Alright, I’ve talked a lot about epidurals, pain medications, and C-sections in my last few posts…but NATURAL MAMAS, this post is for you! My natural birth mamas have a special little place in my heart, because I, too, rode the no-epidural train.
I was a labor and delivery nurse before I had my son, and I’m going to admit, I thought I had my head wrapped around the whole “natural birth” thing.
I was confident in myself, and I had seen countless moms do it without epidurals. I knew it was going to hurt, BAD. I knew it was going to probably be long, and tiring. I knew I was probably going to lose my mind at the end. I knew that most women have a perception of what “going natural” is like, beforehand, just to find out the experience is a lot more painful and intense than what they originally thought.
I had seen that breaking point many women go through during transition, and at what point many of them call it quits and scream for the anesthesiologist.
I thought I had it all figured out. I had read books, talked to many moms who had done it before, and done my research.
Well…NEWS FLASH…my perception of what I thought it was going to be like versus my actual experience was just a little bit more intense. Okay, A LOT MORE INTENSE.
In fact, I’ll start off this list with saying…do as much research as you can but be aware that your experience will most likely NOT match your expectations!
But that’s okay!
That’s part of it all. And, that’s part of the mentality of having a natural birth. Letting go of that control factor, and letting your body just do its thing!
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RESOURCES FOR NATURAL BIRTH
Before I get too deep, one resource that I feel helped me IMMENSELY was Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Seriously, this lady and this book is a godsend for any natural birth mama out there. A MUST-READ if you are trying to avoid an epidural.
I also would recommend reading it later (but not too much later) in your pregnancy. I read it when I was around 6 months pregnant, but by the time I was nearing the end of my pregnancy, I felt like I had forgotten a lot of what she had to say. I ended up re-reading it around week 37, and I got much more out of it! Here’s the link, if you’d like to purchase off Amazon. 🙂
Also, check out The Birth Hour! The Birth Hour is a popular podcast that serves a safe space where mamas can share their birth stories (natural birth or not!). I just love the overall feel of this podcast, and it’s so fun hearing other moms talk about their various experiences!
Also, Youtube is fun! Watching other mamas on youtube talk about natural birth was also a favorite activity of mine while I was preparing for my own birth. Here’s a cute one!
NATURAL BIRTH TIPS
Alright, so I’m going to go over some mental tidbits, tips, and notes I personally used to help me get through my labor, and what I tell my natural mamas during their labors!
These are in no particular order!
1. Choose wisely
That simply means, choose your provider…and your place of delivery wisely. If you’re interested in having a natural birth, the FIRST thing you should do is interview your provider! Ask about some statistics.
What is your provider’s opinion on going epidural-free? How is the success rate of your hospital? You may be surprised when you start asking! (PS: Did you know you can look up your hospital’s C-Section rate on Yelp?)
2. Prepare and do your research
Labor is no easy feat (natural or not). I can’t tell you how many people I talked to, how much I read, and how much I mentally tried to prepare myself for my labor.
I will say, the women I care for who have done their labor research, are usually the ones who rock it!
That goes for anything in life, also! Usually, when you do your research on something, your experience tends to be much more positive, and you tend to be much more mentally ready for it, because you have an idea of what to expect.
So, read lots of books, take a prenatal class, and talk to lots of your friends and family members! Basically, try to learn as much as you can about going natural! You will not only be much more educated on pregnancy and birth, but doing research WILL ABSOLUTELY get you excited about doing it!
3. You can do anything for 10 seconds
Even though contractions last anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, the PEAK of intensity roughly lasts about 10-15 seconds. So, if you can think about it this way, you may be able to mentally get through them better.
Sure, the whole contraction is going to last a while, but the terrible, awful, gut-wrenching part really only lasts 10-15 seconds. You can do anything for 10 seconds!
4. You do get breaks
Yes! You do get little breaks in between, to ready yourself for the next one. I don’t think women could get through labor if there were not small breaks in between contractions! Value these breaks and use them to your advantage. Savor them.
5. It’s only one day of your life
Okay, sometimes two, but generally the god-awful part of labor lasts much less than a day. Usually hours. You’ve been alive for how many days? This is only one of them! Think of it this way.
6. Don’t think about how many more contractions you’ll have
Think about how many you’ve done, and how each contraction you have is one step closer to you being DONE and meeting baby. This is a very common “defeatist” attitude I see women have during labor if it’s not going as fast as they want it to. And, a negative attitude is not something you want during labor!
Instead of clinging on to how many hours you’ve been 4 or 5 centimeters, congratulate yourself that you’ve made it this far. Celebrate each contraction as one less you have to deal with!
Related: How to Induce Labor Yourself!
7. Eventually it will end
Yes, it will! This pain you are dealing with isn’t going to be every day for the rest of your life. Eventually, the labor process is going to be over, and you will have your baby, I promise!
I like to use this mantra when I’m swamped at work, or I have something really stressful going on, too. I used to wait tables, and I remember it being so busy some nights that I would be running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Simply remembering that the night will eventually end, and I’ll get to go home and go to sleep really helped me look at the bigger picture, and gave me the little pick-me-up I needed during my shift. I know that’s a weird analogy, but truly just reminding yourself that eventually labor will be over can help you push through and make it!
8. Fifteen minute increments, or four more contractions
This is a mental exercise I like to do with my natural patients and one I personally used as well.
When you are on the brink of exhaustion, and thinking you can’t do it anymore, I like to suggest we keep going for either another 15 minutes, or 4 more contractions. After that time frame is up, something changes. We either change positions, get a dose of medication, get in the shower etc.
Sometimes by simply setting a time frame, and changing something at the end of that time frame, it helps women have more control over the setting. For some reason, getting through four 15 minutes increments sounds much easier to me than doing something for an hour! Agreed?
9. Literally, take it one contraction at a time
This goes along with everything I’ve said thus far….just take it one at a time! Focus on only the one you are having. Don’t think about how horrible the last one was, or how horrible the next one is going to be. Just FOCUS on the one you are having now, and getting through it.
10. Clear any mental blockades you have
I am a firm believer in positive energy, and I think negative energy has a way of impeding labor progression. I’ve seen it!
Really, if you’ve got any mental blocks you are focusing on during labor (money stress, family affairs, etc.), your body is going to have a heck of a lot harder job doing its thing.
Try and focus on the here and now. Clear your personal stressors for the time being, and focus on the job you have to do, LABOR!
11. Accept the pain
Don’t fight it, accept it. Embrace it. It’s easier said than done, but this is one key element every natural mama must face. Any other time our bodies are in pain, our natural response is to fight it, fix it, bandage it.
Well in labor, you truly must just deal with it, and accept it…and then it will be over!
12. Breathe as slow and deep as you can
Those breathing exercises in prenatal classes can actually work! It’s true. The slower and deeper you breathe during a contraction, the more oxygen your uterus is getting.
One of the reasons contractions are painful is because your uterus is a huge muscle, and when muscles contract, they tighten and restrict blood flow and oxygen to their surroundings. A lack of oxygen causes pain! So, BREATHE DEEP to get more oxygen pumping to that uterus!
13. Be a rag doll
Limp, loose and relaxed during contractions. IT’S WAY HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS, I KNOW! Truth is, tensing up during each contraction is only keeping baby in there longer.
Doing your very best to relax your muscles during each contraction can make a world of difference in terms of progression. And, I’m not just talking about relaxing your bottom. Relax your face, shoulders, arms, legs, entire body!
14. Keep your mouth relaxed
Apparently, the muscles around your mouth and the muscles within your vagina are somehow connected. (They don’t teach us that in nursing school, ha!)
Try this simple exercise:
- Purse your mouth, and do a kegel (tighten your vaginal muscles)
- Now, relax your mouth and relax your vagina
- Now, tighten both again, and try to only relax your vagina
- It’s a little harder to do, right?
Isn’t that weird? Well, it may give you some benefit during labor! This is also in Ina May Gaskin’s Book, and she highly recommends focusing on having a relaxed jaw during contractions, to encourage cervical dilation!
Read more about Ina May Gaskin’s Sphincter Law here!
15. Be confident and have support
I had a change of heart after I got pregnant. I started to become much more curious about trying to give birth without getting an epidural. I had seen COUNTLESS women do it…right in front of my eyes. I started to really amp myself up.
I kept thinking, “IF SALLY JO CAN DO IT, THEN I CAN DO IT!”.
I also started analyzing how my natural mamas were coping throughout labor, and when exactly that BREAKING POINT of epidural-land broke through. I realized that many of my patients who were successful in delivering naturally all had two things in common:
CONFIDENCE AND SUPPORT
It takes A WHOLE LOTTA confidence to give birth, whichever way you do it! But, for the sake of this article, I’m going to blatantly say….if you want to go epidural-free, you’ve got be CONFIDENT!!
You’ve got to BELIEVE you’re going to do it. You’ve got to CRUSH those contractions. You’ve got to AMP YOURSELF UP LIKE I DID!
Now for the second thing I noticed…Support.
All of these women had A SUPER SUPPORT TEAM. Whether it be their partners encouraging them, their mothers, their sisters…these women all had someone to back them up (and sometimes it was just me, little ol’ labor nurse!).
So, lesson two, make sure you’ve got someone who knows what you want in terms of pain control, and make sure they BACK YOU UP!
Giving birth is hard (Okay, let’s be honest, PARENTING is hard), you NEED someone who’s on your team. (PS: I’m ALWAYS on your team too!) 😊
*Let me also say, I generally recommend not having too many people in your room. It’s totally up to you, BUT sometimes I notice that once there are more than 2 or 3 helpers, sometimes there are power struggles. Don’t be afraid to tell (insert annoying family member) you don’t want them in the room.*
16. No fear
You’ve also got to get rid of the fear factor.
What is the “fear factor”? It’s exactly what I had BEFORE I amped myself up.
I was TERRIFIED of labor pain. What is it going to be like? What if I can’t do it? What if I pass out or something? WHAT IF I JUST CAN’T DO IT AND I STAY PREGNANT FOREVER???
Labor is PAINFUL AS F*CK, there’s no other way to put it. Fear of this pain makes labor 100 times worse. Going natural is about realizing that labor is going to be the worst pain you’ve ever experienced in your life, and taking it on LIKE A BOSS.
Accept the pain. Welcome the pain. The pain is your B*TCH.
Get rid of all the “what if’s”, and get rid of the fear. KNOW YOU CAN DO IT.
Related: Read My Birth Story!
17. Stay at home as long as you can
Or, if you’re delivering at your home…well…just stay there! But seriously, if you begin to labor at home on your own (your water hasn’t broken yet, you’re not bleeding, baby is moving around), you need to literally stay at home as long as you can possibly bear it.
I’m talking…you’re shaking, you’re vomiting, you think you just can’t do it anymore…THEN leave!
Unless you have a super long commute (I’m not advising you wait TOO long, did you see what recently happened to Seth Meyer and his wife?), wait until your contractions are 3ish minutes apart, lasting about a minute long, and about a 9 out of 10 on your pain scale.
This happens all the time, women end up rolling into triage BEFORE they are in active labor.
If this is your first pregnancy, it’s also extremely common to wonder, “is this it?”, get excited, and come straight to the hospital. It’s okay, MANY women do this. The key here is, you shouldn’t be coming to the hospital until you ARE ABSOLUTELY SURE THIS IS LABOR, AND IT JUST KEEPS GETTING WORSE.
18. Keep telling yourself it’s going to get worse
Okay, I know you’re probably wondering “Huh??”
The truth is, this is a little mental game that I played with myself during my own labor.
I kept saying, “Okay, I got through that contraction, but it’s going to get worse…be prepared for it to get worse.” This went through my head at 4, 6, and 10 centimeters. It was my way of retaining some control over the pain.
My thought process was…if I can somehow trick myself into thinking “It’s going to keep getting worse, it’s going to get worse”, then maybe when I was ACTUALLY at the peak of “it being the absolute worst” (which for me was around 9.5 centimeters right before I started pushing) I had already gotten through the worst of it! Success, now downhill!
19. Move around a ton
I remember MY lovely labor nurse telling me mid-labor “don’t do the same thing for more than 30 minutes”, and I didn’t. In fact, I couldn’t help BUT move!
I’m the kind of person that completely CANNOT sit still when in pain. I was moving, shaking, kicking my legs, rocking back and forth…basically ANYTHING to distract myself from my contractions.
Moving and changing your positioning not only helps labor not feel so long (because you’re always changing something up), it also helps with progression! Seriously, the more movement you do, (usually) the quicker your labor will progress once you’ve reached the active stage.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had patients who just want to lay in bed on their backs in agony during their contractions. I’ve literally had to pick patients up out of their beds before and encourage them to move.
I get it, though. The way some women deal with contraction pain is tensing up and trying to stay as still as possible, hoping their stillness will lessen the pain intensity.
Unfortunately, this prolongs everything and has a negative effect on your labor pattern. Remember what I said earlier about NO FEAR? This “staying still” drill is fear. Instead of laying there and letting each contraction hit you like a ton of bricks, it’s WAY more beneficial to SHOW THEM WHO’S BOSS. Move your butt around the room! I promise movement will shorten your labor duration SIGNIFICANTLY.
Gravity is also your best friend, and any position that allows your pelvis to be upright is great! (Walking, squatting, leaning over your partner, sitting on a yoga ball etc.) PS: Ina May Gaskin’s Book that I mentioned earlier has a whole section of great labor positions you can try!
20. Know that there are plenty of other options
Have you read my post on alternative pain control methods you can use during labor? I’ve put a list together of EVERYTHING you can do INSTEAD of getting an epidural. Trust me, there are a lot of options out there…and I’m not just talking about “labor breathing” (even though that is one!) 😊
21. Find your focus
This can be a spot on the wall, the sound of your own breathing, looking someone directly in their eyes (I’ve done this many times with patients and it helps!), or simply thinking of one certain thing that helps you overcome that current contraction you are having.
Labor is a huge control battle. Finding a focal point to direct your out-of-control mind is HUGE.
If I have a patient who is really out of control (crying, kicking, screaming, jumping all over the place etc.), I get right in her face. I sternly say something like “FOCUS. Think about that baby! You can do this. Look at me and take a big deep breath. Breathe it in, blow it out. Let it all go” This is usually enough to get through a contraction! It’s all about FINDING THAT FOCUS and concentrating on it.
Related: What is Hypnobirthing?
Labor is “mind over matter” as cliché as that sounds. It’s a huge mental game you play with yourself, and the biggest battle is convincing yourself YOU CAN make it to the end.
Have you ever run a marathon? Labor is undeniably similar to running a marathon.
I’ve completed a few half marathons, and it’s actually amazing to me how similar the little voice in my head during my half marathon….was during my labor
“You can do this, ok this is the easy part”
“Getting tired, but KEEP BREATHING”
“Pace yourself, it’s going to get worse, just keep the end in sight”
“Get over this hill! I know it’s so hard, but you’re almost over the top! Come on! FINALLY, downhill…ahhhhh”
“Almost at the finish line, I CAN SEE IT! I’M SO TIRED BUT I GOTTA PUSH A LITTLE HARDER TO GET THERE!”
I’m not advising you sign up for a half-marathon while you’re pregnant (even though some bad*ss mamas totally do that!), but maybe look at it this way for some inspiration!
Labor is very personal, and everyone is different. Some methods that work for some ladies, work terribly for others. It’s all about finding what works for you and harnessing the power and drive within yourself that you knew you had all along!
23. You’re probably going to lose your mind at the end
But, that’s okay! Everyone does. Almost every laboring pregnant lady completely loses their state of mind at the end. Maybe you snap at your partner, scream at the top of your lungs, whatever it may be. It’s totally fine, and it’s expected! Don’t worry, this usually means you’re almost done.
24. Pusing is the end
I remember thinking during my labor, “I can’t wait to be pushing, I can’t wait to be pushing”. Yes! Keep this in your head. Once you’ve made it to the point of pushing, TRUST ME, you’ve made it through the hard part.
Some may argue that pushing is just as bad as contractions, but I say different. Most women feel much more in control of their labor once they hit the pushing stage. And, just think how far you’ve come, you’ve made it to 10 centimeters, now to just push baby OUT!
25. And, finally, you get a big reward at the end!
Keep that baby in your mind! During each contraction, remind yourself what’s about to happen, you’re about to be a mom. You’re about to meet the little love of your life, and see his/her face after 9 months of waiting. Don’t get too consumed with the pain that you forget why you’re actually there in the first place. 😊
Labor is about KNOWING you can do it, and taking it on like a BOSS. Remember, it’s a mental game more than anything.
With that said, what other tips do you have that helped you through labor? I’d love to know.
These are some of the methods I personally used, and what I use in my practice to help my natural mamas cope with labor pain. I know there are plenty more out there! Leave me a comment!
Related: Top Labor Fears Answered