How to Get Through an Unmedicated Birth

Aug 27, 2022

As an expectant mother, you have several pain management options for childbirth. This includes epidurals, which many women use during childbirth. 

However, you might be interested in giving birth using only natural pain management techniques. You may want to be a more active participant during labor. You may also want to have more control of your ability to move around. 


What is natural birth?

When people use the term “natural birth,” they’re probably talking about either a vaginal birth or an unmedicated birth, as in natural vs epidural.

The idea is that childbirth without medication is a normal, healthy process. So, while medication may be useful sometimes, it’s usually not needed. 

There are many reasons women sometimes want birth without medication. They might want to:

  • Walk around during labor
  • Change positions
  • Feel their body's natural pushing instincts
  • Avoid using a catheter
  • Try a water birth

With an epidural, most of these are not possible. In general, epidurals do not let you walk, change positions, or have a water birth. Some women might feel their body pushing with an epidural, while others will not. 

Women may also find that an unmedicated birth is safer or healthier. In general, giving birth without medication can help provide:

  • Shorter labor
  • Fewer perineal tears
  • Lower risk of a C-section
  • A faster recovery

Some mothers also describe having feelings of euphoria, satisfaction, or fulfillment after giving birth without medication. Giving birth without medication may help mothers experience more natural endorphins than they would have with medication.

Of course, some mothers want or need to have an epidural or C-section. These births are natural, too! Giving birth is always natural, just like it is always precious and miraculous. 


What are the benefits of unmedicated birth?

As we mentioned above, there are several reasons to consider an unmedicated birth. Here, we’ll take a closer look at common questions about the benefits of unmedicated birth. 


Are unmedicated births shorter?

Some phases of labor may be shorter without an epidural.

According to the International Doula Institute, medications can interfere with the body’s natural hormones and instincts. Specifically, medications may reduce a woman’s ability to feel when her body is naturally pushing. This can make the pushing phase take longer than it would without medication. 


Is recovery easier without an epidural?

Women who don’t have an epidural often have an easier recovery. They may avoid:

  • Pain at the epidural puncture site
  • Discomfort after using a catheter
  • Stiffness from an inability to move their legs
  • Increased risk of perineal tears

Women who have unmedicated births sometimes report being able to walk around immediately after giving birth. 

One Ob/Gyn, Dr. Kyler Elwell-Silver, decided to try a natural birth after two medicated deliveries. After giving birth without medication, she was able to use the bathroom unaided and walk around comfortably. Compared to her first two births, she recovered more quickly the third time. 

Dr. Elwell-Silver suggested that her faster recovery was aided by walking around during labor. She also felt that she avoided unnecessary interventions and side-effects related to having an epidural, including IVs or a catheter. 


Is unmedicated birth safer for babies?

Epidurals are associated with increased complications for babies during childbirth. According to the CDC, 78% of women who used an epidural had fetal intolerance during their delivery. In contrast, those who didn’t have epidurals only had a 45% rate of fetal intolerance. Complications associated with fetal intolerance include: 

  • Requiring a C-section due to fetal distress
  • Resuscitative measures for the baby after delivery
  • Further fetal assessment

However, it’s possible that these complications make more epidurals more likely in the first place. In other words, correlation does not equal causation.


What are risks associated with epidurals?

Some common risk factors that come with epidurals include:

  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Nausea

Most of these side effects are rare and easily managed. While uncommon, even more serious side effects can happen, such as nerve damage, infection, or breathing difficulties.

For some high-risk deliveries, an epidural may be placed early in case a C-section is needed. In these circumstances, the benefit of an epidural likely outweighs the risks.


What does giving unmedicated birth feel like?

Women who give birth have a wide range of experiences. This is true both for women who use epidurals and women who don’t use epidurals.

Part of this is because each woman experiences labor differently.

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists

  • 45% of women describe labor pain as “extreme menstrual cramps” 
  • 16% compare it to bad back pain
  • 15% compare it to a fracture

These statistics show how labor can vary widely in severity and type of pain or discomfort.


Euphoria and relief

Sometimes, women feel very little pain throughout the entire process of childbirth. They may even experience a natural high or euphoria at moments during or after labor. Women may feel on top of the world, or like they’re in a dream. 

Part of this euphoria and relief comes from Oxytocin. Oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone,” helps mom and baby bond after birth. It also decreases stress and can reduce feelings of pain. 

According to Judith Lothian, a registered nurse and PhD, some pain during labor serves an important role. In part, it helps guide mothers to more naturally comfortable positions. She also suggests that some pain during contractions amplifies natural endorphins, like Oxytocin. These hormones then provide powerful relief.



Some women have especially difficult labors or deliveries. This can happen because of complications like water breaking early, preterm labor, eclampsia, or other situations.

When these complications arise, labor and delivery are more likely to be very challenging. Complications like these also make interventions more likely. Sometimes, they may require a C-section.

Women may also experience more localized complications like back labor or perineal tears. These do not happen to all women, but they do happen to some whether or not they use an epidural. 


Common birth experiences

For most women who give birth unmedicated, childbirth is a mixed experience, with times of pain or extreme fatigue and times of reprieve and comfort. 


Transitional Labor

A common tough spot for women is the transition from active labor to pushing. During this transition, the cervix dilates to 10 centimeters and contractions come quickly. Labor may feel more painful at this time in part because there are fewer resting breaks. Transitional labor can last between 15 minutes to a few hours.



Another common tough spot is called “The Ring of Fire,” which happens shortly after transition. This is when a baby’s head crowns. Since a baby’s head has a bigger circumference than the rest of their body, the head stretches the birth canal the most. Once the baby’s head is out, the rest of delivery tends to happen more quickly and easily. 


How do you prepare for an unmedicated birth?

If you want an unmedicated birth, preparation is key. Here are some of the best ways to prepare your mind, body and environment for an unmedicated birth.


1. Choose a supportive medical provider

If you want to have an unmedicated birth, make sure your doctor or midwife is on board. Otherwise, you may find yourself pressured into having an epidural when you don’t want one. A supportive provider can also help you try out different techniques or positions before resorting to an epidural if you’re unsure during labor. 


2. Take a childbirth class

There are lots of childbirth classes, including Lamaze classes, HypnoBirthing, Hypnobabies, and of course our classes here at HypnoActive. These classes provide natural pain management techniques. They also help teach you how to be an active participant during your labor.

At HypnoActive, we teach hypnobirthing methods such as breathing techniques, affirmations, and visualizations. We also teach Active birth methods, including exercises and labor positions. 

You can read more about hypnobirthing here and more about our HypnoActive classes here


3. Enlist your partner or a support person

Having a designated support person can make all the difference in an unmedicated birth. This person could be your partner, friend, family member, or professional doula. 

In addition to hiring a doula, we recommend involving a partner, family member, or friend. Doulas are incredible, but no one can replace the role of someone you already know and trust. 

When you take a HypnoActive class, you get to choose one support person to come with you. In our classes, they will learn about things like partner massage, coaching, and how to be an advocate. We also include a Daddy Doula Cheat Sheet with all of our classes.


4. Have a birth plan

In the weeks leading up to birth, be sure to consider what you want your delivery to look like. 

Who do you want with you? Do you want to try a water birth? Do you want to delay cutting the umbilical cord? 

These are just a few of the questions you can answer in your birth plan. If you know what you want beforehand, it’ll be easier to make decisions along the way.


5. Be flexible

Having a plan can help you get the outcome you want. Sometimes, though, even the best laid plans don’t work out. If you end up having an epidural or a C-section, you’re still a rockstar and an amazing mom.


What percentage of births are unmedicated?

In general, a little less than 20 percent of all births are unmedicated. However, birth statistics vary quite a bit when looking at different factors. 


Cesarean Sections

According to the CDC, a little over 31% of all births in the U.S. are Cesarean births, or C-sections. Meanwhile, via WebMD the World Health Organization estimates that 90 to 95% of births around the world are healthy. This means that most C-sections would have resulted in healthy vaginal births without intervention.

While C-sections can be literal life savers when you need them, they can cause problems when you don’t need them. C-sections can be very difficult to recover from. They can also make taking care of a newborn more challenging. 

Still, if you need an epidural or a C-section, try not to sweat it. At the end of the day, all that matters is safely delivering your beautiful baby.

Birth Order

The CDC also found that women are more likely to use an epidural for their first delivery than subsequent births. Ignoring C-section births, about 68% of women giving birth for the first time used an epidural. Meanwhile, about 57% of women delivering their later children used an epidural.

It may be that women felt more confident giving birth after having done it once. Women may also feel that their bodies are better prepared for the demands of labor and delivery the second time.


Risk Factors

Women were also more likely to use an epidural if they had other complications like high blood pressure or gestational diabetes. In these cases, doctors may recommend epidurals from the start to prepare for a possible C-section.

Even controlling for these factors, however, more than half of all women in the United States use an epidural during childbirth.


Is an unmedicated birth worth it?

Whether or not an unmedicated birth is worth it is up to you. Ultimately, no one else can tell you what you should want for your birth experience. Some women feel that they will have a better experience with an epidural. Other women feel that they will be more active, empowered, and in control without an epidural.


When should you start preparing for natural birth?

We recommend taking a childbirth class whether or not you plan on using an epidural. 

For our classes at HypnoActive, we suggest starting between 22 and 32 weeks pregnant. This will give you plenty of time to practice and prepare before delivery. If you are past 32 weeks pregnant, we also have a home study course you can finish at a faster pace.

You can read more about our classes here.

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