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Top 10 natural pain relief methods for labour

Managing and coping with pain in labour

a pregnant woman holding her belly

It's really important to say that the way each one of us experiences labour is very individual and there are so many factors which influence how birth feels.

Pain during labour can really vary depending on the environment you're giving birth in, the support you have around you, whether or not you've had a baby before and the position your baby is in.

But, it might surprise you to know that there are lots of natural pain relief methods for you to try. The great thing about natural pain relief is that these methods are completely safe for both you and your baby, with no lasting side effects.

So whether or not you're keen to avoid medical pain relief altogether or just want to have as many tools at your disposal, I've got you covered in this blog post.

As an experienced Hypnobirthing teacher, here's my top 10 natural pain relief methods for labour.

Natural Pain Relief Method #1 - A birthing comb

My number one natural pain relief method is a birthing comb - yes you read that right, a comb! This method of pain relief is based on the pain gate theory, which states that your brain can only focus on a few sensations at any one time.

a hand holding a wooden comb

You simply grip a comb in your hand, with the teeth pointing into your palm and gently squeeze, alternating between each hand.

This pressure activates your ‘laogong’ acupressure point and can be used to alleviate pain, promote relaxation and distract you from any pain you may feel during a contraction.

It's not advised to use a plastic comb as it may snap, so do make sure you use a sturdy wooden one.

Natural Pain Relief Method #2 - Water

Using water during labour can help create a feeling of weightlessness, reduce pain and give you freedom of movement to take positions which feel most comfortable for you.

But when we think about using water for pain relief, this isn't just about using a birthing pool - you can also use a bath or a shower if a pool isn't available.

a pregnant woman in a birthing pool

You may want to rock or sway under a running shower, point the shower head directly on your lower back or fully submerge your body in a pool if there is one available.

You might find it comforting to have water poured on your back and your birthing partner can provide you with lots of support from the edge of a birthing pool.

A birthing pool is also a great way to achieve a very ‘hands off’ birth and midwifes have waterproof equipment they can use to monitor baby under water.

It’s also very safe for your baby to be born in water and babies born in this way are usually born much more calmly.

It’s important to be aware that if you are wanting to use a birthing pool and give birth in a hospital or MLU (Midwifery led unit) that you know beforehand how many pools are available.

Put simply: the more birthing pools a unit has, the greater chance you have of achieving a waterbirth.

The only way to guarantee a water birth is to have a homebirth!

Natural Pain Relief Method #3 - Hypnobirthing

Seriously though, Hypnobirthing is super powerful stuff.

a woman sits on a sofa with a book

One of the main things we focus on during a Hypnobirthing course is working on alleviating any fears you have around birth.

We know that when we feel more fear about giving birth, we hold more tension in our bodies, and when we hold tension in our bodies, we feel more pain.

One of the aims in Hypnobirthing is to break this cycle by helping you to remove any fears or worries you have about birth. Studies have also shown that Hypnobirthing works to effectively reduce your pain levels during labour too.

70% of people using Hypnobirthing described labour as a pleasant experience - statistic from the Royal Wolverhampton NHS trust

Natural Pain Relief Method #4 - TENS Machine

TENS machines work by placing 4 electrode pads onto your lower back and using mild electrical pulses to distract you from the pain of a contraction. The pads are attached to a control device so that you can increase or decrease the intensity of the pulses as you wish.

Note: you can’t use a TENS machine in water...for obvious reasons!

Natural Pain Relief Method #5 - Breathing Techniques

Breathing techniques are such an overlooked tool for labour and birth. They work by triggering your parasympathetic nervous system to relax. This is effective at helping you to stay calm and also helps to lowers your blood pressure and heart rate.

a woman with her eyes closed and hands on her chest

Practising slow, deep breathing sends signals to your brain that you are safe.

When we feel safe during birth, our body can relax and contract more easily & comfortably. Feeling safe also helps to boost our Oxytocin levels which is the hormone needed for starting labour & keeping it going.

When you feel calm and relaxed, so does your baby.

Breathing techniques don't have to be complicated either; simply make your exhales longer than your inhales.

Try it now and see how you feel.

It's important to remember that breathing techniques should feel effortless and easy.

Natural Pain Relief Method #6 - Aromatherapy

a woman holds aromatherapy roll on

Recent studies have shown that using aromatherapy and essential oils during labour can help to reduce pain.

You could get an aromatherapy roller ball, pop some oil in a diffuser or even use a few drops in the bath.

It’s really important that you consult a trained professional before using any essential oils as they're really potent - Clary Sage especially should be avoided before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

If in doubt, contact a professional.

If you are interested in using aromatherapy during labour, my recommendation would be to check out the wonderful Take Five Aromatherapy.

Natural Pain Relief Method #7 - Freedom of Movement

Being free to move in labour really allows you to follow your body and listen to your instincts, finding birth positions that feel comfortable for you.

You might want to rock, sway, squat, circle your hips, dance, pace up and down, kneel, stand, lay down…whatever your body tells you to do, listen to it and do that!

Moving instinctively can really help you to feel more in control and can greatly reduce your discomfort.

Natural Pain Relief Method #8 Massage/touch

a man massages a womans back on the beach

Touch can be an incredibly powerful tool for birth and massage is something I teach all of my Hypnobirthing clients.

You might want a full back massage, counter pressure on your hips or simply a firm hand rubbing your shoulder.

Massage & touch can greatly increase your feelings of relaxation, love and get that all important oxytocin flowing.

Natural Pain Relief Method #9 Hot water bottle

The unsung hero of the natural pain relief world.

A hot water bottle can provide lots of great pain relief, particularly in early labour.

Think about period pains and how soothing a hot water bottle is then – it’s the same in labour. You could try popping it on your lower back or even in between your thighs to give you comfort when you need a rest.

Natural Pain Relief Method #10 Relaxation

a woman meditates on a bed

Being relaxed during labour greatly reduces your pain levels. Relaxing our bodies reduces our tension which reduces our pain.

But relaxation is not something you can simply turn on like a light switch. Relaxation is a real skill that we need to practice during pregnancy.

Relaxation could be

  • listening to a Hypnobirthing MP3

  • playing some calming music

  • your birth partner reading a script

  • practising calm breathing techniques

  • visualisation

  • creating a relaxing environment (think low light levels, nice smells etc)

  • a comforting massage

  • using aromatherapy or another familiar smell

In a nutshell...

There's no right or wrong when it comes to which pain relief options you choose to use during labour. You might even plan to use one thing and then on the day it just doesn’t work for you and that’s okay.

The most important thing is that you feel well informed & confident in your pain relief options and also have heaps of practical tools at your disposal.

Arming yourself with these natural forms of pain relief just makes sense - even if you know you want medical pain relief at some point, these methods can really help you to stay calm & relaxed during birth.

Love Emma

Hypnobirthing and Antenatal teacher


Who am I?

Hi, I'm Emma. 5* rated Hypnobirthing and antenatal teacher and the founder of Blooming Births Hypnobirthing.

I pride myself on offering honest, bespoke and evidence based antenatal courses, developed after years of extensive training.

After giving birth to my own two babies, I continue to work closely with the Newcastle Maternity units and stay up to date with current working practices so that you are well informed about what to expect from your local trust.

 I'm also an affiliate member of The Royal College of Midwives and a breastfeeding peer support volunteer. I'm continually updating my knowledge, including training with the UKs leading midwives, doulas and birth rights consultants.

Looking for an antenatal course? Wondering if Hypnobirthing is really for you?

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