Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
April 27, 2017

Natural Pain Relief During Labor: 7 Proven Techniques

By Guest
45 Comments

130eddb5-6180-4bbc-bb2a-81099bf6e20cToday’s guest post is offered up by a good friend of Mark’s Daily Apple—Genevieve Howland, aka Mama Natural.

Very few people embrace pain. Sure, we’ve all said “no pain no gain” at the gym. But, as humans, we have a primal, hardwired instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain. And that’s what makes childbirth such a loaded experience. Because, yes, there is usually pain (some like to say discomfort) involved in childbirth.

And, unfortunately, the process of childbirth seems to be getting harder… or at least longer. Based on 140,000 childbirths, research shows that today’s moms labor an average of 2-3 hours longer than the mothers of 50 years ago. Births in the late 1950s and 60s were compared to births from 2002 to 2008. The study points out that moms are now heavier, older, and are more likely to use epidural anesthesia.

Why does childbirth last longer these days?

Two potential culprits:

  1. Sedentary lifestyles. Our bodies weren’t made to sit in desk chairs for 40 hours a week or recline in a carseat for several hours a day. This is doubly true for pregnant women. Childbirth is a marathon event, and mama needs to train. Also, an active lifestyle encourages baby to assume a more optimal position for birth.
  2. Epidurals. Epidurals increase the amount of time a mom spends laboring by at least two or three hours according to a 2014 study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology. Epidurals can come with other side effects too, like longer recovery times and slower initiation of breastfeeding. Not to mention the discomfort of being confined to your bed during labor while hooked up to a catheter.

So, what’s a primal mama to do? Well, thankfully, there are many natural (and proven) ways to offset the pain of childbirth.

Here are 7 proven natural pain relief techniques during childbirth.

1. Hydrotherapy

Women are instinctively drawn to water during childbirth for the feeling of buoyancy and comfort it provides. And turns out, water birth can also be a great pain reliever.

In several studies, women who gave birth in water had less need for pain medication, and in some cases, no need at all.

Giving birth in water also reduced overall labor time by about 90 minutes per this study as well as this one.

Not only do water births result in less use of pain medication, women’s perceptions of pain are also significantly lower. In one study, women giving birth out of water ranked their pain score at nearly 7 on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most painful). The moms who gave birth in water reported a pain score of only 3½.

Mama Natural Week By Week Guide to Pregnancy book water birth illustration tub mama labor delivery

2. Touch

Touch stimulates the release of oxytocin, an incredible hormone that stimulates uterine contractions, boosts mood and feelings of optimism and you guessed it, acts as a pain reliever. Have your partner hug or hold you in-between contractions to help ease the discomfort of labor. You could even employ a massage therapist.

In one study, laboring moms who received massage therapy had less pain, anxiety, and significantly shorter childbirths. These moms also suffered less from postpartum depression, too.

Another way to incorporate touch is with acupuncture or acupressure. Acupuncture is effective for chronic pain so it would make sense that pressing on certain acupuncture points may help during childbirth. (For example, focusing on the Urinary Bladder 60 point is often used to increase circulation and provide pain relief in the body.)

You can also have your partner or midwife apply counter pressure to your lower back and do a double hip squeeze to help manually open your pelvis during labor to get a stuck or stalled labor (and baby) moving!

Acupressure during labor - Illustration from The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth

3. Breath work

In any good childbirth education class, you’ll hear about “breathing” as a way to cope with the pain. I was a bit skeptical of this one, but I’ve been proven wrong by a boatload of medical research.

For example, a study from St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center found that women with painful conditions such as fibromyalgia experienced less pain when they focused on controlled breathing at a slow rate.

Why? Probably because focused breathing calms the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for—you guessed it—pain.

On the flip side, other studies have demonstrated that focused breathing actually increases our pain threshold.

Your breath has a rhythm that’s actually quite similar to a birth contraction. There’s a peak (the top of inhalation) and then a release (exhalation). If you can stay “on top of your breath”—that is, stay in charge of the pace of your breathing—then you’ve got a good shot that your labor will be more manageable.

While there are plenty of breath patterns you can learn about and research, I think simplest is best: steady inhale through your nose for a few seconds, followed by a calm and steady exhale for a few seconds.

4. Meditation

As you focus on deep breathing, you may want to drift into a meditative state. Just as your body will release stress hormones and adrenaline if you’re watching, say, a scary movie, it will release positive endorphins when you’re focused on gentle breathing or a peaceful image.

In one small study, participants with chronic pain who meditated reduced their discomfort by a whopping 44%! (In contrast, past research indicates that opioid morphine reduces physical pain by only 22%.) You can learn more about meditation with this great beginner guide.

Meditation during pregnancy - Illustration from The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth

5. Movement

As Mark has covered before, sitting is the new smoking. No doubt about it, the human body is not designed to sit from 9 to 5 in an office, and yet many pregnant moms (myself included) are in this camp during their first pregnancy. By moving regularly, we may encourage baby to position him or herself better in our womb.

You can try these desk sitting hacks or special pelvic exercises to keep your hips open and aligned. Regular acupuncture or chiropractic care may also help avoid baby resting in the “occiput posterior position,” otherwise known as a “sunny side up” presentation.

In studies, sunny side up births are associated with:

  • prolonged first and second stages of labor
  • oxytocin augmentation
  • use of epidural analgesia
  • chorioamnionitis
  • assisted vaginal delivery
  • third and fourth degree perineal lacerations
  • cesarean delivery
  • excessive blood loss
  • and postpartum infection

The remedy? Keep your body moving during pregnancy! Movement can encourage your baby to engage in a more favorable position for birth. It also lowers your risk for preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.

6. Special foods/beverages

Starting in the second trimester, moms can incorporate a few special foods to help with childbirth. While these items may not be natural pain relievers per se, they can help moms:

  • have a quicker birth with fewer interventions
  • reduce the length of discomfort during labor
  • plus reduce postpartum pain/healing time

Red Raspberry Tea FTW!

If you talk to any midwife, doula, or crunchy mama you’re practically guaranteed to hear about the importance of drinking red raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy. Known by herbalists for centuries as a uterine tonic, science is now backing up the benefits of this herbal tea.

According to a study from the Australian College of Midwives Journal, red raspberry leaf tea consumption during pregnancy, when compared with a control group, can:

  • decrease the likelihood of pre- and post-term gestation
  • make artificial rupture of membranes less likely
  • reduce the need for a Cesarean section, forceps, or vacuum birth

Perhaps even more convincing is the anecdotal evidence from countless moms who’ve relied on this herbal tea during preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum. Moms have used red raspberry leaf tea to:

  • reduce morning sickness
  • fortify the uterus in VBAC moms
  • strengthen the bags of water
  • balance postpartum hormones
  • and boost early milk production due to its high mineral content

It’s best to talk with your midwife or OB/GYN to see if RRL tea is right for you. The general protocol is to drink 1-2 cups daily starting in the second trimester.

6 Dates a Day?

Another potentially beneficial (and quite delicious) food particularly for childbirth is dates during pregnancy.

According to this study, women who ate 6 dates a day for the four weeks leading up to their due date were significantly more dilated and more likely to:

  • Have intact membranes upon admission to the hospital
  • Go into labor spontaneously
  • Avoid Pitocin
  • And have a shorter first phase of labor

Pretty awesome for just eating some dates, huh?

Researchers have found that date fruit has an oxytocin-like effect on the body, leading to increased sensitivity of the uterus. It also helps stimulate uterine contractions, and reduces postpartum hemorrhage the way oxytocin does. They also found that it contains many nutritional benefits for pregnant mamas.

“Date fruit contains saturated and unsaturated fatty acids such as oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids, which are involved in saving and supplying energy and construction of prostaglandins. In addition, serotonin, tannin, and calcium in date fruit contribute to the contraction of smooth muscles of the uterus. Date fruit also has a laxative effect, which stimulates uterine contractions.”

Of course these studies are limited, but there’s no real harm in eating dates during pregnancy, so why not give it a try?

It’s best to consume your 6 dates a day with protein or fat rich foods like nuts, aged cheese, or coconut flakes. If you have blood sugar issues or gestational diabetes, talk to your midwife or doctor.

7. Doulas

Where you give birth is important, since around 6% of birth centers and home births end in cesarean versus the national average of 33%. But who is on your birth team is equally if not more important.

Midwife practices have lower intervention rates across the board, but they also tend to attract low-risk women. Birth doulas, on the other hand, can be employed by high risk, hospital birthing moms who want to have more natural births.

The word doula comes from the ancient Greek and means “a woman who serves.” A birth doula is a trained professional who gives continuous physical (non-medical), emotional, and informational support to expectant mamas, laboring moms, and postpartum mothers and families.

A 2012 Cochrane review showed that women who had continuous support, especially from a doula, were:

  • more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal birth
  • less likely to have any pain medication, epidurals, vacuum or forceps-assisted births, C-sections, or negative feelings about childbirth

Other documented benefits include:

  • higher breastfeeding success rate
  • better maternal self-esteem
  • lower blood pressure during labor
  • and less pain experienced

So yes, natural pain relief during labor is possible

When you find the right support and follow some of the strategies here, you have a great chance of perceiving less pain during childbirth. There’s also a good chance you’ll experience fewer medical interventions, have easier healing postpartum, and enjoy more positive feelings about your birth.

Go, mama, go!

Want to help change the birth culture in our country?

It starts by getting informed. I’ve just published the world’s first week-by-week pregnancy guide from a natural perspective. Featuring insights from a certified nurse midwife (who happened to deliver both of my children), as well as a registered nurse and doula, the book is packed with helpful info on:

  • Natural remedies for common pregnancy symptoms
  • When to get an ultrasound (and when not to)
  • Sex during pregnancy
  • The truth about epidurals
  • How to naturalize a surgical birth
  • Natural pain relief during labor
  • What to do during every stage of labor
  • How to recover naturally
  • And so much more

This book is evidence-based, empowering and entertaining. ? (No boring text books over here!)  If pregnancy is in your future, or if you know anyone who’s pregnant, please consider picking up a copy.

Even if you aren’t pregnant…

Consider purchasing the book and…

  • Donating to your local library
  • Giving to your ob-gyn at your next wellness visit
  • Passing along at a La Leche meeting or baby carrying group
  • Sharing with a pre-med student
  • Keeping in your home library to loan out as needed

This will help us get the word out and change the face of birth in the U.S.!

Best wishes to all the future mamas out there!

I hope every mama out there gets the support and resources she needs to have an empowered and grace-filled birth.

Thanks to Genevieve Howland, aka Mama Natural.for today’s guest post. Have you or someone you know used natural birth supports? Have questions, comments, stories, or suggestions? Share them on the comment board, and have a great end to your week, everybody.

https://www.primalblueprint.com/online-courses/primal-endurance-program/?utm_source=mda&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=mda_banner_pe_640x80">pe_640x80

Subscribe to the Newsletter

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Leave a Reply

45 Comments on "Natural Pain Relief During Labor: 7 Proven Techniques"

avatar

Sort by:   newest | oldest
Tom
2 months 24 days ago

Thanks for a great article! Your timing is impeccable, too – my wife is due to birth our second child in 6 weeks!

Shary
Shary
2 months 24 days ago

Best wishes to you and your wife, Tom. There are many good suggestions here. I would be interested in hearing comments from women who opted to give birth at home, possibly with the help of a midwife. Maybe things are changing for the better since I had my kids, but too many medical facilities still treat childbirth as a disease rather than the natural process that it’s supposed to be.

Sheila
Sheila
2 months 23 days ago

I had two home births 30+ years ago. Used a midwife for both. We were living in Oregon at the time, where it was okay to have midwives help with home births. I believe some states have laws against midwives at home births.

Genevieve Howland
2 months 24 days ago

Congrats Tom!!! Wishing your wife a wonderful birth!

brandon
brandon
2 months 24 days ago

A little late on my end since my sister-in-law just gave birth Tuesday lol

Pineapple Deficiency
2 months 23 days ago

Good luck Tom 😀 !

Jenna B.
Jenna B.
2 months 24 days ago
Very interesting article. I had my first baby 11 months ago and anecdotally I agree a lot with theses points. I was only in active labor for about 90 minutes (less than 15 minutes of pushing) before my daughter was born. Since she was my first birth, I don’t have a comparison with not using these techniques, but I did have success. I did not use any type of pain medicine. I was able to get through labor with breathing techniques and movement. I was active my entire pregnancy. I do not work a desk job, so up to the… Read more »
Genevieve Howland
2 months 24 days ago

Wow, what an awesome first birth!

Brian
2 months 24 days ago
Wife had both of ours in 10 minutes… maybe 20ish. Never planned on going all natural. Ten plus years ago, I don’t think MDA, nor Primal Blueprints, existed… how were we suppose to know about primal philosophies… instincts? Got to the hospital and there was no time for anything… much less the epidural. Two healthy, robust boys would be born. Wife moved a lot (obsessively) leading up to the births… I’m sure that movement, age and exceptional health played a huge role. In the modern world, most just want to be comfortable because, after all, it’s available. Comforts are all… Read more »
Shary
Shary
2 months 24 days ago
Much of the ease or difficulty encountered in childbirth is directly related to a woman’s build, general physiology, and the size of the baby. It has little to do with exceptional health or a desire to be comfortable. There are women who pop out babies quickly and easily with little pain involved, but there are others who, for whatever reason, are incapable of a natural delivery and require a C-section to get the job done. Plenty of women have died during childbirth, all the way back to the beginning of time, due to various factors beyond their control. This is… Read more »
Brian
2 months 24 days ago
I wouldn’t know about the difficulties encountered in childbirth… What I do know is that the moment-to-moment choices that we make shape what we become. We are not prisoners of our genes (our build, our physiology, our whatever)… we are the creators of it! We become what we genetically express. What I know for certain is that comfort is not good for the organism… most of the time (exceptions might include sleep and play). Comfort means that we order in.. or dine out. It means that we don’t move bc, well… it requires effort. It definitely means that we don’t… Read more »
Suzanne
Suzanne
2 months 23 days ago
Well, Brian, speaking as a woman whose narrow pelvic girdle has nothing to do with choice, moment-to-moment or otherwise, I disagree with you. I had a severe post-partum haemorrhage after my first child, and damned nearly died, along with my son, with the second delivery. My son was a much bigger baby than my daughter. My pelvis was literally torn apart by the birth, and twisted so that my left hip and the left side of my sacroiliac joint are higher than on the right. My lower back has compressed disks. And I ended up having a hysterectomy to deal… Read more »
Granma
Granma
2 months 24 days ago
As a family practice doc and primal lifestyle advocate who does ob (in a hospital) I agree with Shary. We are no longer willing to accept the risk of losing a mom or baby in the natural but occasionally risky process of childbirth. Moms who are concerned about unwanted interventions during their labors should talk to their provider and should be able to feel that their provider takes them seriously. No one is forced to have an epidural, but a mom who is literally thrashing in pain may be strongly advised to do so. Fear and ignorance about the process… Read more »
Jen
Jen
2 months 24 days ago

Oh, I love Ina May Gaskin! Read her when I was pregnant with my first. What an important figure for women’s health…

Loved the article—and the illustrations!

Genevieve
2 months 23 days ago

Thank you Jen!

Lupa
Lupa
2 months 22 days ago
Completely agree with this. I also noticed, when working in obs (in a 3rd world setting, where epidurals were not offered,only minimal pain relief was available and caesars were only done for dire emergencies) that the moms who were more psychologically prepared (usually older, women who’d had a previous baby, a wanted pregnancy) fared much better than the ones who were not (often teenagers, 1st baby, unplanned pregnancy). I used to think if I ever had a baby that I’d want to go natural delivery as much as possible (having seen some of the unpleasant side effects of caesars for… Read more »
Genevieve
2 months 23 days ago

Very true. When the WHO sees populations with c-section rates below 10%, it usually means there is poor prenatal care and too many babies and moms are dying.

Having said that, many midwives in the U.S. have c-section rates of ~5% with excellent outcomes.

Genevieve
2 months 23 days ago

Our female ancestors birthed with other, more experienced women (doulas) and ate sacred foods… (although probably not dates and tea). I bet water played a role, too.

Lynne
Lynne
2 months 24 days ago

I loved seeing this article on the blog today! Years ago I had a wonderful doula who helped me through both my children’s births. She was also the instructor for my birthing class, and meditation as well as acupressure were tools we used. Acupressure on those back points helped get me through that crazy transition phase! Thank you for spreading this message. Too many women don’t know the variety of choices available to them.

Genevieve
2 months 23 days ago

Wow, your doula sounds phenomenal!

Michaela
Michaela
2 months 24 days ago

Awesome article! Sharing with a few girlfriends who are expecting/planning to conceive soon!

Genevieve
2 months 23 days ago

Thank you!

Gayle
2 months 24 days ago
Mom of three children, two of whom are twins. All born naturally. The number #1 best way to get there is to make sure you have an labor advocate just for you. That can be the doula or a hired labor coach. But you definitely need someone who will be supportive and encouraging throughout and can guide you through that period when you confront the fear that you can’t do this .. you need someone to look you in the eyes then, someone who in not your partner and not your doctor or midwife (unless she is a lay midwife),… Read more »
Genevieve
2 months 23 days ago

Great points, Gayle!

Julie Dickson
Julie Dickson
2 months 24 days ago
I had my daughter at 37. Yes I was a little bit over recommended weight gain (10-25) lbs for a normal weight person. I also was mowing the lawn with a reel mower at term in 90+ Oklahoma summer heat. I was in great shape, had a doula, was at 42 1/2 weeks. Labor hadn’t started and we couldn’t find a reason why. We didn’t know that the cord was wrapped around the chest and neck. We didn’t know until we finally induced and baby’s heart rate plummeted. Emergency c-section it was. She’s a happy healthy 10 year old now.… Read more »
Julie Dickson
Julie Dickson
2 months 23 days ago

I had a doula also. Even though things didn’t go well, (emergency c-section) she held my hand in the delivery room after birth, while my daughter went with my husband to be warmed on his chest. She really took care of me. Money well spent

Matt
2 months 23 days ago

I remember my OB semester in school at one of the major hospitals here in San Diego. Part of the OB floor was dedicated to natural births. I thought one of the stats that the hospital kept track of was interesting. Over 50% of the women who had intended to have a natural birth ended up opting for IV pain medication when labor was in progress.

shasha
shasha
2 months 23 days ago
Wow! I had my child many years ago and never gave it much thought. It was quick and relatively easy. ( It went too fast to have any pain medication) I talked to my mom a lot before and since about how women have experienced childbirth over the last few generations. It was fascinating to hear that my great grandmother had 11 children and delivered them herself. Our family were farmers in the southern mid-west part of the country and doctors (much less Doulas) often were not available. I was told that grandma worked the fields a lot to take… Read more »
Genevieve
2 months 23 days ago

How awesome! Squatting in the fields is perfect prep for birth 🙂

healthymom
healthymom
2 months 23 days ago
I had two home births and compared to hospital they are more gentle and peaceful. My midwife did the double hip squeeze and lower back pressure which was amazing, and I also didn’t time in the shower. I like that better than a bath because the water pressure on lower back helps with the pain. I naturally stood when I had a contraction. I moved to home birth after my sons birth where his shoulders got a bit stuck and there was all this drama all of a sudden in the delivery room – the doctor was yelling and stick… Read more »
Jessica
Jessica
2 months 23 days ago
Loved this article, but I was expecting to read more about movement, since this is MDA! Mama of three here, and first delivery? was horrible and traumatic and I swore that i would never let myself by subjected that anything like that again. I read and read, hired a chiropractor and a doula and learned about how movement shapes birth. Check out Spinning Babies website – it’s all about how movement, posture, and standing, lying, sitting positions change our bodies and change how babies are positioned in the womb. A well positioned baby is what makes for an easy birth!… Read more »
Genevieve
2 months 23 days ago

Here are 7 exercises to get your pelvis open and aligned for birth (and hopefully get baby in good position!) So glad you were able to rotate your baby. https://www.mamanatural.com/7-easy-exercises-for-an-optimal-pregnancy-labor/

gwen bridge
2 months 23 days ago
I read “birthing from within” and did accupunture leading up to labour. During labour i took some homeopathic tabs and breathed and meditated, thinking over and over “does a seed feel pain” while visualizing two (i was having twins) cotyledons unfolding through the seed case. This was wonderful and beautiful and the labour was easy compared to my two previous labours which were intravenously induced. i had a wonderful midwife who was in her 70’s and i told her how i would like to experience labour for the last time (i was 41) and she told me exactly what would… Read more »
Pineapple Deficiency
2 months 23 days ago

My friend is gona be so happy when I tell her shes a huge tea addict but the doctor told her not to take tea but you suggested red raspberry tea did a quick google search on it and there are thousands of sites suggesting it for pregnancy. Cheers Genevieve Howland for this great article 😀

Genevieve
2 months 23 days ago

Thank you 🙂

gemma
gemma
2 months 23 days ago

I think aside from my husband doing pelvic counter pressure (amaazzingg) and being able to move freely around the room (and EAT!!), the best advice I got from my German midwife was to make “low sounds” when breathing, like “haaaaaaa”. She said high sounds increased tension, but low sounds released tension. So when I would breathe out (yell out?) I kept my voice low instead of screaming high and it actually seemed to work remarkably well.

Katie Roller
2 months 23 days ago
Having 2 natural births in the past 3 years, all of these items listed above are accurate (for me). I think having a Doula is very important. She can point you to all of the other items. My doula is 74 years young and has been in the business of bringing babies into the world for close to 50 years. Having all of that experience made me so comfortable. I also birthed in an in hospital birthing center that was specifically set up for natural birthing momma’s. Labor for my first was 6 hours, 6 for my second. If any… Read more »
Genevieve
2 months 20 days ago

I always say that doulas are cheaper than interventions! 🙂

PracticeBalance
2 months 22 days ago
As an anesthesiologist who follows a primal lifestyle and has also been through labor, I am disappointed in the way epidurals are portrayed in this article. While I agree with trying the methods described to alleviate pain and I do not think every woman needs an epidural, epidurals have their place in the arena of modern labor and delivery. There are even high-risk situations, such as when the mother has certain heart conditions or develops pathology like pre-eclampsia, when placement of an epidural can save the life of the mother. This is an indirect mechanism and difficult to explain briefly,… Read more »
Genevieve
2 months 20 days ago

I’m sorry you felt that I shamed the epidural as this wasn’t my intention. Epidurals can be a great tool to help moms, who are exhausted after laboring for days, sleep. They also can relax the pelvic floor or reduce intense anxiety; and actually prevent a trip to the operating room. Having said that, there can be consequences to epidurals (like longer labor) and other interventions. I believe it’s important for mom to know this and then make an informed decision.

PracticeBalance
2 months 19 days ago

I agree that women should receive all the information for informed choices. I have just seen too many women either wait too long and then want an epidural when it’s too late, or get one and feel completely defeated. Thanks for your reply.

Erika
Erika
2 months 22 days ago
Loved the article! Found much if this to be true from experience. I had three natural births at home. My first baby was sunny side up–50 hours of labor, incl. 5 hours of pushing. She was 9 1/2 lbs. I’m 5’1″ on a tall day. The most blissful moment I remember was when my midwife made a bed of pillows to support my body in a comfortable position and she and my husband held my hands and massaged me a breathed with me–after that my body was ready to push. Next pregnancies I got chiropractic care to ensure good positioning… Read more »
Genevieve
2 months 20 days ago

How cool to have a baby in caul! Truly a special circumstance 🙂

Joong Koog Jip
2 months 20 days ago

I am looking for such techniques and I found this article in Google. These 7 techniques seems very useful. Thanks for sharing. I will surely try them and share my feedback here. Bookmarked this page.

Cassie
Cassie
2 months 16 days ago

Great! I had 2 completely natural births, one in a hospital, the other at home. SOOO awesome being able to do that and say that I have done it! Mama Natural is empowering so many to do things natural!

wpDiscuz