There are many benefits to choosing natural pain relief during labor and birth, benefits for you and the baby. Labor can be shorter (compared to that of an epidural labor for example) and the recovery time can be smoother. Neither you nor baby will be left with the effects of some medical drugs that may leave you both sleepy and ‘spaced out’. Using natural pain relief can also help you to feel more in control during labor and fill you with empowerment which can help emotionally during labour as well as after the birth when reliving the experience.
Aromatherapy – Smell is a powerful sense! It can remind us of childhood, a favourite day or moment in our past. It can make you feel safe and secure, relaxed or wide awake and refreshed. During labor and birth try using essential oils in an oil burner or on a tissue. Ylang Ylang, Lavender, Frankincense, Neroli and Chamomile are just a few that can help by reducing fear, relaxing body and mind and even promoting a happy attitude; they relieve depression and anxiety. Many can be used during pregnancy too to aid different ailments but do research this before hand and seek advice where appropriate from an aromatherapist; some oils cannot be used during pregnancy. It is also important to buy quality grade oils to get the best effects. There is some great information here about essential oils.
Breathing – Effective controlled breathing is very important during labor. Breathe long and slow through the pain, always being mindful of your breathing to keep in a relaxed state and to also avoid feeling sick and dizzy.
Meditation – This really takes breathing to the next level and encourages an almost trance-like state where you go beyond the pain using visualisation methods. This can be harder to achieve than many other methods mentioned here but can greatly reduce pain if accomplished. Meditation is another branch of ‘hypnotherapy’ and ‘hypnobirthing’ mentioned below. A great way to stay focused is to repeat affirmations and connect with your baby.
Hypnotherapy – This is a form of self-hypnosis using visualisation and deep relaxation to conquer specific fears and concerns regarding labor and birth. This can be especially useful for those attempting breech and vaginal birth after caesarean section (VBAC).
Hypnobirthing – This is a technique incorporating breathing and visualisation practices to have a more positive birth experience. This is a book and CD offering a fantastic hypnobirthing package.
Water – Just like a warm bath can ease menstrual cramps, being immersed in warm water can help ease labor pains while also relaxing the mother. You can choose to hire or buy a birthing pool (or a big paddling pool) to labor and give birth in. Baths are generally too small for the actual birth but can be used for much of labor if you prefer. Even a shower can be used as some find the warm water pulsating on the back or stomach during contractions helpful.
Keep moving and birthing positions – Anything goes here! Squatting is a useful position, especially during the final stage of labor as it opens up the pelvis to allow baby more room, this will also help mum to feel more comfortable. Also walking through contractions, being on hands and knees and even hanging from a strong bar, door frame etc. can all help one to handle the birthing pain!
Massage – Either to alleviate pain or even just to help mum relax. During posterior labor, a birth partner massaging the laboring woman’s lower back very hard during a contraction, helps combat some of the sharp pain.
Acupressure – This links quite nicely with massage. You can do this yourself but having a pair of extra hands will enable you to feel the benefits while having contractions. Points of the body are pressed during contractions and labour to help ease pain. Try to locate these specific points during pregnancy as a guide for labor; they should not be pressed hard during this time, as they can affect pregnancy and even bring along an early labor. Read more about it here.
Heat – Using warm water, a hot compress (a cloth soaked in hot water and rung out for example) or a heated wheat bag placed either on the lower back or the stomach can really help ease discomfort.
Be vocal! – Women all labor differently and while some are quiet laborers many are not. It really does depend on the mum-to-be but being noisy can help them to get baby out! Low belly growls and hums can be particularly effective during a contraction. Or even try singing!
Healthy Pregnancy – This won’t come as a shock to you, labor is HARD work! The affect it has on our body is akin to that of running a marathon. With this in mind you must ‘train’ yourself to run that marathon of birth! Eat well (eat for energy not for weight loss), exercise daily but gently (yoga and walking are highly recommended) and try to keep a positive attitude throughout. Use those months of pregnancy to prepare for birth. The pain may still be there but your tolerance and endurance will be increased. Here are 10 tips to a healthy pregnancy.
Reduce fear – During labor our clever bodies produce endorphins to help us deal with the pain. Fear makes your body produce adrenaline which counteracts the effects of the endorphins; fear makes muscles contract and pain stronger. Reduce labor fear as much as possible during pregnancy and then try to relax (as much as is humanly possible) during labor. Of course that is easier said than done but making strong decisions during pregnancy about the birth will help you feel empowered, in turn this may help you control the fear. Here is an interesting read written by a midwife about fear during the birthing process.
Keep your goal in mind – You chose to use natural pain relief for a reason, keep that in mind when things get tough. It is very helpful to have a birthing partner (whether your midwife, husband/partner, doula etc.) who understands your choices and will help encourage you, especially during the later stages of labor when tiredness may become a factor.
Remember that the pain you feel is a positive pain (I wouldn't recommend saying that to a laboring woman, I will not be held accountable for her actions!); it is a means labor is coming to an end. It is the natural and intense waves that are helping your body push that little life out. As you ride the pain think about how your uterus is working together with your baby, in harmony, so that he can join you.