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6 Options For a Drug-Free Labor

For any of you who know me, I’d imagine that the fact that I’m considering a drug free labor is surprising. I’m not one of those women who is gung ho about a lot of these things, and while I tolerate pain relatively well, I have never gone out looking for it.

Part of this decision is being motivated by my doctor’s recommendation to avoid an epidural if possible because of a long history of bad outcomes with needles in my spine (long story short: I like to leak spinal fluid, it has had some lousy effects on my brain over time). Prior to that, I hadn’t given it any thought, but somewhere in my mind I guess I had always assumed I’d go for the epidural.

Now that we’ve taken that option off the table, I’m having to do a lot of thinking.

In my naiveté, I hadn’t realized how many alternative options there are for pain management. It didn’t even really cross my mind until a friend of mine recently gave birth to twins (one of which was breech), which were 7 pounds a piece, without an epidural but instead with hypnosis.

And she got me thinking about the other options for pain management during labor and I was surprised at what I learned doing just a little bit of research. These are 6 methods of pain management that I’m going to keep in mind when it comes time for us to create our birth plan.

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  • Hypnosis 1 of 6
    Hypnosis
    My research on hypnosis during labor was an interesting adventure. This is a relatively new option and if you do a little search you can find a number of companies who train mothers in hypnosis. In order for hypnosis to work you have to practice beforehand and learn how to escape reality, it's not an option as a last minute decision, unfortunately. Research is a little split on hypnosis during birth, but many women have reported great outcomes. Pros: It's 100% safe for you and the baby. Cons: You might bring out some repressed phobias or bad experiences, which probably isn't what you want in the middle of labor. Definitely worth considering.
    Get more information from The Mayo Clinic
  • Massage 2 of 6
    Massage
    This one appeals to me in a huge way because who doesn't want a massage? The idea is that the massage helps distract and relax the mother during labor. A study I looked at found that three 30 minute massages during different stages in labor decreased reported pain in mothers. Pros: No risk to you or the baby, and hey, it feels good. Cons: You have to rely on someone else to do a good job for your pain relief, and you have to be laying kind of still, which some women may not like.
    Get more information from Medscape
  • Water Birth 3 of 6
    Water Birth
    This was one method I was relatively familiar with thanks to television. Essentially you sit in a pool or bathtub to help provide some pain relief and relaxation during labor. There are very few studies that look at the birth part, however, submersion in water during labor has been studied in recent years. In one study 81% of women who used water submersion during labor said they would do it again next time. And that's a pretty ringing endorsement. Pros: It's shown to be pretty effective, the risks are minimal if it's done correctly. Cons: There are a lot of variables to control (temperature, sanitary stuff) and it can be costly, plus, you can't walk around during this one either.  
    Get more information from Medscape 
  • Breathing 4 of 6
    Breathing
    Obviously women with or without drugs are going to breathe during labor, but there are breathing techniques that have been shown to help a woman relax and reduce pain during labor. There aren't really any studies that have looked at this and most reports indicate that it's usually used in combination with other pain management methods, so it may be a great tool, if not a whole technique on it's own. Pros: Free, risk-free. Cons: May need other methods to help reduce pain.
  • TENS 5 of 6
    TENS
    TENS or transcutaneous electrical neuromuscular stimulation, is a device used commonly for pain management in many other settings, but is getting new attention during labor. The idea behind TENS is basically that it will distract your nerves so they can't tell your brain that there's pain. Most studies show it is most effective for back labor, but it has been shown to result in shorter first labors and later use of pain medication in general. It's been shown to be more effective if you start it in early labor since it can take a little time to be effective. Pros: shown to be effective, you can change positions and walk around while it's on. Cons: If you don't get the obstetric specific one, there is a small chance that the electric activity can interfere with fetal monitoring equipment, which might be a little scary.  
    Get more information from Medscape
    Photo by Yeza via Wikimedia Commons 
  • Acupuncture 6 of 6
    Acupuncture
    The idea of acupuncture is that you introduce very small, controlled amounts of discomfort with needles, and in return your brain will release chemicals that combat pain. There is also some soft science that it can increase blood flow to certain areas, though it's unclear how that combats pain. Pros: It's like using your body's own drugs! Cons: You can't really roll around when you've got needles stuck in you. Also not for needle-phobes.

Have you used any of these? Would you do it again?

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