There are many ways to decrease pain in labor without the use of medications. These comfort measures can be very effective in providing some degree of pain relief. Laboring women can use a variety of techniques to decrease the pain and discomfort of their contractions.

For women who birth without medical interventions, there may be many benefits, including:

  • Less pain after birth
  • Faster recovery from birth
  • Less chance of a Cesarean section
  • Increase in self-esteem as a result of the birth
  • More bonding with the baby
  • A calmer, more settled baby
  • Less likelihood of depression after the birth
  • Potential for easier breastfeeding

Labor support

Labor support can be the father of the baby, a partner, a family member, a birth assistant (doula) or a clinical caregiver. Labor support persons take on many roles during labor. They can provide support by helping the laboring woman into positions of comfort, helping her on and off the birth ball or peanut ball (described later), providing massage, offering companionship, helping her breathe through her contractions, giving her ice chips, and verbally encouraging and reassuring her through each contraction.

Relaxation—physical and mental

There are a number of physical relaxation techniques that women can use to decrease anxiety and labor pain. Women achieve a state of relaxation through a variety of methods and practice, not by being told to relax. One method is called progressive relaxation. With this type of relaxation, the laboring woman tenses and releases specific areas of her body, working from the head down, or the feet up.

Mental relaxation in the form of guided imagery or visualization can distract a laboring woman from her labor pain. This form of relaxation encourages a woman to focus on a relaxing scene, a soothing object or picture, or even a sound, such as the sound of waves on a beach. Many laboring women use the repetition of positive phrases such as “I can do this” to enhance their confidence while affirming their ability to birth.

Creating a soothing environment

It is important that a laboring woman feel safe and cared for. Creating a peaceful and relaxing environment in a hospital setting is important in decreasing anxiety and tension.

Labor and birth are very sensory experiences. Different methods can be used to lessen nausea, anxiety and pain. Aromatherapy is among the techniques that can increase the laboring woman’s sense of well-being. Natural essential oils, such as lavender, may be very soothing. Listening to music is another way for a woman to cope and distract herself in labor. Music can be calming, making labor less stressful.

Soft lighting, closed doors, quiet voices, a comfortable pillow, and a focal point such as a picture or other personal object from home can help a laboring woman to relax.

Hypnobirthing

There are a number of women who learn hypnobirthing techniques. Hypnobirthing uses deep relaxation and self-hypnosis in order to decrease the laboring woman’s anxiety, fear and pain. Hypnobirthing can be used along with other coping skills and birthing techniques. Shorter labors, along with a decrease in pain medication and epidurals, may be seen in mothers who use hypnobirthing techniques.

Hydrotherapy

Laboring in warm water has been shown to enhance relaxation and comfort, as well as decrease pain and anxiety.

Touch therapy

Touch can be provided to laboring women in a variety of ways. Women can vary in their preference for touch. Touch can be simply holding hands, a hug, or it can be the light touch of elongated strokes. It can take the form of massage or acupressure.

Movement and positioning

There are many positions that a woman can use during her labor to decrease pain and enhance her labor progress. The uterus works more efficiently during labor when the woman is moving or walking. Movement during labor can decrease a woman’s pain perception. This is because endorphins (“feel good” hormones) are released as the contractions become stronger. As a result, laboring women have less need for pain medication. Women who move and change positions in labor may have shorter labors.

The birth ball is a tool that women in labor can use to encourage movement in labor or relaxation. It has many benefits when utilized in labor. When women sit on the ball, it allows for a back and forth swaying movement or hip circles which encourage muscles to relax and this swaying motion may reduce pain and assist with positioning and descent of the baby. A peanut ball (an inflated ball shaped like a peanut) can be used to open the mother’s pelvis, which encourages the baby to descend and rotate. This can shorten the mother’s labor.

Breathing

While there is no “right” way to breathe in labor, many women find deep breathing very relaxing during their labors. Deep breathing can keep both the mother and her baby well-oxygenated and provide a distraction from her labor pain. Deep breathing can reduce anxiety and pain perception, as well as decrease heart rate. In addition, breathing techniques during labor can help decrease nausea during labor. Breathing techniques can help make contractions more productive by bringing oxygen to the uterus.

In conclusion

A woman in labor has a variety of non-pharmacological techniques for decreasing pain. She has to choose what techniques feel good for her in labor. While a variety of techniques may be used, she may change how and when she uses them based on her labor scenario. Having positive and involved labor support as well as supportive caregivers will enhance her birth experience.

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