increased women’s reported satisfaction with pushing.”

The first stage of labour is the contractions prior to pushing – pushing is second stage.

Most midwives and birth attendants will recommend getting into the bath once you are in active labour.

Being in a bath creates buoyancy and you want to work with gravity in early labour to make sure the labour isn’t going to stall.

Showers are also great, as you can remain upright and direct the shower head at your lower back if you have back pain.

Even if you think you aren’t a shower person, in labour, many women choose to use the shower and some spend a great deal of their labours under the shower.

There are also many benefits for babies born in water.

Andrew Davidson is an Obstetrician at John Flynn Hospital in Queensland. He says around 40% of women at the hospital use water immersion for labour.

Birth satisfaction amongst those who waterbirth is very high.

He states: “There is a much reduced usage of analgesia in the waterbirth group with no epidurals, very few women using narcotics, while about half use nitrous oxide (gas). Waterborn babies tend to breathe quietly at first rather than cry but in our experience do not have lower Apgars or require more resuscitation.”

For more information on waterbirth, Janet Balaskas has a great book, ‘The Water Birth Book.’

Sadly not many hospitals offer waterbirth so you need to do your research. Mainly birth centres offer this option, or you can waterbirth at home with your own midwife.

“My absolute fave (natural pain relief method) is the bath – instant relief. I won’t ever birth out of one again.”

“For me it was being in the shower, not just because the warm water helps with physical pain but also from a psychological perspective being a hot shower always makes me feel safer and more relaxed. Even when I’m not in labour it’s great stress relief.”

“The bath helped me the most, especially because I had a posterior (backache) labour. I had all the pain in my back as well as my tummy. So having my belly and back submerged in the warm water really helped a lot.”

Natural Pain Relief Option #3: Calmbirthing/HypnoBirthing

Learning how to relax is so important in labour, otherwise you end up in the vicious cycle of fear → tension → pain.

When you tense up and get tight (which is a natural reaction to any sort of pain) it actually makes that pain worse.

With Calmbirth, you learn:

• To access your natural inner resources to alleviate the fear, anxiety and tension experienced during pregnancy, labour and childbirth
• Practical skills of relaxation, breathing and visualisation which are used during pregnancy, labour, childbirth and beyond
• How the mother’s body is beautifully designed to birth her baby naturally and calmly and with the right preparation, to work with the process rather than resist it
• The importance of a mother’s beliefs and attitudes about birth and how these can be one of the major differences between a positive or negative birth experience
• The importance of bonding with your baby and how this effects your baby’s future life
• To be empowered to take control of your own birthing experience

Natural Pain Relief Option #4: Changing Position

“Sitting on the toilet seemed to be quite comfortable which eased my pain… as I felt more relaxed.”

Being comfortable in labour is of course going to make a huge difference in your pain tolerance. The worst position for pain during labour (and the most dysfunctional) is lying flat on your back in bed, next is semi-reclining.

Mobility is important in labour, as is position changes, especially when you are working with gravity and your body. Upright, forward leaning positions are ideal, as when your uterus contracts, it actually contracts forward. Many unrestricted women naturally lean forward with contractions. Therefore working with your body and the surges of contractions is going to be more effective and efficient, resulting in less pain for the labouring woman.

“Given my quick labours and no time for bath showers etc, the number one thing during labour was position – on my knees leaning forward with legs spread. But the very best pain relief of all was holding my baby at the end!”

For more information on active birth, check out Janet Balaskas’ book, New Active Birth.

Natural Pain Relief Option #5: Naturopathy

If you visit a naturopath before your birth, they may be able to provide some natural pain relief preparations for you, which are safe while pregnant and breastfeeding. You can get some preparations over the counter from your pharmacy, for example, Rescue Remedy, however a tailored preparation just for you is ideal.

Natural Pain Relief Option #6: Massage / Pressure

You don’t need to be a professional to provide massage in labour – loving, nurturing strokes and massage on a woman’s body in labour is all you need to provide.

Some studies have been done on pain relief and massage. One of the studies involved massage conducted by the woman’s partner. They found that the woman’s anxiety and pain was reduced and her mood improved. Another concluded that massage was a cost-effective option that could be implemented by midwives. Women perceived a reduction in their pain and anxiety levels, and found with partner involvement, they had a more positive birth experience. Yet another concluded that women who were massaged during labour were less anxious, experienced less pain, had shorter labours and experienced less postnatal depression, opposed to the control group of women who did not receive massage.

Massage can be performed by your partner or a doula, but often midwives are too busy to perform massage, so plan for your partner or a support person to do the massage.

Massage stimulates the production of endorphins which are natural pain killers and mood enhancers. In labour, massage can be given on the shoulders, head, back, feet, legs and hands. If you buy oils for massage, make sure you check that the essential oils are safe in labour. Some essential oils need to be avoided. It’s best to buy a base carrier oil, like avocado, grapeseed or almond oil and add safe oils to it if you wish. Some oils safe in labour include lavender (relaxing), geranium (relaxing), orange (uplifiting, refreshing), clary sage (strengthen contractions), but please do check the correct doses with someone who is trained in aromatherapy.

It’s important to note that some women will not like touch or massage during specific times in their labour or at all, so it’s important to plan other options for natural pain relief as well as massage. Don’t be put off if she doesn’t want to be touched and don’t be afraid of offering again if you think she would like it. Observe her movements – does she have her hand on her back, does her back ache? Is she rubbing her legs? Maybe you could do this for her.

Women with lower back pain often get more relief from pressure (press your palms into her lower back, quite firmly). Even if she doesn’t like massage, she can enjoy this quite a bit.

Another helpful tip with backache is to have the woman sitting back in a chair and her partner or a support person pushing into her knees with their hands. You really need two people to do this as a tag team or with one knee each – women often find it so helpful with lower back pain that they don’t want you to stop, and the person pushing the knees can get very sore wrists – take it from someone who thought their wrists were going to fall off!

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