There are a number of benefits to a labour and birth free of medical interventions. For many women, it’s the simple liberty of feeling “in control” or “in touch” with your body and baby – a fortuity that can be lost to varying degrees, depending on the type of intervention.
Rather than simply blocking pain, as medicated pain relievers do, there are a number of natural pain relief options during labour which focus on reducing anxiety, promoting “calm” and the release of endorphins – then enhancing the effects of this amazing pain relief hormone to your benefit. At a very basic level it’s about helping your body help itself.
Here are 10 drug-free alternatives to try throughout the course of your labour:
A doula is a non-medical person who provides continuous support before, during and after childbirth. I personally found my doula to be a massive help in navigating the entire process and interpreting the signals my body and baby were sending me. It’s not always easy to “go with the flow”, particularly with a room full of (well-meaning) strangers. Selecting your doula in advance allows you time to establish a rapport and level of trust, not to mention the fact they are by your side before you even get to hospital.
I spent loads of time in the bath and shower during both my labours and would encourage everyone to give it a try. There is something very comforting about warm water flowing over your body. Some of the noted benefits of labouring in water include; feeling more relaxed, calm and “in control”, your cervix may dilate faster, lower blood pressure and a decreased risk of tearing or need for an episiotomy.
A TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine is a great tool because there are no adverse effects on mum or baby; it is portable, non-invasive and easy to use. It gives out electrical pulses that prevent the pain signals from your uterus reaching your brain. It also stimulates the body to release its own natural painkillers, called endorphins. Two long sticky strips are placed on either side of the lower part of your spine and connected to a control that adjusts the intensity and length of the signal. You can hire them from a specialist physio or potentially your hospital.
You are either going to want to be touched or not – and this may change as your labour progresses. Either way, it is likely that some form of massage is going to help relax you and ease the pain of the contractions. Get your support person to try different positions and pressure, until you find something that feels good.
Warm or Cool Compress
A heat pack can be quite effective in easing back pain, especially in the early phase of your labour. You can also try a towel soaked in warm water together with a few drops of essential oil to ease the pain. A cold compress can be quite soothing on your perineum, to help mimimise swelling and potentially avoid haemorrhoids that can result from a particularly long pushing phase.
Essential oils can be applied directly through massage or with a warm compress or inhaled from a burner. Like all alternative therapies however, it’s important to consult an aromatherapist for advice before stocking up your hospital bag. Certain essential oils can help calm and relax you and some are effective in relieving muscle spasms.
During labour it is really important to try and shift your thought process from being tense and breathing erratically to a calm and focused breathing response.
When we are frightened, anxious or in pain, the stress hormone adrenaline is released which can lead to rapid breathing, dizziness, a sense of being out of control and exhaustion. It can also slow your labour as it blocks the release of oxytocin, which is required to stimulate contractions.
Sometimes simply moving into a different position can help make you feel more comfortable. Try kneeling or crouching over the back of your bed or a chair, kneeling on all fours, squatting with your partner supporting you from behind or lying on your side.
Exercise During Your Pregnancy
Moderate exercise during pregnancy can help manage back pain and strain as your belly grows, increase energy and promote good quality sleep. More importantly, it prepares your body for the demands of labour and birth and has even been shown to decrease labour duration and intensity! If you haven’t been previously active it’s not too late. Get the OK from your doctor first then start with something simple like walking.
Depending on which state (or country) you live in, the hospital where you will have your baby is often the most cost-effective option, with some public hospitals not charging at all. There are loads of private antenatal class options – either in a group or one-on-one format but these tend to be more expensive, usually upwards of $300.
If you are looking for something you can watch in the comfort of your own home, you may want to consider an online antenatal class video. Traditional classes, while obviously “personal” can be overwhelming as there is so much information to remember. The peace of mind that comes with being able to replay a video when you want, where you want is well worth it.