Natural pain relief in labour
While natural pain relief in labour won't have the same oomph as an epidural, there are things you can do to make your labour easier.
Being in labour hurts - that's official - but exactly how it feels is virtually impossible to describe: it's unique. That said, no matter what anyone says, it's nothing like period pains (as one Mumsnetter wisely remarks: "Period pain bears as much resemblance to contractions as a cold does to pnuemonia").
Labour is not a competition (you get a wonderful, beautiful baby at the end, not a medal) and it's unpredictable. So, even though we're giving you the natural pain relief options here, remember, it's OK to change your mind as your labour progresses - you certainly won't be the first.
Resting during labour
When labour starts it's easy to go into panic mode, but try to resist the urge to make like a headless chicken. You're going to need all your energy for the coming hours so ignore the ironing, step away from the Cillit Bang and ditch that urge to nest. This is your last chance for a while (18 years?) to relax and take things easy.
Remember your breathing techniques. No matter that you felt daft as a brush practising them in antenatal classes, when labour kicks in for real you won't give a stuff and they'll help you focus and get through each contraction.
How heat and cold can alleviate pain
A hot water bottle or a wheat bag that you heat in the microwave can help to alleviate backache, aching limbs and labour pains. The plus side of a wheat bag is that they mould easily to your shape, plus you can buy ones scented with lavender.
Conversely, some mums find that a cold compress helps, as this mum explains: "Rather bizarrely, an icy cold flannel on my belly helped take the edge off the cramps."
Massage during labour
A slow, firm back massage from your birthing partner or a kind midwife can help get those endorphins (pain-relieving hormones) flowing. Let them know what works for you, though; don't just lie there if it's proving more annoying than relaxing.
Comfortable positions during labour
If you can, try not to just lie on your back because staying upright and mobile can help both ease the pain and speed labour up.
Move around to find a position you're more comfortable in, whether that means getting down on all fours, prostrating yourself over a birthing ball or impersonating a dog cocking his leg. It doesn't matter. Who cares how ludicrous you look if it works for you?
Aromatherapy during labour
Anything that helps promote a calming atmosphere is good in our book, but check you like the smell of each particular oil before you go into labour. If your hospital won't let you use an oil burner/diffuser, you can get a similar effect by adding a few drops of your chosen oils to a bowl of hot water. (Whatever you do, don't drink the stuff.)
Oils that may help in a warm compress include:
- Clary sage - has analgesic, sedative properties, but don't use if you're also using gas and air
- Neroli - good if you're feeling very scared or nervous
- Ylang Ylang - calming
- Lavender - calming and good for aching backs and limbs (try a warm compress) and a great antiseptic
Lavender is a hospital bag essential, if only because you can put a few drops in the bath afterwards to help heal your bits.)
Hypnotherapy during labour
Studies suggest that self-hypnosis during childbirth may ease some of the pain of labour, decrease anxiety and fear, lower the risk of medical complications and reduce the need for surgery. Quite impressive stuff, really.
You can buy numerous books and CDs on the topic, but you're best bet is to probably see a registered practitioner who specialises in teaching self-hypnosis during childbirth or offers traditional hypnosis with post-hypnotic suggestion: essentially they hypnotise you during your sessions and you are then taught triggers to get you back into that state during your labour.
Hypnobirthing is billed as a 'complete birth education programme' that 'teaches simple but specific self-hypnosis, relaxation and breathing techniques for a better birth'.
Exponents believe it reduces the need for intervention and medication, shortens labour and makes for an all-round more positive birth. You can use the techniques at home, in hospital, in a birthing pool - wherever, essentially.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is a mouthful at the best of times, let alone when you're in labour - hence the acronym TENS. A small electronic device, usually between the size of a personal stereo (remember them?) and a mobile phone, TENS delivers electrical impulses across the skin. This is meant to help reduce pain by blocking the nerve signals carrying pain messages to your brain, while also stimulating your body's production of endorphins (natural pain-relieving hormones).
It takes about an hour for your body to start to respond in this way, so it's best to start using a TENS early on in labour, but on a low setting so that you can turn it up as labour progresses.
Portable and non-invasive, TENS is considered a very safe, easy means of pain relief, so it's great for home births. It doesn't cause any side-effects or harm your baby and can be combined with other methods of pain relief, too.
Obviously, you can't use a TENS machine in a birthing pool, and you might have to stop using it during electronic foetal monitoring of your baby, but aside from these situations it's pretty much up to you whether you use it or not.
Most mums hire a TENS machine rather than buy one outright. Usually, you hire one for about a month and take possession a few weeks before you're due (just in case). There are countless different designs available, so it's worth asking your midwife and friends for recommendations - or post a query on our Childbirth Talk forum.
What Mumsnetters say about natural pain relief during labour
- I had no pain relief during any of my three labours. But I did have fantastic antenatal classes, which taught me excellent breathing techniques for managing contractions. Castille
- In my opinion, the role of the hot water bottle in childbirth has been greatly underestimated. I found it an amazingly good form of pain relief. motherinferior
- My labour was 'in my back' (ooh, that hurt) but my husband massaged me hard. The massage and the fact that we were doing this together really helped. Psychomum5
- I had essential oils massaged into my back, and put into the birthing pool, which was lovely. My mum also borrowed a machine, which spread the scent of lavender around the room. Peanuts1
- You couldn't get me off my birthing ball. It was the only place I could get comfortable. I was told afterwards that it probably helped my cervix dilate quicker, as in that position your pelvis is more open. Corky
- My incredibly hippy active birth yoga teacher told us about a position for if it all got too much. It involved getting on all fours, putting your head down on the floor and reminding yourself that 'you always had the earth'. I used to snigger lots and think how ridiculous. Come the 60th hour of contractions in an agonising back to back labour, I was hugging the earth like nobody’s business, and it really did calm me down! MrsPickles
- My midwives were trained in aromatherapy (an NHS unit). And despite a 44-hour labour, I didn't need anything beyond rose and lavender oil (by diffuser and massage) until the last hour. PeachyClairHasBAdHair
- I used the natal hypnotherapy birth preparation CD and found it fab. I'm convinced it was the reason that I got through my entire labour on two paracetamol. Sterny
- I used hypnobirthing. It helped me to relax and cope, but it certainly wasn't this miracle pain remover, as there was NO WAY it was pain-free. (I have had to remind my partner of this when he says to others 'oh, she used hypnobirthing and sailed through it all'. He certainly wasn't experiencing the pains I was.) Weeonion
- I found that vocalising - OK, mooing - rather than screaming, helped me manage the pain of contractions, and, while perhaps not serene, didn't stop me feeling calm. Dramasequalzero