11 Ways to Ease Contractions Without Drugs

Try these simple, natural pain management techniques as your labor progresses for an easier delivery.

Pregnant woman having labor contractions
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If you're planning to give birth without drugs, Lamaze strategies can help you stay more comfortable. Here are 11 ways to help you manage your labor pain and contractions, medication-free.

1. Find a Soothing Environment

Choose a place to give birth that feels comfortable to you, with space to walk and bathe, as well as a variety of furniture and devices to enhance movement and pain relief such as a rocking chair, birth ball, low stool, squatting bar, and soft bed.

Whether you choose to give birth at home, in a hospital, or in a birthing center, be sure that you will be encouraged to try a variety of positions. It is also important that you have access to appropriate medical care through all stages of labor and delivery.

2. Choose Your Team Carefully

Research shows that continuous support during labor and delivery can help boost emotional and psychological well-being, which can help decrease the need for pain medications and emergency cesarean section, as well as lower the risk of prolonged labor. In addition, parents who are supported throughout labor are more likely to have speedier postpartum recovery times and lowered risk of postpartum depression.

Midwives, doctors, nurses, partners, loved ones, and doulas can play essential roles on your birth team. Choose people who will treat you with respect and patience. The proper support can help decrease stress and inhibitions, so you can find your best coping mechanisms more easily.

3. Learn About Labor and Delivery

You can learn plenty about labor and delivery from books, magazines, websites, videos, classes, a hospital tour, and discussions with your health care provider, doula, family, and friends. Familiarize yourself with the procedures and customs at your hospital or birth center, and ask about how well your birth plan will fit with the policies in place.

These discussions are best had before labor so that you can plan ahead and maximize your comfort. Remember, more knowledge means fewer surprises.

4. Express Your Fears

Are you worried about pain, needles, medicines, or losing control? Speak with a knowledgeable and trusted friend, childbirth educator, or doula. Voicing your concerns can bring some relief and help you learn more about practical solutions to your concerns. Stating your preferences in a birth plan can also help calm fears.

5. Practice Rhythmic Breathing

Breathing techniques can help you manage contractions. Breathe fully in a slow rhythm during contractions. Release tension with each exhalation. You can even try moaning. Alternatively, you can also try taking quick breaths, about one every 2 to 3 seconds (20 to 30 per minute). If you lose your rhythm, your partner can help you regain it with eye contact, rhythmic hand or head movements, or by talking you through contractions.

Don't wait until labor starts to learn different breathing exercises. Take your time during your pregnancy to learn different breathing techniques, visualization, and other calming practices to use during labor and delivery. For example, you may find soothing music lovely until you're in the middle of labor and suddenly decide it's too distracting. The more coping tools you have, the better prepared you'll be for the big event.

6. Use Imagery and Visualization

Focus on something that makes you happy (like your partner's face, an inspirational picture, or a favorite object) to engage your senses and decrease your awareness of pain. Listen to music, a soothing voice, or a recording of ocean waves, and picture yourself somewhere that's relaxing to you.

In 2016, a team of researchers found that using integrative therapies that included visualization during labor and delivery helped to reduce the need for epidurals, emergency cesarean sections, and even reduced labor time.

7. Take a Warm Shower or Bath

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) found that immersion in warm water during labor has some benefits, including lowered rates of epidural use, which suggests that warm water can help reduce pain.

A warm shower can also soothe you, especially if you can sit on a stool and direct a handheld showerhead onto your abdomen or back. Bathing in warm water may also relax you—and it may even speed up labor.

8. Keep Moving

The more you can move around during labor, the safer labor and delivery will likely be. In a study published in 2012, the American College of Nurse-Midwives noted that freedom to move about during labor is important because when labor starts, the uterine muscle responds to oxytocin that is produced in the brain. By moving around, you can help your body lower pain.

Move around as much as you can to stay more comfortable. Walk, lean, sway, rock, and squat. Some positions will be more comfortable than others, and it is OK to experiment until you feel as comfortable as possible.

9. Seek Relief With Warm or Cool Compresses

Using warm or cool packs to help lower pain is a common practice that has some benefits. In one Australian study, researchers showed that placing warm packs on the perineum (the ring of fire) during labor helped to reduce pain.

Place a warm pack on your lower abdomen, groin, lower back, or shoulders during labor. Fill a long sock with dry uncooked rice and heat it in the microwave for about one minute, then place it on your abdomen (make sure it's not too hot). Reheat it as needed.

A cold pack or latex glove filled with ice chips can also help soothe painful areas—but avoid using it on the abdomen. Cool cloths relieve a hot or sweaty face, chest, or neck.

10. Indulge in Gentle Touch or Massage

Touch conveys reassurance, caring, and understanding—whether it's someone holding your hand, stroking your cheek or hair, or patting your hand or shoulder. Have your partner or doula massage you with light or firm strokes using oil or lotion to help soothe you.

You could also place three tennis balls in a tube sock and have your partner roll them up and down your back to relieve back pain. Or have them rub your back with the heels of their hands.

11. Try Acupressure

Acupressure is a non-invasive method to reduce pain. According to a 2014 study published in Oman Medical Journal, acupressure can reduce pain and shorten labor by increasing the intensity of uterine contractions. You can ask your doula, midwife, nurse, or birthing partner to help with acupressure by pressing and massaging specific points on the body.

Use acupressure to help ease pain by pinching the fleshy part of your hand between the thumb and index finger. Don't do this before you go into labor, though, as it can also stimulate contractions.

Giving Birth with Confidence, the online community created by Lamaze International, provides articles and tips written for and by real women (and men) on a variety of topics related to pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting. Their goal is to help women achieve healthy pregnancies and safe, satisfying births by offering a meeting ground to obtain information and support from other women, Lamaze-Certified Childbirth Educators, and knowledgeable experts.

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