Pain in labour. It’s like death and taxes, except only 50% of the population is privy to it. Pain in labour varies though, and it comes in waves rather than being constant. Today we have some amazing ways to manage the pain with medications, and many women swear by the use of epidurals. Others want to give birth drug free but don’t feel all that confident.
Who could blame a woman for being hesitant about drug free birth. From the time we were old enough to listen to adult conversations and watch television, we are exposed to birth. Yet it’s unlikely we have ever heard a single woman talk about it in any light other than “agonising, unbearable, and unmanageable”.
Contrary to this system of beliefs, birth can be quite manageable! Intense, yes, but manageable. Here are eight ways to increase your odds of giving birth easily without an epidural.
Harness the Hormones: High levels of naturally released hormones in birth help keep you feeling calm, and in control. They also help you manage the intensity. To harness your hormones you need to give birth in an environment where you feel safe and your privacy is respected, where you are comfortable, and without unnatural, overly bright lighting. Optimal hormone release in labour is the top thing you can do to increase the likelihood of avoiding an epidural.
For Further Reading On Hormones SEE HERE
Eat and Drink: It’s called labour for a reason. Our bodies work hard to give birth! They need to be well hydrated and nourished, as if you are running a marathon. You probably won’t want a burger when you’re in labour (although one friend told me that she did) but eating some fruit, dried or fresh, nuts, or toast, just something light, will help you going. That in turn will reduce your perception of pain in labour. There’s nothing quite like exhaust to make everything seem overwhelming. Vitamin c is supposed to help with oxytocin levels, so foods rich in that might be a good thing. Some sources claim that chocolate releases oxytocin, so chocolate might be a good thing to nibble on….. and whether it does or not, it’s delicious!
Move Freely: Moving freely is a great thing to do. Pain in labour is always worse when you are strapped down, and especially when you are lying on your back. When you are lying on your back your body has to push your baby up in order to push it out. This means your body has to work harder, and a body that is working harder makes stronger contractions, and stronger contractions are? YES! More painful. So move freely. Walk, sway, get into strange positions if they feel comfortable, work with your body. Some women instinctively get onto their back, and that’s ok Being stuck on your back like a stranded beetle because “that’s how women give birth” is totally different to feeling like you need to be on your back to manage the intensity.
Give Birth In Water: Does the venue where you plan to give birth provide water immersion to all their clients? If not, will they be ok with you bringing your own birth pool? If not, find a new venue. Money talks, and whether an insurance company pays on your behalf or the government does, money will exchange hands. Make sure the money paid, sends a message. Being in water makes point number 3 (Move Freely) much easier. The water immersion is comforting, and it creates a boundary around you that fills the privacy criteria in point number 1 (Harness The Hormones). Water is an all round winner for pain relief!
Have an A1 Support Team: Whoever goes near you when you are in labour will have an impact on your ability to cope. People who make you afraid, or who interrupt the flow of hormones, will increase pain, so choose wisely! Having a doula can help, doulas are well known to reduce the perception of pain in labour, and increase the ability to cope. Having a really well prepared partner definitely helps, and hiring a team of professionals (whether you pay personally or someone pays on your behalf, you hire them) that you know and trust, that are predictable, will also help. Be sure that the only people you have contact with are people you know to be supportive and encouraging of drug free birth.
Further Reading: For Dads who want to support a drug free birth plan
Breathe: This is the easiest, and one of the single most effective things you can do, and you don’t need to practice doing it, even though some sources say otherwise. A well oxygenated muscle is an efficient muscle. Your uterus has a muscle – pretty cool huh? – so give it plenty of oxygen to help it do its job.
Here’s the only information you need on breathing through contractions:
- At the beginning of a contraction take a quick breath and breathe out fully, then breathe deeply, and slowly, throughout, ensuring that you breathe right down deep into your lungs. You can practice this if you want. Some birth classes recommend holding an ice cube in your hand and using the intensity of that to prepare. But you’ve been breathing for a while now, so ensure that your support team will remind you to breathe (sometimes women hold their breathe in labour) and you should be good to go! Breathing might sound like a ridiculous way to manage pain in labour, but trust me, if you get caught behind the breathing schedule, you’ll know it!
Relax: Relax every muscle in your body. This one is worth practicing. A hypno-birth course of some type might be just the thing, or if you can’t afford that, you can purchase the CDs. If you can’t afford that, don’t panic, just read everything you can read and practice relaxing your whole body. Have your support team work with you to help you with this one. Maybe with massage (which can help release oxytocin). Work out what your problem areas are, do you hold tension in your shoulders? Jaw? Abdomen? Practice relaxing those areas, and learn to identify tension in them so that in labour you can focus on relaxing them. Pay particular attention to relaxing your bottom, and your mouth.
Have A Plan For Transition: Transition is the most intense stage of labour. Until transition, it’s probably that you won’t mind labour too much. Some women never experience transition, but those who do need a solid plan. If you have transition it is likely that it will be in this stage that you demand the epidural and threaten to kill everyone who stands between you and it (and their children’s children, and their pets and house plants). Transition is a difficult time emotionally, and it can make even the sanest of us, irrational. Your support team need to be fully clued in on this, and they need to know that it’s not a change of heart about the birth plan, it’s transition. They need to be prepared to get yelled at, or cried on. Be comforted by the knowledge that transition is the shortest stage, and that once it hits, you know you’ll be pushing soon! (that’s good news for the houseplants too!)
So go forth and plan your drug free birth! Women have survived drug free birth for a million years now, so we know it’s entirely possible. Be sure to be realistic about it though, it isn’t a failing, you aren’t “caving in” if you change your mind. Labour is intense, and women are human! Some women will have pain free births, but most will have some kind of pain in labour. Birth is not a test to pass or fail, but it is something that really matters to women. No matter what happens, make a promise that you will be kind to yourself afterwards.
Birth without an epidural, does not make you a better mother. The belief that birth without an epidural is best for your baby, and the intention to give your baby the best start in life, is what makes you a good mother. Whether or not you achieve that, often largely depends on the people who are with you when you are in labour. That’s why it’s so important to have as much information as you can have, and to plan thoroughly. If you have any tips, please leave them in the comments section to help other women!
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