Being in labour hurts - that's official - but exactly how it feels is virtually impossible to describe: it's unique.
While natural pain relief won't have the same oomph as an epidural, there are things you can do to make your labour a bit easier.
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 take a seat.
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.
Hot and cold
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, and the scented lavender ones smell lovely.
At the opposite end of the temperature scale, you might find a cold compress helps too.
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; no need to grit your teeth if it's proving more annoying than relaxing.
If you can, try not to just lie on your back - staying upright and mobile can help 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 its leg. Now is not the time to worry about appearances - if it works, it works!
Anything that helps promote a calming atmosphere is good in our book, but check you actually like the smell of each 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.
Lavender is not only calming and ache-relieving, a few drops in the bath after labour can help heal your bits, too.
Studies suggest that self-hypnosis during childbirth may ease labour pains, decrease anxiety and fear, lower the risk of medical complications and reduce the need for surgery.
You can buy numerous books and CDs on the topic, but your best bet is to see a registered practitioner beforehand who can teach you how to do things.
Billed as a 'complete birth education programme' that incorporates self-hypnosis, relaxation and breathing techniques, exponents believe it reduces the need for intervention and medication, shortens labour and makes for an all-round more positive birth. Once you've mastered them, 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.
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.
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.