8 ways to prepare for natural birth: Easing labor pain without an epidural

Woman holding a baby

About 73% of U.S. women who give birth use an epidural for pain relief. However, natural birth – choosing vaginal delivery without pain medications or other routine interventions – is becoming more common.

Why natural birth?

Reasons for a natural birth include avoiding the risks of an epidural, having more control over delivery or remembering the experience more clearly. Some women simply want to see what their bodies can do. 

Typically, women who birth naturally:

  • Don’t push as long in labor
  • Have a higher spontaneous birth rate
  • Recover more quickly after birth
  • Avoid potential side effects from the epidural including low blood pressure, headaches and fever

If you have a healthy pregnancy with no complications, you’re likely a good candidate to attempt a natural childbirth.  

Unmedicated births aren’t right for everyone though. If you have a heart condition, preeclampsia, twins or a baby in the breech position you may benefit from an epidural or spinal anesthetic. If you choose unmedicated childbirth, it's important to prepare your mind and body for the experience. It can be difficult, but there are strategies to reshape how you think about pain, its management, and your birth experience.

Here are eight ways to prepare for a natural birth experience.

1. Choose the right provider 

Select a health care provider who is on board with natural birth, has experience working with a doula, understands birthing plans, and has a low rate of cesarean births. Look for a location where staff actively work with parents to ensure their birth goes according to their plans. 

Nebraska Medicine nurse midwives, obstetricians, and family medicine doctors personalize care to parents’ needs and preferences. We welcome family members and doulas to support you during labor. 

If you’re unsure who to choose for your delivery, that’s okay. Watch this webinar: Should I choose a doctor or a midwife?

2. Exercise regularly

You will increase your chances of natural birth by being physically fit. You should work out regularly with 30 minutes of active movement five to six days a week. Flexibility will help you when it comes time to push. Aim for 30 minutes of prenatal yoga one or two days a week. 

3. Take a natural birth class

Women who attend birthing classes are more likely to have a vaginal birth. Natural birth classes such as Bradley and hypnobirthing teach strategies to cope with labor pain. They also give you realistic expectations and instill confidence.

Our childbirth education classes teach you what to expect for the birth process, especially if you’re planning a natural birth.

4. Hire a doula

A doula provides you guidance, encouragement, and reassurance during labor and childbirth. While they don’t provide medical care, doulas also act as an advocate for you. According to a 2017 Cochrane review, mothers who received continuous labor support from a partner, midwife, or doula were more likely to give birth vaginally, less likely to need forceps or a cesarean section, had faster labors, and were more satisfied with their births.

5. Write a birth plan

A birth plan is a document that outlines your labor and delivery preferences. Women who go into labor with a birth plan are 10% more likely to have a vaginal delivery. Discuss your birth plan with your health care provider early to ensure that your wishes can be honored by your health care team.

Nebraska Medicine doctors have one of the lowest C-section rates in Omaha.

Make a birth plan tailored to your needs
We can help you make a birth plan that covers all your needs. Call 800.922.0000 to make an appointment with one of our nurse midwives or obstetricians


6. Spend early labor at home

If you want an unmedicated natural birth and a lower C-section rate, practice patience and stay home for the early part of labor. Most low-risk women are safe spending early labor at home. Keep yourself relaxed, hydrated, rested and nourished. Plan on labor being a marathon, not a sprint. Active labor begins when the cervix is dilated to about 6 centimeters. Call your provider to determine when to come in.

7. Learn to face contractions

One of the secrets to an unmedicated birth is being able to relax in response to pain. Fear increases tension which increases pain. If you can stay somewhat relaxed in the face of strong contractions, you'll have less resistance to opening up for the baby to come out. Rhythmic breathing, meditation self-hypnosis, and other relaxation techniques are excellent tools for all stages of labor. 

8. Take advantage of pain management techniques

There are plenty of techniques that can help you manage pain without the use of drugs. Consider using some or all of these:

  • Water therapy
  • Massage
  • Acupressure
  • Birthing ball
  • Relaxation/meditation/hypnosis
  • Move around, walk, pace, squat, rock, sway, dance 
  • Warm compresses 
  • Breathing techniques
  • Essential oils/aromatherapy
  • Music
  • Nitrous oxide

In conclusion, natural birth has many rewards. Most women can do it if they choose to. However, birth can be unpredictable and pain relief and cesarean sections are sometimes necessary.