Each year women all over the country experience the joys, and (let’s face it) pains, of childbirth. In 2010 there were 723,165 live births in England and Wales, up 22 per cent from 2001, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics [ONS]. But whether it’s your first pregnancy or your fifth, preparing for birth can be a daunting process, which makes giving birth au naturel – that’s no drugs or pain relief of any kind – look like a masochistic challenge. Nonetheless, according to the most recent ONS statistics, 2.5 percent of women in England and Wales did just that.
Despite the pain, giving birth without drugs isn’t the crazy idea it seems to be at first glance. Minimal intervention means getting the most natural birth experience possible and the lack of body-numbing drugs puts you firmly in the driving seat. You won’t be pinned to the bed by heavy legs or wooziness – you’ll be able to move around, totally in control, and able to find birth positions that suit you. What’s more, because the interventions involved in natural birth – foetal monitoring for instance – aren’t invasive, there are no side effects for you or your baby. But no-one wants to endure pain for the sake of it, and even during a natural birth, you won’t go entirely without pain relief. Unlike epidurals, natural pain relief techniques won’t eliminate pain entirely but they will make it easier to bear and you won’t feel wrung out afterwards. Intrigued? Whether you go natural or not, our top 10 drug free pain relievers can help to make birth a better experience for both you and your baby.
Massage the perineal area with olive oil (ideally organic) every night from 34 weeks onwards. Really mould and stretch the flesh. This will increase suppleness and prepare for labour and will help prevent tearing.
Discuss your beliefs and expectations of labour with your birthing partner. They will be your voice during the birth. Make sure that all of your choices are included in your birth plan. Also talk to other pregnant mums and friends who have been through child birth already, see what experiences people have had and what worked for them.
Stay at home
Many women feel more relaxed at home. Look for a home birth support group in your area to meet other parents. If you can’t have a home birth then think about what you can bring from home to feel more comfortable and at ease at the hospital.
We do it without thinking but it’s one of the things that tend to go out of the window when we are in pain. Strong, deep breathing gets oxygen to your baby, provides you with all essential energy and will keep you relaxed and calm. Some people like to follow a mantra to get them to breathe. You could breathe with the word relax, using the re- on the inhalation and the -lax on the exhalation. This is something you might like to practise at home with your birth partner. Being told to breathe in labour can be frustrating. Instead, if your birth partner holds you by the shoulders, locks eyes with you and breathes deeply, you will naturally follow their guidance. Sometimes it helps to count the breath - if your natural deep breathing is four counts in and four counts out you can rely on the counting method in labour to avoid shallow breathing.
Keep the pelvis open
When we lie flat on our backs we compress the pelvis, meaning it cannot open easily. Good positions to open the pelvis and to use gravity to help get things moving are upright positions. Try going on all fours, kneeling (maybe over a birthing ball or the side of the bed), use your birth partner for support (either when standing - try ballroom hold!) or make them sit on the edge on the bed with their legs wide apart and suspend yourself between their legs using your arms to hold on. If you get tired, lie on one side, using pillows to support yourself. Your birth partner can raise your upper leg to open the birth canal. Many women find alternating between these positions is really helpful. It is worth practising these postures before the labour, so your body can find them on auto pilot and you don’t have to think too much about them.
Use touch to encourage the production of endorphins, our bodies' natural pain killers. Firm pressure on the lower sacrum can be very soothing. It also helps you bond with your birth partner. Make sure you pick a base oil that is made for massage (such as sweet almond). Strong strokes down the shoulders can encourage the body to relax and also deepen breathing if performed in time with the breath. It is worth trying different techniques during the pregnancy to see what you like. During the latent phases of labour and slow onset labours, hand and foot massage can be helpful as it keeps you calm and soothed.
Use essential oils
Several oils encourage contractions so must not be used during pregnancy. Once the labour is under way though, they can be very helpful. If you’re at home you can burn them in an oil burner. In hospital you have to be more careful. You can buy battery operated diffusers or even have a few drops of oil on a tissue, or blend it in to your massage oil. You can even put a few drops into some water in a diffuser bottle and get your birth partner to spritz it about the room. If you’re interested in using aromatherapy in labour, it’s worth consulting an aromatherapist who can tailor-make a blend just for you. For a calming soothing blend try mixing six drops of lavender, one drop of neroli and one drop of rose in 10ml of organic base oil. Alternatively, four drops of chamomile, two drops of jasmine and two drops of clary sage in 10ml of base oil creates an empowering, analgesic blend.
Yoga is a great way to prepare for birth, keeping the body toned, flexible and strong in preparation for labour. It can also help you get more in tune with your body, which is helpful for when labour sets in and instinct takes over. If you’d like to do yoga, it's worth finding a specialist practitioner. There are also several books on the market. Always check with your midwife before doing exercise from books or other sources.
Drink raspberry leaf tea
Start drinking it during the last three weeks as it tones up the uterine muscles making pushing easier.
Arnica is a great natural healer and will help prevent bruising. Take orally from the final week of the pregnancy until a good few weeks after the birth.
Holly Jeffery is a massage therapist specialising in pregnancy and labour. This article first appeared in The Green Parent magazine. Sign up for a free newsletter here, join us on Facebook or have a chat with us on Twitter
Maternity special How to get fit, healthy (and slim) the natural way
Thanks to celebrity mums, the pressure to shape up post birth has never been higher. But don’t succumb to extreme diets; as the Ecologist’s natural fitness experts explain, slow and steady wins the race
|HOW TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Maternity special Flash 'em: how breastfeeding got political
An exclusive interview with Claire Jones-Hughes - the woman behind Brighton’s now famous breastfeeding flash mob. By Matilda Lee
Maternity special Midwifery on screen: how 'One Born Every Minute' gets it wrong
Forget alarmist TV birthing dramas- get the real low-down on midwifery from Sarah Montagu
Maternity special Birth uncut: how women were turned off natural childbirth
Tested, assessed and treated as patients rather than mothers-to-be, it's no wonder women are afraid of giving birth naturally, says Pat Thomas
Maternity special Labour of love: the demise of traditional midwifery
Women-centred maternity care through midwifery is in danger of extinction, replaced by a medical model that treats birth as an illness. Birth is an act of love, not one of fear and loathing, so what are the consequences? Matilda Lee reports