Ways to Cope With Labor Pain

Pregnant woman in labour at home home birth

Julia Wheeler and Veronika Laws / Photodisc / Getty Images

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When we think of labor we often think of pain. The one big thing that we do not think about is how to cope with normal pain and alleviate unnecessary pain.

One of the things that I do when I am teaching a class is to ask people ways that they have coped with other types of pain. We each think of other instances and what helped us and put it up on the board. This helps us realize what resources we really do have available.

Many women today fear labor. It is a simple fact. And yet another simple fact is that fear in labor (or anything) will increase your pain. This is called the fear/tension/pain cycle. All this states is that when you are fearful, you tense, when you're tense, you cause more pain.

So, let's start with the basics. Pain.


While a few women will state that labor was not painful at all, and a few more will state that it is the most excruciating pain that they have ever felt, most women will fall into the middle ground. Labor pain that is tolerable and desirable.

Pain comes from a couple of sources in labor. Generally, these fall into three categories: emotional, functional, and physiological. Knowing what is causing the pain will help you deal with it. It is also important to realize that a certain amount of pain is normal and functional in labor, telling your body what is going on, allowing you to help yourself.


Your environment is something that you can control. Making yourself feel comfortable will aid in your ability to relax and concentrate on the job at hand.

Lighting: Most women find that lower lighting is more conducive to relaxation. You can try to maintain lower levels of light by using dimmers, closing blinds, etc.

Quiet: Not being asked questions during a contraction, not be subjected to chatter that is unimportant and hushed tones also aid in labor comfort.

Support: This can be your partner, your mother, friend, doula or a combination. Knowing that you are not alone, having people there to physically help you by massaging, providing you information, etc. can be a load off of your mind in labor.

Music: Some women find that music will relax them, while others may be annoyed by the music. The key here is for the woman to choose the music to give birth or labor with.

Candles: They can set the environment, be conducive to relaxation, have a pleasant scent and provide warmth.

Aromatherapy: This is designed to relieve tension and promote relaxation using different scents. There are some that are more geared towards labor, such as Lavender.


Massage: who would turn down a massage? Not many people, but in labor, it is almost essential. Massaging certain areas of the body will help compete with pain messages in your brain for reception, reducing the sensations of pain. These would be the hairless parts of your body. For example hands and feet. While other types of massage, such as effleurage (light, rhythmic massage on your belly), or simple light stroking provide the sensation of companionship.

Breathing: This is what we think of when we think of non-medicinal pain relief measures. A bunch of women hee hee hooing through labor. Breathing is much more than this, in fact, a lot of women never use patterned breathing in labor. Controlling your breathing to be slow and relaxed is more conducive to relaxation and a sense of control over your body. Hyperventilation can deprive you and your baby of oxygen.

Relaxation: It only makes sense that by fighting your body during labor by tensing you will hinder the process and possibly slow your labor, but more importantly it will cause you more pain. It is important to relax and allow your uterus to do the work for you.

Water: Of benefit because it is relaxing, can reduce swelling, pressure and can actually cushion your body from the force of contractions. This is most effective after active labor has begun.

Acupressure: Used to help alleviate tension and to actually stimulate labor by using pressure points in the body, like Spleen Six.

Positioning: Can actually relieve pain in a few ways. It can correct a malpresentation of the baby, such as a posterior baby, it can increase blood flow to the uterus, and it can make you more comfortable.

Mobility: This allows your body to move about during labor which enables shifting of your pelvis, etc. It also speeds the labor.

"Special" (Double hip squeeze, counter pressure): Certain measures can be taken for certain situations, for example back labor caused by a posterior baby. Counter pressure is simply putting pressure at the point in your lower back that the baby is pressing on, thus the counter. The double hip squeeze will also provide the counter pressure while also moving the pelvis, hopefully allowing the baby to change to a more favorable position.

Mental & Emotional

Relaxation: This also has a mental and emotional connection. You need to try to concentrate on what will help you through labor. This is not the time to worry about bills, your job, etc. Some women find that visualizations will help them, while others prefer to think of "nothing." Practicing before labor may help you identify which would help you more, but be prepared to be flexible during labor.

Support: Being alone can hamper labor by creating tension and fear. Having support from people who care about you is very comforting because you are not alone, and they are doing what they physically can to help you.

This list is not complete. There are many more things that you can do to help yourself through labor, and the ones that I have listed here have only been briefly defined. It is important to you seek additional resources, such as a childbirth class, a doula, or books to help you master these techniques.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.