If there is one thing that I am asked about more than anything else being a labor and delivery nurse, it's what tips do I have to successfully manage labor pains. Pregnant mamas often worry about the pain of childbirth more than anything else in their pregnancies.
I get it. Labor can be daunting! Especially if you've never done it before and aren't sure what to expect. And, honestly? Labor is painful no matter how many times you've done it before. New and experienced moms alike need a little strategy when it comes to managing labor pains.
Whether your goal is to have an unmedicated childbirth or you're just trying to get through early labor before heading to the hospital, these are the tips that actually work.
Please note: I am not a doctor and I am not giving medical advice. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose, or treat any form of any disease. This article is for informational and entertainment purposes only. I am only telling you what my experiences are. Please refer to my Disclaimer Page for more information
This post might contain affiliate links. To learn more, you can read my full disclosure here.
Don't Be Fooled
And please don’t be fooled. I don't want you to go into labor expecting to have a pain-free childbirth. Please don't believe the people on the internet that try to convince you that if you simply want to have a calm, confident birth, and you believe that you will give birth without pain that it's going to be your reality. It's probably not going to happen. Trust me. Having a pain-free birth only happens for less than 1% of women and a lot of factors come into play. Of course having lot's of preparation (mentally and physically) is a huge part of it but also pain tolerance, pain perception, environment, fears, complications, length of labor, and what their definition of “pain” is – all play a role in their “pain free” birth.
It does happen sometimes. It's technically possible to not experience pain while your cervix is dilating, your uterus is contracting, and a 7ish pound baby is exiting your body out of your vagina. It's possible. But it's highly unlikely.
If you believe that you can have a pain-free birth and then you start laboring and experiencing pain, you're going to feel discouraged and scared because you were unprepared for how to manage the very real and very intense discomforts that come with childbirth.
How about we prepare to be in really intense pain and when it's significantly less than what you expected, you'll be pleasantly surprised!
How To Naturally Manage Labor Pain
Every pregnant woman should have a plethora of tools in her pain management arsenal before heading into labor. Don't go unarmed.
It doesn't matter if you're planning to get an epidural at some point. If you plan on laboring, you should plan on having to manage your contraction pain for a period of time.
Because the hospital is probably not going to admit you after you've had your first contraction. You're going to have to manage your labor pains on your own for a while.
Trust me when I tell you that these are the best tips in getting through the toughest parts of labor. Not only have I seen countless unmedicated births with women who employed these techniques…but I was one of them- twice.
If you're looking to minimize your pain as naturally and “easily” as possible, this is what you've got to do.
1. Change Positions
The worst thing that you can do is stay laying on your back or on one side throughout your labor. Not only is this not conducive to bringing baby down and progressing your labor, but it also isn't going to do anything for your labor pain.
Try different positions to see which ones work best for your pain:
- Sitting a birthing ball
- Leaning over a bed or countertop
- Hanging on your partner
- Hands and knees
- Side-lying with a peanut ball
- Sitting on a toilet
Personally, the labor position that I've seen work most often to manage labor pain is hands and knees with the upper body higher than the lower body. You can achieve this at home by propping pillows under your upper body/arms. If you are in the hospital you can raise the head of the bed to a level that is most comfortable for you.
2. Keep Moving
The BEST thing that you can do for your labor progression and also your labor pain is to keep moving. I'm not asking you to go on a hike or anything. All I'm asking is that your body is always in motion.
Try these simple movements to help relax you:
- Walking / Pacing
- Slow dancing with your partner
- Rocking your hips
You can stay moving in almost any position. If you're most comfortable on your hands and knees, you can rock your hips side to side during and between contractions. This can act as a distraction and a coping mechanism.
Sometimes intense pain can cause us to hold our breath. This is NOT what you want to do during labor. No matter what type of breathing you're comfortable with, any breathing is better than holding your breath during contractions.
I see breath-holding all of the time in women who were unprepared for the pain of labor. They try to hold their breath to distract themselves or somehow pull away from the pain…it doesn't work. Don't do it!
Holding your breath or hyperventilating (short, quick breaths) reduces your baby's oxygen supply and can lead to poor outcomes.
Now, that being said, many labor and birth courses go over breathing in great detail. You might be practicing your breathing every night in preparation for labor. But you know what? In my experience, there is no one breathing technique that is better than another.
As long as you focus and remember to keep taking long, deep breaths through and between contractions, you're doing exactly what you need to be doing.
Counter pressure is an incredible thing. I had no idea how essential counter-pressure was going to be to my labor until I was doing it. I needed my husband to apply counter-pressure on my hips and tailbone for every single contraction throughout active labor.
There are amazing counter-pressure techniques that seriously work in taking away some of the labor pain you'll be experiencing. Have your birth partner learn what he can do with his hands to make you more comfortable with every. single. contraction.
Pro Tip: You Can use a tennis ball on your back to provide counter pressure without a whole lot of effort. Your partner can place the tennis ball on your back where you are feeling pain/pressure and push lightly as he moves it in small circles on the area. This is a super-simple way to apply counter pressure without using all of his strength like other counter-pressure methods require.
Massage will most likely be reserved for early labor only. Many women find that massage during active and transitional labor to be over-stimulating or even annoying.
BUT in early labor it can help relax you and bring you to center between contractions. Talk to your partner or your doula about what type of massage might benefit you the most.
6. Make Noise
Those moans aren't for nothing, mama! Low-tone vocalizations can help in many ways throughout your labor. They can:
- act as a distraction for you
- be used as something to focus on throughout contractions
- relax the muscles in your abdomen and pelvis
- ease labor pain
- help progress labor
Yep, you read that right. Making low-key noises such as groaning and moaning can actually help manage your pain AND help facilitate labor progression.
Keep in mind that not all noises are created equal. High-pitched noises such as screaming can have the opposite effect and make you feel out of control and tense your muscles, preventing labor progression.
You won't know what noises will come naturally to you until you're in it, but just keep in mind that low noises that allow you to relax your jaw are your best bet.
7. Relaxation Techniques
When you begin to feel pain, you might involuntarily start tensing and tightening your muscles. Unfortunately, tension leads to more pain and a longer labor.
Focus on relaxation with each contraction. Think about each individual muscle group throughout your body and let them go one by one.
Start with your face and move down to your toes. When your contraction begins, consciously relax your forehead, then your cheeks, then your jaw, then your neck, then your shoulders. Do you see where I'm going with this? By the time you reach your toes, your contraction will be over!
If you can't focus long enough to get through each muscle group this way, then just focus on relaxing your hands, brows, jaw, and pelvic floor. These areas are the most important to keep relaxed throughout your labor.
Not only does relaxing your muscles promote labor progression, it also is another form of distraction. Win-win!
Music is one of the best ways to help you relax and take your mind to a place where you can retreat away from what is going on around you (especially in a busy & noisy hospital room). Create a labor playlist and have it ready on a portable bluetooth speaker that you can take with you to the hospital.
Essential oils are an excellent way to help manage your labor. You can use your diffuser at home or bring it into your hospital room to maintain a relaxing environment.
Lavender and Frankincense oils are often used to help you relax and manage labor pains.
10. Use Water
Did you know that water therapy is said to be as effective as IV narcotics for labor pain? It’s THAT good. Water can do wonders for your pain in labor. Warm water helps relieve tension and allows you to focus on the warmth of the water rather than the pain of the contraction. It also stimulates your body to produce endorphins which in turn promotes relaxation.
The great news is, you've got options! You can soak in the tub, stand in the shower, or use the shower head to focus the water on your belly or back.
Personal experience proves to me that water is magic in labor! I stood in the shower for a period of time during active labor and it really helped me get through those tough contractions. I highly recommend using the bath or shower if you are struggling to manage your labor pains.
Outside distractions while you are trying to concentrate on your pain management techniques can be infuriating.
Do your best to create a space that allows you to focus on only your body and your baby.
Dim the lights, close the curtains, turn on your labor playlist, and ask that all unnecessary conversations be left outside of your room.
If too many people are around you, causing distraction, this can quickly begin to agitate you and set you into a spiral of frustration and helplessness. Make sure that you only have essential visitors during labor and that they understand how to help you focus on what you're doing and not get in the way of your methods.
12. Use Affirmations
Birth affirmations are a great way to stay positive and remember why you're doing what you’re doing.
Hanging birth affirmation cards around your room or having your partner read them to you can help minimize your fear and keep you motivated.
Birth affirmations don't have to be anything specific. Although you can buy birth affirmation cards to make you feel like a birthing warrior, you can also just talk to your partner about what you think will be most helpful to hear during hard labor.
A rebozo is a pain relief tool traditionally used in Mexican culture. A rebozo is a long, thin, woven fabric that is used on your body to help move your body and your belly in strategic ways that help minimize pain and optimize position.
You can buy a Rebozo on Amazon or you can even use a make-shift rebozo by finding a sheet or other long, thin fabric that can do the trick. You’ll need someone with you that’s willing to help you use it though. It’s not something you can really implement on your own. So before labor begins, make sure you’re learning different rebozo tricks that you can try in labor for situations like when your provider tells you that your baby might be “OP” or “sunny side up”, when you’re having back pain, when your labor starts to slow down or stall, or simply when you need a little help with the pain.
14. Use Hot or Cold
I see hot packs on the lower back help immensely from early labor all the way through transition. Ice packs can also help decrease the pain sensations with a numbing effect.
My suggestion is to use hot packs on your lower back or warm packs on your lower abdomen. But when you become too hot or you need to cool down, place a cool washcloth with a couple of drops of peppermint oil on the cloth on your back or neck to cool you down, distract you, and allow the tingling sensation to be a distraction to the pain.
Just be careful using extreme temperatures on your belly. If you are using hot or cold on your belly, make sure you are using them in short bursts of time and with less extreme temps. On the other hand, using very hot or very cold on your back can be a huge relief.
15. Eliminate Fear
This should be number one. I believe with my entire being that the women who fear their labor pains are the women who have more pain. I see it all of the time. If you're scared of each contraction before it comes, you're going to be miserable. I can almost promise you that. The women who do have those “pain free” births are the ones that have eliminated the fear of labor, the fear of pushing, the fear of birth, and the fear of the sensations that she feels. She still feels her contractions. Those nerve endings haven’t just disappeared. They are still there. But as she feels them, she allows them to come, she welcomes them, breathes through them, moves with them, allows her body to respond to them as it naturally will, and lets them pass over her without pulling away or wishing them away.
Try to prepare yourself for what labor is going to be like. If you have realistic expectations and understand that the pain will come, the pain will end, and the pain has purpose, you will do better because of it.
Fear causes you to tense your muscles. Your uterus is a muscle! Staying tense and always anticipating the next contraction will prevent your body from relaxing enough to do it's job and dilate your cervix.
Give up all fear and surrender to the pain. This pain is the most purposeful pain your body goes through. You should welcome each contraction as it comes and remember what it's doing for you rather than what it's doing to you.
16. Be Prepared
One of the best ways to eliminate fear is to be prepared. If you understand the labor and delivery process and can anticipate what is going to happen next, you will be able to accept and manage your labor pains significantly better than if you went into labor not knowing what to expect.
I highly recommend taking an informational prenatal birth course that will help you feel comfortable with labor and delivery.
If you choose to get prepared by taking a birth course, you will come out of it understanding the process of labor and armed with a number of ways to manage your pain through every stage of labor.
My birth course, The empowered birth academy will not only prepare you for what to expect but it dives deep into all of these pain management strategies that we’ve gone over today plus ones that we didn’t have time for in this episode and gives you step by step instructions on how you can implement them in your birth.
Get $50 off PLUS the Support Person Mini Course using the code THELABORROOM at checkout.
17. Have a Plan
Before labor starts, make sure that you've come up with a plan with your partner. Your birth plan should be flexible and stay open-minded because labor and birth can be unpredictable beasts sometimes. But the plan is more than just a prediction for how your birth will go. It’s a plan for what you will do, what you will try, what you want to avoid and what you’ll replace it with, and it’s a tool that you get to use throughout your birth that helps keep you focused on your end goal.
Although labor does not always turn out the way you planned it out, you should still have a Plan A to keep you focused on what you hope to experience and what you hope to avoid.
With a thoughtfully written birth plan, you will feel confident in what you know and positive about what you can do to benefit your birth, your body, and your baby.
Being a labor and delivery nurse, I see a lot of birth plans.Some good, some not so good, and some where you could tell that it took them about 2 minutes to fill it out. But overall, i love them. I love when my patients come in with a plan and are educated about what they want and what they will do during their labor and why. If you need help writing your birth plan, you can download the birth plan blueprint for free. It’ll give you some tips on how to write a good birth plan. I’ll put the link in the show notes for you guys.
18. Support & Encouragement
Having the right kind of support system can do amazing things for your labor experience. If you have someone by your side to support and encourage you through every contraction, you will find yourself more motivated to keep going.
If your support person is telling you that you are a superwoman and you are the strongest person they know and they are confident that you can do this, you're going to want to prove them right. It's so motivating.
The right kind of support will inspire you and make you feel more brave. If your partner is informed and ready for this labor and birth process, it will make all the difference. Within the empowered birth academy, you actually get bonus access to my Support Person Mini Course with it. It’s a whole mini course geared directly to the support person and how they can effectively help and support you during labor. So don’t miss out on that one!
So that wraps up the 18 things that will help you manage your labor pains like a boss.
Your Labor Is Your Own
Everyone is different. You may think now that some of these options are already going out the window and later find out that those were what helped you the most. At the same time, the techniques that you thought sounded right up your ally might be the things that you absolutely couldn't tolerate during labor.
I can't tell you exactly what is going to work for you when it comes to managing your labor pains but these 18 tips are sure to help.
Don't be afraid to try new techniques, switch things up, and communicate with your team what is working and what isn't.
You've Got This, Girl!
I have every confidence in you. You can do this. Whatever goals you are setting for yourself during this pregnancy and for this labor, I KNOW that you are perfectly capable to achieve them.
Good luck! Let me know what worked by sending me a DM on instagram @ alifeinlabor. I love to hear your birth stories and even share them with the mamas who follow because your birth stories are always so motivating and encouraging…even when they don’t go exactly according to plan.