How to have a drug-free birth

Last week I was with a couple for a one-to-one session. When we got on to the topic of pain relief in labour the mum said she just wanted to use gas and air if possible. We then talked about how she could manage without other forms of pain relief and I gave her some ideas to think about.

For most women labour is painful. I always remember a presentation by a midwife a few years ago on the subject of normal birth when she said that the pain alerts a woman to find a safe place to give birth. That made complete sense to me.

When women say they don’t want to use any drugs or just use gas and air, especially having their first baby, often people around them think they can’t do it (including some midwives). If a woman says that to me this is the advice I give……

Be open-minded

It’s difficult to plan a birth. Labour and birth can be very unpredictable so be prepared to just go with the flow. You know you want to try and have a drug free birth but research other forms of pain relief so that you can make an informed choice if the need arises.  Go to antenatal classes, talk to your midwife or visit the NHS Choices website.

Related article: BirthPlan vs Birth Preferences

Have a supportive birth partner

It really helps to have a partner to support you in your wishes. Read our article to find out How to be a great birthing partner. 

Use your breathing

Simple breathing can help you stay relaxed and feel in control. Find out how to breathe during labour here.

Use hypnobirthing

Hypnobirthing teaches simple but specific self- hypnosis, relaxation and breathing techniques for birth. You can attend classes with your partner or buy an instruction book and CD. The women I have supported in labour using hypnobirthing have needed little or no pain relief. There are many practitioners available and some are midwives as well. Several of our couples have bought second hand books and CDs from the internet so it’s worth having a look there. There is also an online course recently available from Natal Hypnotherapy.


If hypnobirthing isn’t for you, think about using a TENS machine. TENS machines deliver small electrical pulses to the body through electrodes placed on the skin on a woman’s back. They work by blocking pain signals to the brain so that you feel less pain. They also stimulate the body to make its own pain relieving chemicals called endorphins. You can buy or hire a TENS machine and start using it at home in the early stages of labour. For more information click here.

Use water

Water is relaxing, soothing and comforting. Contractions can feel less painful in a birthing pool. Birthing pools are readily available in midwife-led and hospital maternity units. You don’t have to give birth in the pool. Lots of women use the water for pain relief and get out for the birth. If you are thinking about giving birth in the pool ask your community midwife about waterbirth sessions in your local area.

Here’s what I did with one young woman who came to labour ward and said she didn’t want to use pain relief. I could see her family were thinking ‘she’s got no chance’. I taught her simple breathing, she went in the pool and I supported her there. She had gas and air towards the end and gave birth in the pool with a triumphant smile on her face. Let us know your birth story.

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This entry was posted in General, Labour and Birth.

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