Expert Tips for Managing Childbirth Pain Naturally

During pregnancy, you’ll face many decisions, one of them being whether to use pain medication in childbirth. While it’s not right for everyone, choosing to go without medication during labor can have benefits, such as possibly needing fewer interventions overall.

It’s important to understand that every birth is natural and special, and each one unfolds in its own way. Sometimes, things may not go as planned or expected, even if you’re aiming for an unmedicated birth. Unforeseen complications or the intensity of labor pain can lead to changes in your birth plan.

We talked to UNC Health certified nurse-midwife Meg Berreth and UNC Health OB-GYN Katelin Zahn, MD, about natural ways to manage pain during childbirth.

Preparing for an Unmedicated Birth

If you plan to manage the pain of childbirth naturally, it’s important to prepare both physically and mentally.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout pregnancy, including exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet, can contribute to shorter durations of labor and overall well-being. Labor is very tiring, so make sure that you are well-nourished and hydrated.

Attending childbirth education classes equips you with knowledge about coping strategies and creating a birth plan that matches your preferences. This plan should outline desires regarding pain management and other aspects of labor.

As you get closer to when your baby is due, it’s good to recognize the stages of labor, which helps you determine when to seek hospital care.

“Early labor signs differ from active labor signs, ensuring you are admitted at the right time to optimize your birth experience,” Dr. Zahn says.

One of the best strategies for those seeking low-intervention childbirth is to remain at home during the early stages of labor.

“While this approach isn’t suitable for everyone, it offers a familiar and comfortable environment for those who can consider it,” Berreth says. “Generally, staying home longer reduces the likelihood of interventions, as fewer mothers require them when they delay going to the hospital during the initial phase of labor.”

Natural Ways to Manage Pain During Childbirth

If you’re leaning toward a low-intervention or natural birthing experience, various pain management techniques can be beneficial:

  • Breathing techniques: Methods such as Lamaze and Bradley help manage contractions by focusing on controlled breathing patterns.
  • Movement: Staying active during labor, such as walking or changing positions frequently, can aid in managing discomfort and promoting labor progress.
  • Hydrotherapy: Particularly in the first stage of labor, sitting in a filled tub or a running shower can provide soothing relief.
  • Hypnobirthing: Relaxation techniques and positive visualization can be used to reframe the experience of labor pain and cope effectively.
  • Massage and emotional support: Gentle massages and a trusted support person, such as a doula, can significantly enhance comfort and emotional well-being during labor.

If you decide you want pain medication, you have some choices.

“For those preferring pharmacologic options, IV narcotics can be administered during appropriate phases of labor,” Berreth says. “Patients can also opt for nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, which provides a relaxing effect that may allow patients to manage labor pain without an epidural.”

Flexibility and Support Are Key

It’s important to communicate openly with your healthcare team and support people about your preferences and concerns. They are there to assist in making informed decisions that align with your birth plan.

It’s also essential to approach childbirth with flexibility and self-trust.

“I always advise couples, especially when the goal is to avoid an epidural, to establish a code word. Unmedicated women need to express that labor is hard and painful without everyone immediately offering medication,” Berreth says. “A code word helps communicate when the conversation shifts from just expressing discomfort to actually wanting pain relief.”

And remember, birth plans can change, and it’s OK to adjust expectations during labor if necessary.

“Whether opting for pain medication or needing a cesarean section,” Dr. Zahn says, “every birthing journey is valid and deserves celebration.”

Looking for a midwife or an obstetrician? Find one near you.