Exploring Natural Pain Relief During Labour

Labour and Birth Series

Not everyone will need pain relief during labour or birth, and you may be planning on not using anything at all.  But knowledge is power and whilst you’re planning for a drug free labour and birth, it’s important to know which pain relief options are available so you are able to make an informed choice. Similarly, if you know what options are available, you may find it easier to stay calm and try to relax as much as you can, which can mean an easier birth.

As midwives we know that most pregnant women are aware of medical options of pain relief available to them in labour such as gas & air or epidural but are less aware of the range of other non-medicalised options.

Knowing about all the different kinds of pain relief available to you, how it works, how it can impact your labour and most importantly how you use any option to achieve a positive birth will help you be best prepared for your birth. The bigger your tool kit of comfort measures, the more things you have available to you to help manage the sensations of birth.

There are many ways to reduce pain in labour without drugs. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Choose one or more that suit you.

Active birth

Staying active is one of the most helpful things you can do to manage the pain of labour and birth. Moving freely and rocking your pelvis can help you to cope with the contractions. Dance, swing your hips, use a birth ball, climb stairs – whatever works for you! The key is to stay UFO (Upright, Forward and Open). During our antenatal classes we share a range of advice on active birth positions to try, how they can help and when to use them.  Also have a look on our Instagram and Facebook pages for videos on active birth for more ideas.

Massage and heat

Massage and hot packs can ease your pain in labour. Massage helps distract you from the pain. A hot water bottle or heat packs are not only comforting (who doesn’t love a hot water bottle for ultimate comfort) they can also help your body release its natural painkillers — endorphins.

Water  

Have you ever taken a long, hot shower after a rough, hard day? It’s glorious isn’t it – relaxing, soothing and a great way to ease any aches away. A shower can have similar effects during labour. The water pressure and heat running over your body during labour can feel wonderful. Plus, standing in the shower allows you to both take advantage of gravity while getting relief from water. If your body is tired, you can also bring a chair in the shower to allow for more rest. (Stay safe and avoid slips by laying down a towel on the shower floor.) Add to the calming atmosphere by turning off or down the bathroom lights — set out candles (battery-operated if you are in the hospital) for a more relaxing environment. It may sound like a lot of effort, but it really does not take much time to prepare (that’s what your labour support team is for!) and the payoff is huge.

A warm bath works in the same way – relaxing and helping you to cope with the contractions or easing any back pain you might be experiencing. Having a bath or shower to ease pain during labour is not the same as having a water birth, you don’t have to give birth in a pool or tub just because you are using it for labour.

If you’re thinking of a water birth – head over to our blog posts or check out our midwife Hayley discussing all things waterbirth related on Instagram.

Relaxation

You can use different relaxation techniques to ease pain. Some people like music, some like meditation, some like incense. Generally, relaxation techniques help ease pain in labour. In early labour box sets and films at home with the curtains closed and plenty of snacks is great for relaxing – just make sure the film you choose is either something that makes you laugh or a little emotional – to get the oxytocin following nicely!

Aromatherapy

Essential oils are used with massage or heated over a burner. Smell and scent is very evocative – we all have certain smells that transport us back to a happy time or remind us of someone.  Find what works for you be it a squirt of perfume that’s special to you in a room or oils you’ve chosen. If you’re thinking of using aromatherapy, make sure you’ve had advice from a suitably qualified professional as not all oils are safe in pregnancy.

TENS Machines

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation – a handheld machine that you self-administer to stimulate your body to produce more of its own natural painkillers, called endorphins. It reduces the number of pain signals sent to the brain by the spinal cord.

TENS is really useful while you’re at home in the early stages of labour or if you plan to give birth at home. If you’re interested in TENS, keep an eye out for our blog coming soon and our TENS week next month!