Nonmedication pain management for childbirth

You have the option of not using any pain medicine during your labor and delivery. This is sometimes called a "natural" delivery. Nonmedication ways of controlling your pain include:

  • Laboring in water. This helps with pain, stress, and sometimes slow, difficult labor (dystocia).1, 2
  • Distraction. During early labor, you can walk, play cards, watch TV, take a shower, or read to help take your mind off your contractions.
  • Massage. Massage of the shoulders and lower back during contractions may ease your pain. Strong massage of the back muscles (counterpressure) during contractions may help relieve the pain of back labor. Tell your labor coach exactly where to push and how hard to push.
  • Imagery. Imagery is using your imagination to decrease your pain. For instance, to help manage pain, visualize contractions as waves rolling over you. Picture a peaceful place, such as a beach or mountain stream, to help you relax between contractions.
  • Focused breathing. Breathing in a rhythm can distract you from pain. Childbirth education classes will teach you different methods of focused breathing.
  • Acupuncture. Small studies suggest that acupuncture is a low-risk, effective way of managing labor pain for some women.3
  • Hypnosis. This is a low-risk way of managing labor pain and anxiety that works for some women.3

Continuous support

Having a support person from early labor until after childbirth (such as a doula, nurse, midwife, or childbirth educator) has a proven, positive effect on childbirth. Women who have continuous one-on-one support are more likely to give birth without pain medicine and are less likely to describe their birth experience negatively.4 Although there is not a proven direct connection between continuous support and less labor pain, having a support person does help you feel more control and less fear, which are strong elements of mental pain control.

Citations

  1. Cluett ER, Burns E (2009). Immersion in water in labour and birth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2).
  2. Cluett ER, et al. (2004). Randomised controlled trial of labouring in water compared with standard of augmentation for management of dystocia in first stage of labour. BMJ, 328(7435): 314–320.
  3. Smith CA, et al. (2006). Complementary and alternative therapies for pain management in labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4).
  4. Hodnett ED, et al. (2007). Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).

Last Updated: December 4, 2009

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