I’m that weirdo who has always wanted a natural, unmedicated childbirth. Don’t ask me why. I’m not usually all that crunchy. I don’t even make it through an ordinary day without a Zyrtec, and I’m not one to use all-natural cleaning supplies. As an elementary school teacher, I’m a bleach and more bleach kinda girl.
I have used both cloth diapers and disposables. I’ve breastfed and formula fed. I’ve used epidurals for previous births. But for my third baby, I just really wanted to go med-free. It was important to me.
If you’re wanting to have an unmedicated labor and delivery, keep reading to learn how to make labor easier.
1. Take care of your body for an easier labor.
My first two babies came at 38 weeks exactly. The first labor kicked off with PROM (premature rupture of membranes). The second had to be induced at exactly 38 weeks because my blood pressure went haywire. I wasn’t in great shape for either of those pregnancies. My diet was trash and I gained 53 pounds each time. I don’t recommend it.
When I got pregnant with baby number 3, I had been eating gluten-free for two months. I maintained it the entire pregnancy. I only gained 25 pounds and felt fabulous for this pregnancy! It really made a difference in my delivery.
Being more physically active throughout labor and delivery helps a ton – particularly being able to maneuver and try different positions to get comfortable. This is so much easier to manage when you’re in good health.
2. Ignore your early labor symptoms and contractions as much as possible.
Being healthier than I was with my previous pregnancies meant that my body was better able to tolerate the pregnancy. I stayed pregnant up until the day before my induction date. We made it to 41 weeks exactly – outlasting my previous two term pregnancies by a whopping 3 weeks.
I was a complete head case. I wanted this baby out, and I was mad about having to be induced.
The day that I went into labor, the pelvic pressure I had been feeling for a month shifted forward, toward my belly button. For weeks, I felt like baby was going to fall right out of my booty.
I gave the new sensation zero attention; after all, I’d already had so many false alarms, and I was being induced at 4:00 a.m. the next day. Why get my hopes up for the thousandth time because my pelvic pressure felt different?
So, I gave up. I just ignored how I was feeling and carried on about my day. I put the finishing touches on my hospital bag, thanked my mom and mother-in-law for being there for the induction, and enjoyed my bedtime tea starting around 9:00 p.m.
So much of labor and delivery is a mind game. If you really want to have an unmedicated birth, your own brain will try to sabotage you into thinking you can’t do it. Ignoring early labor helps you spend more time at home and away from any unwanted interventions in the hospital.
3. Trust that you will know when active labor has begun.
It was bedtime at 10:40 p.m., so I stood up from the couch to say goodnight to my mom and mother-in-law. Knowing we’d have to get up at 3:00 a.m. for the induction, my husband was already in bed asleep. I stuck to my normal schedule. When I stood up, I had a noticeably bigger contraction than my normal Braxton Hicks. I made a mental note of the time, ignored it, and prepped for bed.
Twenty minutes later, I was almost asleep, when an even bigger contraction hit. Being in bed hurt too badly, so in the middle of the contraction, I climbed out of bed and took deep, calming breaths. I felt a little worried that I might not get to sleep that night. After all, the contraction was too powerful to sleep through, but at twenty minutes apart, it couldn’t be active labor. I felt like I was between a rock and hard place. I tried to settle back into bed.
Like clockwork, the next contraction hit another twenty minutes later, and it was so powerful that I nearly came out of my skin. I was gasping for breath standing next to my bed. After the contraction ended, I started shaking and couldn’t quit for about 3 minutes. In retrospect, I must have known this was the real deal, because I got dressed again all the way down to my tennis shoes and brushed my teeth for the second time in a half hour.
4. Listen to your body rather than watching the clock.
Doctors and nurses will tell you to (loosely) follow the 5-1-1 rule or the 4-1-1 rule. That means you should go to the hospital when your contractions are 5 (or 4) minutes apart, lasting a full minute, and continuing in this pattern for an hour. My labors have never followed any rule this closely.
There’s a good chance your contractions will never be that regular, and there are plenty of women who will deliver their baby in a car, anticipating the perfect moment to go to the hospital.
Here’s a better rule that works well – if you live fairly close to the hospital. Go to the hospital when you can’t think clearly enough to worry about a contraction pattern.
Here’s how my labor progressed. Hopefully this will illustrate my point.
I had three very strong contractions 20 minutes apart. The next one came only five minutes later. I couldn’t walk or talk through any of these contractions, although I was still clear headed between them. When the next contraction hit only 3 minutes later, and held that pattern for 3 more contractions, I knew I wouldn’t be able to wait until my induction time to go to the hospital.
Spoiler alert – I was right, as my baby ultimately arrived two hours before my scheduled 4 a.m. induction.
I couldn’t have held a conversation between those contractions if I tried. They were so intense that I was trying to steady my breathing between them. I hadn’t felt this sensation in previous labors until about an hour before the babies were OUT.
If I had waited until my contractions followed a clear pattern for a full hour, we would have had an elevator baby.
5. Trust your body more than cervical checks.
We arrived at the hospital at 12:45 am. When I told the nurse at the nurse’s station that my contractions were coming quick and it was my third delivery, she allowed me to skip triage and go straight to my room.
The nurses insisted on a cervical check, and it felt like they were asking the impossible. I couldn’t conceive of lying on my back at that point, because I knew they wouldn’t finish the check before the next contraction hit. During contractions, the only position that was even remotely bearable was standing upright.
Still, they completed the check, and told me I was only at a 5. They were observing my temperament and surprised that I was merely at a 5, I think. It didn’t worry me because I knew it wouldn’t be long regardless. I trusted the intensity of the experience I was having much more than any number.
Nurses go by a general rule of thumb that you’ll dilate 1 centimeter per hour. Ignore this while in labor. Labor math is not a thing. Sure, some bodies will progress in a totally linear fashion, but most do not. Your body is not broken if it takes a full day, or if your cervix skips straight from a 5 to fully dilated in an hour.
6. Try Nitrous Oxide and a contraction routine.
I was offered an epidural at my first cervical check, but I refused it.
I had heard about Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas), and thought I’d give it a try. It seemed to help the women on Call the Midwife, a show I love on Netflix. Since it doesn’t hurt the baby, I wanted to give it a try.
The nurses admitted they didn’t really know how well the Nitrous Oxide worked because nobody had really tried it yet. It’s super popular in European hospitals but not commonly used in the US, especially in west Texas. That said, I believe MANY hospitals have it on their floor. Find out from your doctor if it’s available to you.
The nurses told me to try and time the mask application right before a contraction began and breathe deeply into it until the pain started to ebb.
So my husband and I fell into our labor rhythm standing next to the hospital bed. My left arm stayed draped around his neck, while my right hand remained near the nitrous oxide mask.
When a contraction started coming on, I’d grab the mask and hold it over my mouth. I would breath deeply into it, and then sort of moo loudly as I exhaled. Nobody heard the mooing because the mask muffled the sound. I rocked back and forth. As the contraction waned, I’d put the mask down and my husband would hand me a sip of water.
Between contractions, I would kind of space out. The nitrous oxide didn’t do anything at all for the pain. It was the most intense sensation I’d ever felt, even after two previous deliveries and a failed epidural for my second baby. There wasn’t anything muted about the experience. It was just raw, intense pain.
However, the nitrous oxide kept me from mentally spinning out. I didn’t feel fear, and my mind didn’t get all anxious about how much longer I had to go. I felt a bit spacey and a little out-of-body, and that made labor easier.
Regarding having a contraction routine: some women like rocking back and forth, traveling a specific route around their home, or falling into a lunge when the pain is strongest. Find something that works for you, and try repeating the pattern for every contraction. I found the repetitiveness soothing.
7. Mentally prepare yourself for all outcomes.
It’s really not helpful to get fixated on only ONE possible outcome. Labor and delivery is so unpredictable. Make informed decisions along the way, but realize that you’re not in control and things can change in an instant. Being emotionally prepared can really help you stay clear-headed when your body is making it harder to think.
Here’s how my labor and delivery shifted VERY fast.
As transition came, I could only get through the contractions by swaying on my tippy toes. As they tightened up to only 2 minutes apart, the peaks on the monitor got more jagged and unpredictable. There was a reason I was suddenly on my tippy toes. Something was changing.
I felt a desire and curiosity to push, so I decided to do a little practice push to see if it felt better.
My little practice push felt GREAT. If it’s time to push, you’ll often find relief from doing so. We rang the call button and asked if I could please push now.
The nurse came and checked me for dilation. It was miserable to be on my back again, and she said I was only at an 8. It wasn’t time to push, (and I knew from other stories that pushing before it’s time can cause your cervix to swell), so I got back up and continued my coping mechanisms.
The nurse just left us alone again. I remember thinking that was odd. My body was telling me this was an all-hands-on-deck situation.
Less than ten minutes later, I felt a big shift. Baby dropped down, and it didn’t feel like a minor amount. I wasn’t intentionally pushing, but fetal ejection reflex kicked in and my whole body just started ejecting this sweet little one.
Water splashed everywhere in a rather dramatic fashion, and my husband went running into the hallway. He yelled, “We need help! The baby is coming, like NOW!”
The nurse came running in immediately, but my hand was already between my legs, and I felt her head coming. She instructed me, “I need you to lie down in the bed.” I said, “I can’t move; she’s crowning.”
This time, I guess she believed me, because she dropped down to her knees behind me and caught our precious third baby just in the knick of time. It was 2:08 am, just less than three hours since active labor started at home.
With the nurse holding our baby between my legs, I crawled into bed, awkwardly flipped onto my back, and she gave her to me. By this point, three more nurses had run into the room.
Another girl! Hooray!
I spent 9 months thinking about this labor. I had listened to C-section stories on the Birth Hour podcast, baby-came-in-the-car stories, home birth stories, tales of failed epidurals, and I had learned from my own previous births.
When our baby started crowning with me standing next to the bed and no provider nearby, I didn’t panic. I knew from my preparation that I could handle this alone for a few moments if I needed to.
In the end, we didn’t have to pay any doctor bills, since ours didn’t arrive. The on-call doctor showed up in time to deliver the placenta, so we got billed $32 for that.
Our third baby arrived 2.5 hours after the onset of active labor. This is called “precipitous” or rapid labor. If my own previous experience taught me anything, it’s that it can happen to any mom, even those who have had long labors in the past.
The good news about a precipitous labor is that it’s all over with very fast, and it makes it easy to have an unmedicated birth, if that’s your goal. I also recovered amazingly well, and breastfeeding was easy.
The bad news is that it can be sort of harrowing if you’re not mentally prepared for it. I can see how moms who are hoping for a chill labor with an epidural could be a bit traumatized by the pace of it all.
My mom had warned me that it’s best to learn about unmedicated labor and delivery, in case things don’t go as planned, and I think that was super advice. Also, give nitrous oxide a chance, particularly if you’re the overthinking type of mom.