Pain Relief in Labour without Drugs
Is it possible to manage the pain of labour without medications? For many women, the answer is yes. In fact, your body does its best to help you through the contractions by producing endorphins that dull the sensations of pain.
You can help those endorphins work more effectively by trying some of these techniques:
Immersion in water
Research has shown that labouring women who spend time in a warm pool of water (either a special birthing pool or your bathtub at home) feel less discomfort and are less likely to request pain-relieving medication. Unfortunately, this is not an option at many hospitals.
If you walk through labour, you will (according to research) find the contractions are less painful; they’ll also be more effective, shortening the total length of the labour. You can sway, rock your hips, squat or move in other ways as well: the key is to stay upright and keep moving. It might help to lean on your partner or a railing or table when the contractions hit.
Massage and counter-pressure
Your partner or your doula can massage your lower back, shoulders and arms to help you relax. If you are having a lot of back pain, counter-pressure can be very helpful. To apply counter-pressure, your partner presses down very firmly right in the area where you are feeling the pain.
Patterned breathing can help you relax and shift your focus to something other than the pain. Hypo-birthing (and similar approaches) training will give you a whole set of strategies to stay calm and relaxed throughout the labour and birth process.
If labour has progressed to the point where you are no longer able to walk around, you’ll need to find a comfortable position. Sitting backwards on the toilet or straddling a chair, kneeling, squatting, hands and knees, standing (with your partner supporting you), lying on one side and sitting on a birthing stool are all positions that some women have found helpful. If one is not working well for you, try something different. As your baby moves down through your pelvis, you may find that the position that felt good a few minutes ago is now very uncomfortable.
You might also want to try a lower-tech, non-drug intervention:
Sterile water injections into the skin of your lower back can help relieve back pain and the pain of contractions. It does sting as the water is being injected (there are usually four injections) but studies have found this procedure to be quite helpful in reducing the need for pain medications. You’ll want to ask your caregiver in advance about whether this is available.
TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. Women using this in labour have electrodes applied to their backs and a low electric current is sent through the electrodes. While some women say they find this very helpful, it has not been shown in studies to be effective overall in reducing the need for medication.
The most important form of pain relief in labour, though, is the presence of a caring support person. Having someone with you helps you relax and feel more confident about your ability to get through labour, and many studies have shown the value of a doula, for example, in reducing the need for medication and other interventions.