Natural pain relief options in labour – part 1

Women may experience a wide range of intensity in discomfort or pain experienced during labour and as individual each of us will respond differently to that experience and our need for analgesia (pain relief). These articles explore the options available to women in labour including natural and pharmacological methods.

Pain in labour

Women may experience a wide range of intensity in discomfort or pain experienced during labour and as individual each of us will respond differently to that experience and our need for analgesia (pain relief). These articles explore the options available to women in labour including natural and pharmacological methods.

However, a woman’s reactions to labour and contractions and any pain experienced may be affected by a variety of circumstances including childbirth preparation, her environment, and birth support during labour and birthing.

In labour it commonly accepted that the painful stimuli arises from uterine contractions and the pressure and stretching of the cervix, vagina, and pelvic joints as the baby’s descends through the pelvis. This is a normal physiological action experienced by mammals, however, the amount of pain experienced if any, is also intensified by our modern expectations and fears about giving birth. This has led to a confusing array of techniques and drugs available now to women during labour, which these articles hope to clarify.


Hypnobirthing developed following the work pioneered by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read in the 1920’s. His theory was that fear resulted in tension, which led to pain as the ‘fright and flight’ hormones reduced the levels of hormones necessary for an effective easy labour and reduced our levels of endorphins, natures own powerful pain killers. This led to the development of Hypnobirthing techniques such as self-hypnosis to increase relaxation and reduce fear, supporting a calm, more comfortable labour and birth.


The healing and pain relieving properties of immersion in water during labour and birth have been used for centuries and research supports these findings. The relaxing effects of water may reduce the need for other methods of pain relief, accelerate labour, and provide a more peaceful experience for both mother and baby. Using Hypnobirthing and water has been found to enhance and support a positive birthing experience.

The positive effects of buoyancy, ability to move easily and utilizing gravity also help with an undisturbed and ‘hands free’ birth.

However, there are guidelines for using the birthing pool, and it is only suitable for those women considered ‘low risk’ during their pregnancy, or if any complications occur during labour.

Maternal Movement and Position Changes

Women in labour naturally move into upright positions, which help them to achieve optimal positioning, cope with labour, assist gravity and feel more comfortable. Optimal fetal positioning was discovered by midwife Jean Sutton and antenatal teacher Pauline Scott, when they realized that a baby in a posterior position during labour, made labour longer, more painful with ineffective uterine contraction and more intervention to help deliver the baby. Simple techniques to encourage the baby into an optimal position and utilize gravity has led to the use of birthing balls during labour to aid gravity, pelvic rocking and increase pelvic diameters to aid descent and childbirth. Belly dance for childbirth has similar benefits and also enables women to connect both emotionally, sensually and physically with their birthing bodies. For more information see my articles on optimal fetal positioning and belly dance for pregnancy and childbirth.


Aromatherapy has its roots in the most ancient healing practices, using essential oils for their therapeutic properties on mind, body and emotion. Essential oils are very powerful with various properties for emotional and physical wellbeing during pregnancy and childbirth.

Aromatherapy can be used very successfully in a number of ways during labour and birth, easing stress, pain and discomfort. The most popular way to utilize the benefits is by massage, which has its own benefits for relaxation. Other ways include bathing, inhalation, vaporizers, and hot/cold compresses.

However, there are some cautions as essential oils are concentrated and very powerful. Therefore, I would recommend that you consult a qualified aromatherapist before using aromatherapy oils, as some are not suitable for use during pregnancy, and buy only the most pure and organic oils where possible.

For more information see my article on Aromatherapy during pregnancy and childbirth.

Massage Techniques for Labour

Massage techniques have been performed over the centuries to improve overall health and wellbeing by reducing muscle tension and stress. The English word massage is probably derived from the Arabic Mass’h meaning to press softly, which makes this is an ideal therapy to help reduce and relieve stress, relieve muscle tension, and instil feelings of deep relaxation, which we know helps our bodies to work in harmony during labour. Studies point to both maternal and newborn benefits when regular massage is part of your antenatal care and performed during labour.

Potential benefits include:

  • Relief from muscle aches and joint pain
  • Reduction of swelling in legs, feet and hands
  • May relieve sciatic pain and backache during labour
  • Regulates hormones by reducing the ‘stress’ hormones and increasing our ‘feel good’ hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins during labour and birth.
  • Improved hormone balance also leads to fewer complications in labour, birth and in the postnatal period
  • Improves your blood circulation
  • Improves lymphatic drainage and removal of toxins from your body
  • The deep relaxation achieved during massage promotes a more comfortable experience of labour and birth.

There are many effective massage routines, which have been designed to support women during labour both emotionally and physically. Gentle touch massage used in conjunction with Hypnobirthing uses a very gentle touch along the spine, neck and arms to relax and stimulate the release of endorphins during labour.

Another very effective massage technique is Creative Healing Massage advocated by Dr. Gowri Motha. There are four intentions, which are:

  • To normalize body temperature
  • To open and create drainage channels
  • To remove congestion
  • To reposition substance

I have found this technique very beneficial for women with backache and congestion in the pelvic area. It really helps to balance and decongest the body, allowing it to work more effectively.

Brooke Raymond @Flickr

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