9 tools for managing labour pain without drugs

Feeling anxious about labour? You’re not alone. I think every woman since the dawn of time has felt that sense of dread in the lead-up to giving birth. Attending a birth class can help you alleviate some of that anxiety and understand what to expect. You’ll likely walk away with some useful techniques for managing pain, too!

It’s important to remember that labour pain is a perfectly normal, good sort of pain. You can never truly achieve pain relief during labour, but you can manage the pain, either with drugs or other methods. 

If you’re keen to avoid drugs during birth, Bernadette Lack – midwife, personal trainer and Founder of Core & Floor Restore – shares some amazing pain management techniques below!

1. Horses’ breath

This is my #1 labour technique. My magic birth weapon! Thousands of women contact me saying how it was a lifesaver for them, and it certainly was for me

Here’s a demonstration.

How it works: Soft mouth lips = soft vaginal lips. 

We need everything to be lengthened and soft so baby has space to move down through our pelvis and be born. The more relaxed you can be, the easier and faster that baby will be out. If we’re all tense and hold our body closed, labour is harder and longer. 

Hot tip: Women in good labour sound like they’re having good sex! The sounds that help to naturally conceive a baby help to naturally get it out. So moan away, girlfriend.

2. A comb

You have acupressure points that lie along the creases of your hands where the fingers join the palm. These are said to release endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers) into the body. 

During labour, you can hold a small comb in the palm of your hand so the teeth of the comb are pressing against these points. Grip during contractions to the level of pressure that feels the most useful.

3. Sterile water injections

Unlike normal labour pain, back labour pain is unpredictable and often continues between contractions with no break. It’s often experienced by women labouring with a baby in a posterior position (baby’s back against its mother’s back). 

Most pain management drugs are ineffective for back pain, including an epidural. But sterile water injections reduce back pain by at least half and last for 90 minutes or longer

It involves having four injections, given by two midwives at the same time, into the lower back. It will feel like someone lit your back on fire for about 20 to 30 seconds. Then, within a contraction or two, your back pain should start to subside. 

4. TENS machine 

Lots of people love using a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine in labour. It’s a really effective pain management tool. 

Four flat pads are placed on your back and you wear or hold a small battery-powered controller. The machine sends small, safe pulses of electrical current via the leads to the pads on your skin. The pulses pass through your skin and into your muscles and tissues. This gives you a gentle tingling or buzzing sensation, which you can dial up and down in intensity.

You can borrow one from the physio department of the hospital, hire one out or purchase your own.

5. Acupressure points and massage 

There are several acupressure points that assist with pain management. Get your partner or birth support person to learn these and practice them on you (from about 37 weeks pregnant), so they feel confident doing them during your labour.  

While some people like being massaged during labour, others don’t. It’s often just a ‘wait and see’ what you feel like once you’re in labour. Using massage oil (calming lavender or contraction-inducing clary sage), can help you avoid friction burns the next day. A tennis ball can also feel really nice just rolled around on your back, as a gentler technique. 

Most people DO love hip pressure. Get your partner or birth support person to place a palm on each hip bone (from behind you). They then push their hands together and down, manipulating the pelvis and taking some pressure off you. Don’t be afraid to demand firm pressure!

6. Shower and deep-water immersion

Hot water is a great pain management tool for labour and birth. Not all hospitals support water birth (or they may not support it for people with high risk factors) but they may support labouring in water. 

A shower can be really beneficial during early labour, as it keeps you upright and active. Deep water immersion (in a bath) isn’t recommended until you’re in active labour, because getting too relaxed may slow things down. Labouring women love the warmth and ease of movement in the water. It can help you relax, which decreases adrenaline and increases oxytocin, making your labour more effective. 

7. Heat packs

These are often great at the start of labour, especially when you’re at home. Have a hot water bottle or heat pack ready for when labour begins. Place it where you’re feeling the pain (you may have one on your front and one on your back). 

8. Music, movement and the birth environment

Creating an environment that enables you to feel safe is key to making labour more effective. Feeling calm and in control will help your body produce more oxytocin and less adrenaline. 

So, get a labour playlist together of songs you love and listen to it during your pregnancy. Take in a portable speaker, fake candles (mood lighting!), wear your own clothes and have anything else with you that makes you feel safe. 

9. Visualisation and affirmations 

Having some sayings to help you stay ‘in the zone’, or something that you imagine, is another really effective way to manage pain. You may imagine a flower opening, or being at your favourite beach spot. You may repeat to yourself that “the pain is not bigger than me”, or that “this will end”. 

Some people focus on one contraction at a time. (“Now that that one’s done I don’t have to do it anymore.”) 

I liked to focus on my grandmother’s birthing back in the 1940s at home, drawing on the strength of women all around the world. When you’re in labour, you’re one of 350,000 women birthing that day. You’re not alone and you were made to do this. 

Just think: “I am a powerful, lubricated baby slide!”

Read next: How to find the best birthing positions during labour


Expert contributor: Bernadette Lack

Bernadette is a midwife, personal trainer and Founder of Core & Floor Restore. Get more excellent information on labour techniques by following her on Instagram and checking out her FREE and very helpful online antenatal classes.

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