I didn’t always want a natural birth, but I always assumed I’d have one. You see, when I was a little girl, I didn’t know epidurals existed. People told me that childbirth was extremely painful, and I figured there was no way around that.
Fast forward a couple decades and the situation was reversed: I knew I had options for numbing labor pains, but I wanted to feel them after all!
And feel them I did, when our little boy was born in April, 2015. (You can read Little Dude’s birth story here.) It was difficult, but I believe it was worth it.
As my doctor put it, generally the women who are happiest with their birth stories are the ones who do not feel pressured into making decisions they feel uncomfortable with. If you feel pressured into getting an epidural, either from friends or hospital staff, you’re more likely to feel dissatisfied with your labor and delivery. And if you’re pressured the other way, to give birth naturally, you might regret it!
Bottom line? Do what you truly want. (You can pretend like it’s your wedding again, and you’re the bride!)
If you do want to go the natural, sans-painkiller route, you will need to employ some DIY pain management! For this, it’s really helpful to know what other women did to manage labor pain.
There are 5 things that helped me get through labor without an epidural:
1. An excellent birth team
This was the most important thing for me. My husband and mom were with me throughout labor and delivery, and they literally helped me move and breathe! I also had two excellent nurses and a doctor I trusted and was completely comfortable with.
2. Trying different positions
At first, all I wanted to do was stay huddled on the bed. My nurses encouraged me to move around the room and try new positions, though, and I was always glad once I had. The variety was good for me, and it helped move baby downwards.
3. A good playlist
My sister put together a playlist of soothing music that we repeated several times throughout the day. I’ll always associate those Fernando Ortega and J. J. Heller songs with that day (and afterwards, as we played the CD to get Little Dude to sleep many a night)!
4. Small goals
I focused on one small thing at a time: Get to the edge of my bed and stand. Get through this one contraction. Keep baby’s heart rate steady (I had control over that through my breathing!). Minute by minute, I got through it.
I gazed often at Little Dude’s ultrasound picture, which Eric had taped above the monitors. I thought about seeing him face-to-face. I thought about the delicious (if fragmented) sleep I would get that night. And yes, I thought about the sizzling, crusty pepperoni pizza I was going to wolf down like nobody’s business!
I asked other women what they did to manage pain during labor, and here’s what they had to say. (Emphases are mine.)
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20+ Tips for Labor without an Epidural
“There was a vast difference in my recovery after giving birth with natural deliveries. The most important thing is a strong support system. I highly recommend hiring a doula. Hands-down it was the best decision we made. I would also suggest creating a birth plan. Having all your requests written down so you can review them with your doctor and nursing staff is extremely helpful.” -Whitney, Beauty in the Mess
“For me, it was two things. Making the choice to not fear. Not being fearful and just surrendering was key for me. Going hand in hand with that is just patiently relaxing into each contraction. Second was coaching my team before labor started to watch me for signs of fear. Transition is a time I lose focus every time and pushing. I just needed to hear I was safe and doing great. To stay calm and release fear.” -Leigh Ann, Intentional By Grace
“I was blessed to be able to give birth to both of my children without an epidural. After the first, I told a good friend I would NEVER do it again. It was scary and extremely painful! She offered to teach me a Christian Childbirth Education Class and coach me through the second labor. Words cannot express how different the second birth was for me. The key for me was that I was no longer afraid of the process. I welcomed it, embraced it, and worked with it. Learning to trust your body and God’s design, while being in the care of well trained professionals, creates the opportunity for a beautiful birthing experience.” -Sarah, Grounded & Surrounded
“My husband’s encouragement and support was a huge help, physically and mentally, as he reassured me that I could make it through labor without any painkillers, and was there to physically support me as well. Relaxation and meditation were the other two things that helped me manage the pain; I was able to remain calm and silent for much of my labor because I relaxed as deeply as possible. Again, this was a combination of physical and mental work.” – Jaimie
“For me, I told myself I could do anything for five minutes. When those passed, I’d say it again. For many, many hours. My labor was not a natural one, though I always wanted that. Pitocin labor is no joke. I had no breaks between my contractions, but still managed the pain for more than 24 hours. In the end, I had a csection and obviously pain killers. It saved my baby’s life, and possibly mine. So my story isn’t totally pain free. But for many hours it was, and that’s what I did to get through it.” -Chantel, Beautiful Song
“I’ve had pretty much every type of labor possible from emergency c-section to all natural birth. When I finally made the switch to natural births my ‘must haves’ were drinking red raspberry leaf tea and hypnobabies. Those both made labor easy…well as easy as labor can get, anyway.” -Brittany, The Pistachio Project
“For me it was all about attitude and breathing. I remind myself with each contraction that I’m one contraction closer to snuggling my sweet little baby. Also breathing is huge for pain management, whenever I would lose control of my breathing, the pain would seem to become out of control. Stay calm. Breath. Pray.” -Sarah, Simple Life Abundant Life
“Mine were super fast. Four hours and two hours so it was just breathing and getting through the contractions. My two-hour one I only had one uncontrollable contraction and that was because she was just coming out.” -Clarinda
“For me, much of it was research. I educated myself so that I felt confident in the process and my body’s ability to do what it needs to do to bring the baby into the world. I also surrounded myself with people who shared that informed confidence during the birth.” -Kristen, Smithspirations
“Two things: remembering that I was doing what God created me to do. And that if I could get through *just one more* contraction w/o meds like I just did, I would be ok. (Of course there was more than one more, but its a mental game!)” -Tiffany, Don’t Waste the Crumbs
“For my entire pregnancy I quoted positive scriptures and affirmations out loud, this prepared me mentally. Educating myself on different positions and pain management techniques (breathing, essential oils, etc) and having a peaceful, quiet environment helped me stick with it and have zero pain at delivery!” -Jamie, The Herbal Spoon
“A wonderful seasoned Doula and music that helped me find my ‘happy place.'” -Nicole
“This is kinda ‘before labor’ but I cannot express how different my last labor was because I drank Red Raspberry Leaf Tea for about half my pregnancy. The pain didn’t even get to me until the last hour – otherwise it was totally manageable. My first five labors were a different story! LOL I found that I wanted silence, and as each contraction came upon me I focused on a tiny spot and counted slowly until it ended. Somehow it helped as each contraction was longer, I was counting to a higher number and felt like it was helping me remember that each one was progressing and the baby would soon be here! I also used a birthing ball and walked/stood whenever I could. The hot bathtub/shower was a favorite when things got more intense.” -Paula, Whole Intentions
“Grit, a whole lot of determination, a supportive hubby and finally the pool. I had my research and was dead set against an epi and wanted a water birth. I knew going in that it would be hard, but was confident in my body’s ability to do what it was created for.” -Kendra, A Proverbs 31 Wife
“The best thing I ever did was hire a doula. She came to my house a few times before my due date to teach me how to manage my labor. She prepared me so well, I didn’t even need her on the big day! We planned to meet at the hospital, but my baby was born 12 minutes after I arrived at the hospital!” – Sherry
“I absolutely love using a birthing pool, for both labor and delivery, and lots of hospitals are starting to offer them, which is really cool! During my last homebirth, I used positive affirmations, which really helped, particularly during that last final stretch, transition, which is the toughest part of all! I said things like ‘my body is going to open up and I’m going to have this baby!’ Finally, the very most important thing is having my husband as my constant support. He holds my hands, puts pressure on my back, and says words of encouragement. He is my greatest labor support!” -Jacyln, The Family That Heals Together
“Practicing complete relaxation ahead of time, being able to purposely go completely limp instead of tensing up against the pain was key, and practicing was essential.
“Reading Bradley’s Husband-Coached Childbirth helped tremendously to truly understand the process and how to work with my body instead of against it. I recommend the book to all of my pregnant friends desiring a natural birth. It is written to the husband, but I found it to be the best-written book about childbirth I’d ever read, and I’ve read a lot.
“With my smoothest natural birth, as I was transitioning, I began quietly singing a favorite worship song. I hadn’t intended to, it just happened. I was able to zone out, find that happy peaceful place, and meditate on the words, as I let my body relax through the hardest contractions. It was amazing.” -Alison, An Ordinary Mom
“I had an in-hospital birth with no interventions and then a homebirth (also with no interventions). The two things that helped with pain were prayer (literally calling on Jesus’ name!) and my husband’s physical support (helping me hold a position so I could relax through contractions, pressure on my back when I needed it, etc).” -Rachel, Mason Jar Values
Hopefully these stories from other women have given you some ideas for how you can manage labor pain without an epidural. I would also think about what comforts you and alleviates pain for you in other circumstances, as these things will likely help you in labor, too.
It’s entirely possible to give birth without painkillers. Thousands of women through thousands of years have done it, and so can you!
Helpful Resources for a Natural Birth without an Epidural
I recommend the following books if you’re preparing for a natural birth (and they’re good reading even if you have a medicated birth!)
Husband-Coached Childbirth by Robert A. Bradley
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
Natural Birth Stories by Shannon Brown