Achieving a natural, drug-free birth is a common goal for many Australian mothers-to-be. However, the prospect of enduring a painful or prolonged labour is a daunting and sometimes frightening prospect. Fortunately, there are a number of effective and drug-free ways that you can minimise the pain of childbirth and maximise your likelihood of getting through labour without the need for drugs.
A TENS machine
TENS is an acronym for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. A TENS machine is a small, battery powered device that is attached to your lower back via stick-on electrodes. The TENS machine emits an electrical frequency which effectively highjacks the nerve pathways that pain travels along, providing drug-free pain relief.
Many hospitals and birth centres have TENS machines available for use during labour. If you'd like to try using one, it's best to discuss it with your midwife or obstetrician when working on your birth plan so they can ensure it's available for you to use. It's also possible to hire your own TENS machine in the lead up to your due date so that you're able to use it at home during early labour.
Sterile water injections
This is a relatively new pain-relief option, but it's becoming increasingly more widespread, particularly in birth centres and midwife led labour wards. It involves small amounts of sterile water being injected into specific locations on the sacrum. Sterile water injections can be particularly helpful if you're experiencing posterior, or back, labour, when your baby's spine is pressing up against your own spine.
Its efficacy varies from person to person, but can bring almost instantaneous relief despite the sharp but short sting you'll experience as the water is injected under your skin. Sterile water injections can last for up to two hours and can be readministered as needed without harm to your baby or impairment of your mental clarity.
Heat relieves pain by superseding the chemical signals our bodies send out when we experience pain. For this reason, hot water can be a highly effective way of enduring the pains of labour and birth without having to resort to drugs.
It's fairly standard for hospitals and birth centres to have a birth pool available for use during labour. Many women also find the weightlessness of being immersed in warm water allows them to find a comfortable and natural position to be in, and to move more freely from one position to another. If a birth pool isn't available, then a hot shower can be very effective too. Most hospitals have showers equipped with double shower heads, so you're able direct one onto your abdomen and one onto your lower back for maximum pain relief.
While birth can be painful, it's also an extremely rewarding experience. By trying these natural pain relief ideas, you're more likely to be able to achieve the natural labour and birth you're hoping for.