Many women desire to give birth without pain medication, or at least with as few heavy medications as possible. How do you prepare yourself for that challenge? What makes the difference between a woman who throws out her birth plan and gets that epidural and the one who manages her pain in the way she had hoped?
For one, you have to realize that women feel contractions differently. Some experience contractions as extremely painful, but others just feel tightness or almost nothing at all. My friend Chihiro said she couldn’t even tell when she was contracting with her first baby, but with the second she experienced intense pain. Prepare yourself by keeping an open mind to how easy or difficult the actual experience may be for you. It’s completely unpredictable.
That said, countless women who experience intense pain during labor do manage to forgo medicating. Now, I realize that a non-medicated birth isn’t for everyone, but if this is one of your goals here are some tips:
- Limit your exposure to medication opportunities. Really. If you don’t want to take drugs, try to avoid having them offered to you. When you enter the labor room, personally tell the nurse that you prefer she NOT offer you medication. Ask your birth partner to keep new nurses updated. I heard of one woman who hung a “Don’t Offer Me Medication” sign on her labor room door. Hey, it’s easier if you don’t have to say “no”. If you really, consciously change your mind, I bet you’ll find the words to ask for that medication!
- Train your mind to think of birth positively. Birth is an opportunity to bond with your mate, work hard for something worthwhile, experience the thrilling joy of success hard-won, and embrace that new baby for the first time. Read LOTS of natural birth stories! This is the most enjoyable and probably the most effective way to prepare for a natural, non-medicated birth. Each time you expose yourself to stories of women who experienced birth like you desire, you set yourself up to approach birth with a positive, confident attitude.
- Prepare to be flexible. Your birth will probably NOT go exactly as planned. Maybe your contractions will stop temporarily. Maybe your doula will not make it. Maybe your labor will drag on for over 24 hours. Maybe you’ll go from 2 to 10 centimeters in an hour – who knows!!! It’s great to have a plan, but be prepared to throw it out the window. Spend some time imagining very different possibilities and how you would like to react. No matter what happens, you can have a fulfilling birth experience if you keep your perspective positive and take control of your choices. In birth you are not the victim or the patient, you are the mom.
- Gain access to alternative pain management options. If you’re saying “no” to drugs, say “yes” to something else! Read, talk to other moms about what worked for them, and arrange for the services of a midwife or doula. There is a rich culture of birthing aids from warm water to massage to visualizations that can make a huge difference in your perception of pain during labor. Your labor nurse is very unlikely to be of help in this area. You’ve got to proactively plan ahead to arm yourself with safe, effective labor tools. Again, reading positive natural birth stories is an excellent way to fill your mind with pain management ideas.
Bottom line: managing pain is 90% mental. The difference between achieving your goal to birth without drugs and making a decision to medicate that you may regret is usually how prepared you are mentally. Know that you can do this. Focus on the positives and let every contraction bring you closer to holding that baby in your arms.
One great classic full of positive birth stories is Ina May Gaskin’s “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth”. You can also find a rich resource of birth stories at Mothering.com.