10 Drug-Free Ways To Manage Pain During Labor

Do you want a drug-free labor but need to manage the pain? Check out 10 drug-free ways to help you through a natural birth

Pregnancy is often the most exciting time in your life. Whether you are a first time parent or adding yet another addition to your growing family, it is often 40 weeks filled with excitement and trepidation.

While the anticipation of a new member to your family can be sweet, the lead up to labor can be filled with fear and anxiety.

Those who are unsure of what to expect may feel unprepared for what lies ahead and those who have experienced birth may feel daunted at the thought of a repeat performance. But here are ways to help yourself.

10 Breathing Techniques

A popular way to manage pain during labor is to focus on your breath in order to take your mind off of the pain. The way you focus your breathing can also be helpful in keeping you calm and focused. There are several breathing techniques to help keep you calm and focused on breath in labor. There is no one fits all approach, so see what feels right and natural in the moment.

Slow breathing: A pattern of slow deep breaths can be helpful for shifting your focus during early labor. Try breathing in for four counts and expelling your breaths for four counts.

Rapid Breathing: This technique can be helpful during active labor to help combat the pain of strong, frequent contractions. Contractions occur in a wave pattern, growing in intensity and then becoming less painful. Mirror your breathing the same way, becoming more and more rapid as the pain intensifies and then slowing down as it subsides.

Transition Breathing: At this point in labor you may feel the urge to push without your cervix being fully dilated. Often a ‘pant, pant, blow’ style of breathing can be helpful to resist the urge to push until your body is fully ready.

9 Water

Water can be a helpful tool during early labor. Many laboring women find submerging themselves in a tub of warm water a great tool for relaxing the body and managing the pain of early labor.

Women who are experiencing back labor (where the pain is concentrated in the back of the body rather than the front) often find a shower is helpful in relieving some of the discomfort from the contractions.

Just because you are using water as a method of pain management does not mean that you are having a water birth. Water birth is when you give birth to your baby while in a birthing tub. Only certain hospitals and birthing centers are equipped to do a water birth. Be sure to check with your healthcare professional if you wish to have a water birth.

8 Strong and Supportive Partner

Some of the methods used to combat the pain of labor are physical and others are mental. One of the best defenses to the pain and fear of labor is to approach it with confidence and a strong support system.

Consider who you want to surround you during labor and birth carefully. This is not a situation where you should consider the feelings of others first. You need to feel comforted and supported by those you surround yourself with and that extends to your healthcare team.

Some women choose to bring in a doula, who is a professional labor support person.


Transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS) has been used to relieve pain for both acute and chronic pain since the 1970s. Using a TENS machine during labor can be effective for some women. 

A TENS machine consists of both a hand-held device and connecting electrodes which are connected to the skin. These electrodes will send mild electric pulses along the nerves to the spinal cord and the brain. This will cause a tingling sensation around the site of the electrodes.

When a TENS machine is used to manage pain during labor it is often applied to the lower back, head or acupuncture pressure points. The laboring woman is able to operate the TENS machine themselves. It is unknown if the machine is effective because it relieves pain, provides a different focus or gives the woman in labor a sense of control.

6 Massage

Massage can be a pregnant woman’s best friend. From swollen ankles and an aching back, carrying your growing baby for nine months can put a lot of strain of your body. Having a willing partner (or massage professional) available to help to ease your discomfort can be highly beneficial. This benefit does not stop during labor.

Just like every woman is unique, so can be her needs and wants during labor. While massage may be a great way to ease the discomfort during labor, some women may not want to be touched while they are in pain.

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If you combine heat packs with massage it can encourage your body to release its natural painkillers- endorphins.

5 Surroundings

Many people hate going to the hospital. The stark white surroundings coupled with constant beeping and the smell of cleaner in the air is enough to make even the most relaxed person tense up.

While many women choose to labor at home for this very reason, you can also choose to make the hospital surroundings as relaxing as possible.

Many women like to drown out the noise of the hospital with a relaxing playlist of their favorite music. You may want to have your child enter the world with a particular song playing for a memorable entrance.

Pillows, blankets and essential oils can also help your body relax and release natural hormones to help you cope with labor.

4 Positions

Many traditional images of women in labor show them lying flat on their back in a hospital bed. The truth is that this position does not do you any favors to help with the pain of labor or bring your baby into the birth canal.

When it comes to labor positions, working with gravity can be helpful in speeding along your labor’s progression. Standing, walking and squatting can all help bring your baby lower into your pelvis.

Movement can also help distract you during contractions. Bouncing on a birthing ball or leaning on all fours may provide pain relief during different stages of labor. Many women also choose to give birth on all fours or in a squatting position.

3 Vocalizing

Many women spend 40 weeks preparing for labor. Many are reading books, attending birthing classes and/or determining their birth plan. As much as any expecting parent prepares for a birth, nature often seems to have its own plan. While you may picture yourself laying on a hospital bed with an epidural, you may have a speedy labor that has you delivering in the parking lot.

The truth is, often nature takes over in these situations. Your body will let you know the different ways to move and breathe with your contractions and women will often find themselves vocalizing their pain.

This is your body’s way of helping you to manage your pain. Don’t be embarrassed if you cry, moan, or chant. This is your body’s natural process to help you through the pain.

2 Hypnobirthing

When it comes to labor, your best weapon against the pain of contractions may be your brain. At least that is what is taught in hypnobirth- a childbirth class that focuses on visualization, audible prompts and self hypnosis.

This technique takes a gentle view on childbirth and focuses on the fact that both mother and baby’s bodies were meant to do this. Contractions are often described as surges or waves in line with this gentle approach.

The basis of this approach is ‘mind over matter’ yet there are many women who will testify to the power of this child birthing method. This method does rely on an informed partner to help the laboring woman throughout the process. Single parents could employ the services of an educated doula.

1 Sterile Water Injections

Perhaps the least known and most controversial pain relief method is sterile water injections. With this method sterile water with no medication in it is injected under the skin of the lower back of the laboring woman.

While this method is actually painful (it would produce a similar sting to that of a routine vaccination) it also offers no side effects for mother or baby.

This method is helpful for some women and not others. It is not clear how this method offers pain relief or how often it is successful for laboring women. Those interested in this method should speak to their healthcare provider about the risks and benefits.

Labor your Way! No matter how you choose to manage pain during labor it is important to have a plan A and be okay with having a plan B. While planning your ideal birth is an important step in getting ready for labor, it is also important to keep in mind that anything can happen. The most important thing is holding your healthy baby in your arms.

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