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Drug-Free Approaches To Managing Pain During Labor & Delivery

If you’re welcoming a new baby into your family soon, you are probably busy putting the finishing touches on your nursery, making sure you have lots of diapers on hand and counting down the days until your due date. Although you are likely eager to finally hold your little baby in your arms, you may be slightly dreading the labor and delivery process.

We asked Katherine Torres, RN at the Labor and Delivery Unit for Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, our questions about non-medical alternatives to pain management during labor.

Techniques for Managing Pain

While there are tried and true medical options, such as the epidural and IV pain medications, for managing pain during childbirth, there are also drug-free options. These options can be used in conjunction with an epidural or on their own, depending on your preference. Katherine explains that some of these techniques include:

  1. Movement: Turning side-to-side while in your hospital bed every 30 minutes to an hour, walking, lunging, slow dancing, staying out of bed and off your back and using props like a peanut ball between the legs or knees or sitting on a birth ball can all aid in easing pain.
  2. Aromatherapy: The use of essential oils can help create a sense of safety or a home-like environment while you are in the hospital. Different oils can be used to either invigorate or calm you. Lavender is a common scent for calming nerves and citrus oils are often used to awaken the senses.
  3. Water: Hot showers or baths with Epsom salts or a bath bomb can be soothing, especially in the early stages of labor and if the amniotic sac or bag of waters has not broken. Another option is effleurage, or light touch in a circular motion, with a hand, shower head or cup of water poured slowly over the stomach or back. This technique can also be effective in easing discomfort.
  4. Touch: From a skilled massage therapist to a partner's reassuring hand on the low back to even a doula's use of a double-hip squeeze technique, various forms of touch can be comforting during the labor and delivery process.
  5. Music: Finding a playlist or making your own, filled with music for both energizing and relaxing, can also help. Katherine shares that she has assisted with babies born to classical and heavy metal alike.
  6. Visualization/Meditation: Various apps, like Insight Timer and Headspace, offer free guided meditations for all kinds of situations that pertain to labor: sleep, awake, calm, energy—you name it.  Another option is searching for a guided meditation online and then having your partner or birth coach read it to you as you manage the intensity of contractions.

How Do I Know Which Pain Management Options are Right for Me?

Katherine explains that not every option is going to be right for everyone, and that is okay. Movement, for example, can be a great option because moving the body, distracts the mind. When a woman is in labor, her mind can fixate on every instance of pain, so a change of scenery can be just the thing she needs to get the next centimeter dilated or to get to the next contraction. On the flip side, depending on the stage of labor you are in or the intensity of the labor, sometimes it can be hard to change positions, or it may not make sense to move if your current position is working for you.

Similarly, while aromatherapy can work great for some in calming nerves or reinvigorating a tired spirit before the pushing stage, it is not for all health conditions. People with a history of migraines or seizures may not be able to use aromatherapy due to sensitivity to smell.

One of the most important things to understand is that there are in fact different techniques available to you to help with pain. Keep a few options in your toolkit so-to-speak, because increased choice leads to greater satisfaction in the birth process. Which ones you choose to use, comes down to personal preference. Katherine also explains that people who practice comfort techniques and positioning in class before the big day are more likely to feel confident using them. It’s important to trust yourself and your support team on the big day and know that you are prepared and ready for what’s to come.

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