Congratulations. You’ve made the decision to give birth without pain medication. It’s a decision that can result in healthy outcomes for both mother and baby and a decision that maximizes the hormonal architecture of childbirth.
More than 2.5 million women who give birth every year opt for epidurals and most of the media portrayals of birth over-dramatize the reality of birth, from women screaming from pain and begging for pain relief to women needing emergency interventions in unrealistic scenarios. These cultural forces can be confusing, and, at times, feel self-defeating while preparing for your pain-medication-free birth.
On the other side, there is a confusing array of pro-natural rhetoric out there – from “labor is good pain” to “it’s not really painful at all,” to “ you can have an orgasmic birth,” and a stream of words like: empowering, pleasurable, trust, and self-confidence. So how exactly can a woman best prepare for giving birth without pain medication? The following are pragmatic tips, designed to help you relax and feel prepared for your upcoming birth:
Visualize your birth
Take the time to visualize yourself giving birth. Do you see yourself alone, with just your midwife, assistant, and partner? Are you surrounded by friends and family? While visualizing the birth, pay attention to what makes you feel most relaxed and focused. Birth is an inward journey and it's your experience, one that will never be repeated. By visualizing your birth and discovering what makes you feel the most centered and calm, you'll be one step closer to achieving your birth goals.
Experiment with Relaxation Techniques
Some women find it helpful to take Hypnobirthing classes. The Bradley method stresses relaxation experiments with music, touch, scents, water, etc. Listen to different kinds of music - for some women, rock helps them to feel grounded in their bodies, while other women prefer nature and flute sounds, or even silence. Try different essential oils. Some midwives offer essential oil massage during labor, but you can also use oil-scented candles during labor. Do you relax when your doula or partner offers light touch? Or deep massage? Does warm water, in particular a bath, help you to feel relaxed? Keep a journal of the experiments that work, so that you can talk them over with your birth team.
Breath is an important component of natural birth. Too high of a breath and the contractions will get the best of you. Deep abdominal breathing, like the "yoga breath" or pranayama, helps to control the pain of a contraction. Each contraction will have a different level of intensity, depending on the stage of labor. Be prepared to breathe deep and to exhale with cleansing breaths that often end in a groan or other elocution.
Be prepared to groan or growl with the harder contractions. Full and deep groans can actually help the labor to move forward. With a first labor experience, the desire to groan or growl can surprise a woman. Let yourself go; give into the need to go deep and fully experience the incredible power of your labor.
Prepare to Be Flexible
Birth is a great humbler. Even if you've experienced labor before, be prepared to be surprised by the new labor. Every labor is different. No matter how prepared you might be, something will inevitably surprise and challenge you. Be most prepared to be flexible and to try new positions and new techniques. And, if a complication arises, this same flexibility will help you deal with a transfer or unexpected intervention.
It's often said that labor is like a marathon and you wouldn't run a marathon will getting in shape first. Exercise regularly and gently. Swimming and walking are excellent preparation for the physical rigor of labor. Building strength is just as important as the other strategies for a successful pain-medication-free birth.
Talk to Your Birth Team
Find out what tips or skills your attendants and your partner have to offer. And share with your birth team your hopes and wishes for the birth.
Prenatal Yoga and Chiropractic Care
Some women find it useful to have regular chiropractic adjustments, which can help with pregnancy comfort and the position of the baby in the last few weeks. Prenatal yoga can help you to prepare with breath exercises, strengthening, and stretching.
Surround Yourself with the Right People
Birth is a physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and psychological event. The people with whom you surround yourself have a big impact on your overall birth experience. Be sure that the birthing room includes only the people who make you feel safe and supported. Your birth is about you and your baby.
Some women find it helpful to labor on a large exercise ball, or in a hammock, or with the aid of a long and suspended cloth, which can be wrapped around the laboring woman's arms or hung from a door or beam when the woman bears down with a contraction (women will sometimes lie on their sides and place a foot in an attendant's hands while pushing against the hand). Other women find a birthing pool or a large birthing tub in a facility to be helpful. Find out what your birth center or midwife has to offer and consider practicing with something that you can take home or purchase before the birth. But, for the most part, your birth experience will be inward-focused and relaxation and breathing techniques will be the most helpful.
Talk to Other Women
Find out what has worked for women who have already given birth without pain medication. Even if their specific tips don't work for you, you'll have a toolkit to rely upon when you're in labor and needing something new to get you through your contractions.
Be Prepared for a Powerful Experience
No matter what happens during your birth, it will be powerful. And motherhood will become the next powerful experience. Don't forget to prepare for postpartum and all of the changes the new baby will bring with him/her.
Birth is the great equalizer. All women have to move through the same stages and emotions and challenges. Check out Swedish photographer Moa Karlberg's birth photographs from around the world to help you prepare to make this special and universally shared journey.