How Can I Cope Without an Epidural?

Let it be said that all women who give birth, no matter their birth stories, are heroines just for going through the process. In fact, most women, especially for first births, get an epidural during their labors in order to cope with the pain of contractions. Yet for those who choose to forgo the epidural, or cannot receive an epidural for medical reasons, there are plenty of ways to reduce the feeling of contractions. Women who do not use an epidural usually take advantage of a myriad of coping techniques which function similarly to a “natural epidural.”

How to Cope with Contractions Naturally

Here is the low-down on various ways women get through contractions naturally. There are 4 basic tenets:  

  1. Relax the Body During Dilation. By physically relaxing, you allow your body to release oxytocin (the hormone causing contractions, and the feeling of “pleasure” associated with sex), as well as relaxin, the hormone whose name says it all – specifically, relaxing the joints for an easier birth. The hormone which inhibits oxytocin and relaxin is the archemeny hormone of dilation, adrenaline, fueled by stress and tension. By relaxing the body, you release tension and stress, disallowing adrenaline in favor of oxytocin and relaxin.

Some scoff: But how can I relax during my birth? Doesn’t that seem counterintuitive? You’re right, for many women the instinct is to tense up with a contraction – the trick is to do the opposite.               

  1. Physical Support. You will likely need assistance in massaging the areas where you feel contractions, in changing positions, and for getting into the shower. Bringing a trusted family member, friend, or professional doula allows you to have that person beside you. Some women find their partner fulfill this role well enough, but many couples prefer a third party there to assist them. 
  2. Emotional Support. Emotionally, birth can be all-encompassing. You are about to have a baby, and the process is intense from many perspectives. You will gain confidence by having emotionally supportive people with you, such as your partner, trusted family member, friend, or professional doula. The nurses, midwives, and doctors might also help you emotionally, but it’s not their primary role and they usually can’t be there with you 100% of the time.

How to Make It Happen

Below are common coping mechanisms for births without medical pain relief.

  1. Relaxation. Drop your shoulders, release your cheeks and jaw, open your mouth like an “O”, loosen your knees, and droop your fingers open. Choose any one of these tips, or combination thereof, and perform it in rhythm to your contractions. As soon as you feel the contraction come on, go into relaxation mode. NOTE: Relaxation is for the dilation phase. Once you feel like pushing, adrenaline is key!
  2. Hot water bottles on the back (not the uterus) right where you feel the contractions.
  3. The shower. (If it’s your 2nd birth or beyond, wait to get into the shower at the hospital – it could speed up your labor at home and then voila, your baby’s on the bath floor!)
  4. Massage, or direct pressure, where you feel contractions. You can also use a scarf to pull on these areas in your back. Likewise, the Rebozo scarf techniques can also work wonders.
  5. Positioning. However your body feels best is the often the ideal position for handling contractions. Even if you are on a monitor, you can either sit or stand – just have a support person hold the monitor in place in order to continue to get the reading print.
  6. Visual imagery. Imagine scenes which relax you, or makes you feel pleased.
  7. Moaning, singing – those are the common ways of diminishing, or distracting, the feeling of a contraction.
  8. Focus on your breathing. There are countless breathing techniques – read up on several and decide which ones speak best to you. Your support people should also be trained in ways to remind you about the breathing.
  9. Prayer, mantras, positive affirmations. Whatever speaks to you. Write down 3-5 possibilities to have at your side as options to recite during your birth.
  10. Talk out your fears. Sometimes labor is stalled due to emotional reasons, usually a fear. Since fear leads to tension, it can make you release adrenaline, impeding your relaxation. Talk out your fears in order to try to move on emotionally.
  11. Music. Make a playlist and bring it with you to the hospital.
  12. Last but not least: Smile. What? Smiling releases the pleasure hormones endorphins and serotonin. Go ahead, try smiling now, and then frowning. Notice the positive feelings versus the negative feelings? Same goes during birth.

Whether or not your plan is to avoid an epidural, you might end up not having an epidural anyway. People with low blood pressure, for instance, cannot usually get an epidural. Or your birth might be happening so fast that there’s not enough time to administer an epidural. Therefore, no matter your birth plan, it’s recommended that every woman practice natural coping methods for contractions, and the above tips will help you do so.

You want to feel that your wishes are taken into consideration, while at the same time trusting the decisions of the medical staff in case of need. At Miami Center for Excellence OB/GYNs, we strive toward the balance of both women’s wishes and medical necessities. For some women, it might be medically helpful to have an epidural, and the staff will be involved with your decision should this be the case. 

We wish you the easiest birth possible!

Caveat: The above applies to non-Pitocin-induced births. Pitocin contractions are not the same as human-caused contractions.