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10 ways to manage labor pain without drugs

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If you’re planning a natural birth and want to avoid interventions and the possibility of having a C-section, then there are many different techniques that can help you cope with the labor pain sans medication.

1. Breathing.
One of the best ways to manage labor pain is through breathing exercises that will help calm your mind and body. The Bradley Method, Lamaze, Hypnobirthing, or any childbirth class will teach you the proper breathing techniques to help manage the contractions.

2. Rebozo.
A rebozo is a long woven cloth that’s placed underneath the belly and pulled on either side to alleviate pressure from the lower abdomen. If the contractions are higher, the rebozo can create pressure in a different spot, said Jenna LoGiudice, a certified nurse midwife and assistant professor at Fairfield University’s School of Nursing.

“That counter pressure helps to balance some of the labor discomfort,” she said.

Your partner can help, but some midwives and doulas are trained in a specific rebozo techniques.

3. Hydrotherapy.
Known as a “natural epidural,” studies show that hydrotherapy can significantly reduce labor pain, decrease muscle tension, and pain and anxiety. In early labor, a shower is a great way to cope with contractions. Wait to go into the bathtub or Jacuzzi until you’re between 4 and 5 centimeters dilated, any earlier and your labor may slow, LoGiudice said.

4. A doula.
One of the most effective ways a doula can help is to create a safe, comfortable environment so you can relax. A doula supports you physically and emotionally with a massage or words of encouragement. She can transform the hospital room into a homebirth setting with things that are already familiar and soothing for you. The key is to manage any fear beforehand, which will make coping with the pain so much easier, said Tara Poulin, a doula and founder of Birthing Gently.

5. Move, move, move.
Walking and changing positions frequently is a great way to cope with labor pain and it can even help make labor shorter.

6. Birthing ball.
A birthing ball (or exercise ball) can make contractions more comfortable because “squatting allows the pelvis to open and the baby to engage—or come down—the pelvis much more rapidly,” LoGiudice said. Rocking your hips back and forth, or leaning over a bed along with counter pressure on your lower back, can help ease the pain.

7. Visualization.
Visualization and guided imagery can help you imagine a safe, relaxing place like the beach or your baby moving down the birth canal with each contraction. You can download guided imagery scripts or audio and your partner, doula or even your provider may guide you through it.

8. Hypnosis.
Self-hypnosis methods that teach you how to relax and focus with breathing exercises, guided relaxation and visualization techniques are one of the most effective ways of dealing with labor pain.

“That anxiety and fear is so far removed when somebody is self-hypnotized,” LoGiudice said.

In fact, 70 to 75 percent of women who learned the Hypnobabies method felt mostly pressure, tightening or mild cramping sensations during labor.

9. Acupressure.
By stimulating certain points in the body, acupressure can help to alleviate pain, discomfort and nausea. Doulas who are trained in acupressure will try the methods beforehand to make sure you’re comfortable with it during labor.

10. Massage.
Massage is a great way to relieve tension and manage contractions. A doula is trained in a variety of methods that release tension, help with contractions and promote relaxation in between contractions.

Julie Revelant is a freelance writer and copywriter specializing in parenting, health, healthcare, nutrition, food and women's issues. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.