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January 30, 2019

Birth Options | Part Four: Pain Relief

The biggest concern for many mommas when thinking about their birth experience is “how will I handle the pain?” As someone who’s had both an unmedicated and a medicated birth, I don’t want to focus on the word PAIN too much because I know how much it can affect your experience. Half the “battle” of birthing a baby is getting into the right mental state.

First and foremost, I encourage you to seek out positive birth stories during your pregnancy and meditate on the fact that your body knows what to do and there’s nothing to be afraid of. Fear will do nothing but make it hurt more and potentially could stall labor.

So, onto the point of today’s post: how to cope with labor contractions. You have options and the best tool you have as a birthing mother is to know your options. Let’s start with some natural pain relief methods.

Natural Pain Relief Methods

There are probably too many to name in just one blog post but I’ll touch on a few of the main ones that I’ve used during labor and that I’ve seen my clients use.

  • Water: Often referred to as the “midwife’s epidural,” soaking in water during labor can be a huge relief. It takes some of the pressure off of your belly because…well, gravity. It also provides warmth and comfort. I do recommend waiting until you’re in a clear active labor pattern to get in a tub, though, as water can slow things down in early labor.
  • Counter Pressure: Many women who experience back labor (when baby is in a position that is pressing on mom’s backbones) love counter pressure. Your doula, partner, or any support person can apply pressure to your back and/or hips during a contraction to relieve some of the feeling.
  • Rebozo: A rebozo is a long piece of fabric used to help lift mom’s belly during labor to ease the pressure. It can also help to move baby if he is in a less than ideal position. A support person can help, or you can wrap it around your belly and over your shoulders so you can lift your own belly!

Nitrous Oxide

Also known as “laughing gas,” nitrous oxide is a great option for many mommas. It doesn’t necessarily take the pain away, but it changes the way you view it. One of the best reasons to try nitrous oxide before trying other pain medications is that it leaves your body almost immediately so if you don’t like it, you don’t have to deal with it for too long. Ask your care provider if this is an option at your birthing location.

IV Pain Medication

IV Medication can be used under a few different names. Fentanyl and Stadol are the main ones you may have heard of. This medication, as it’s name implies, will be given to you through an IV. You should feel the effects pretty immediately and they last about an hour or so. This is a great option for a momma who just needs a bit of rest but isn’t ready for an epidural. Something I learned at a recent birth: this cannot be administered too close to baby’s birth because it can affect baby negatively, so talk to your care provider about their policies on that. HERE is some more info on these types of medications and their potential side effects.


I purposely listed this last in this post because often women think it’s the only option and because there’s a lot to say about them. Yes, it is probably the most popular option, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best option for everyone. Epidurals can completely change the way you have to labor, so it’s important to think through the decision to get one.

Once you have an epidural placed, you will no longer be able to walk around or move out of the bed. This is important to keep in mind as moving helps baby get into a good position and descend into the birth canal. For this reason, many care providers suggest waiting as long as possible to get an epidural.

Epidurals have been known to slow labor down. This isn’t always the case – in my first labor, the epidural actually helped me to finally dilate past 5cm and I’m so grateful for that – but it’s worth noting that it can happen. Sometimes Pitocin augmentation is needed after an epidural is placed to get things moving again.

Another thing to note is that epidurals can affect the pushing stage. If you’re planning to receive an epidural, talk to your care provider about what it will look like once you are fully dilated. Are they able to turn it down or off so you can effectively push? Each anesthesiologist is different – some are known for placing really “heavy” epidurals that make your entire lower half numb while others are able to relieve the pain, but allow you to still move your legs and feel the pressure of baby moving down.

Lastly, I do want to mention that not all epidurals work perfectly. It’s a good idea to have a backup plan just in case yours doesn’t relieve all of your pain. Take note of some of the coping tools listed above and be prepared!

Final Thoughts

No matter your plans for childbirth, the best thing you can do is prepare. Knowing your options and making informed decisions will help you to have the best possible experience, no matter how you give birth. Be sure to check out the full “Birth Options” series:

  1. […] plan for how your partner can support you. Work on specific phrases or tools you can use together. HERE is some guidance on pain coping […]

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