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Birth Without An Epidural: Can You Do It?

If you’ve ever thought, for whatever reason, that you might not want to get an epidural, I’m sure your biggest concern is this: Can I make it through birth without an epidural?

I remember wondering the same thing during my pregnancies. I knew that I WANTED to go med-free. But COULD I? That was an entirely different question.

The short answer is ABSOLUTELY. Of course you can. But getting to the point where you are confident that you can is going to take some practice.

I want to help YOU gain the confidence that you need to refuse the epidural because birth without medication is absolutely possible. This post is going to talk about natural birth vs medicated birth. I’m also going to share with you the best tips to help you make it med-free.

First things first, definitely sign up for Mama Natural’s free pregnancy week-to-week text or email updates. These weekly updates are one of a kind because they are from a natural perspective and will help prepare you for a natural birth.

At the end of this post, I’m sharing my personal experience. I remember reading SO MANY natural birth stories, but many of them came from these overly confident, superwomen who knew that their bodies could handle anything and never had a doubt in their minds. I am definitely not one of those women. With my first child, I caved and got the epidural. With my second, I had a natural, unmedicated birth. I want to tell you my experience with both.

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Natural, unmedicated childbirth tips.

What Is An Epidural?

The epidural is the most common pain reliever used for childbirth. Epidural anesthesia became common in the 1980’s.

The epidural is the process of receiving a local anesthetic in the space around your spinal nerves of your lower back. (source)  The epidural needle is inserted between the bones of your spine.

Before receiving the epidural, your hospital may require you to receive IV fluids. While receiving the epidural, you will need to remain completely still, which can be challenging when you are experiencing labor contractions. After receiving the epidural, it typically takes 5-30 minutes for it to take effect.

Epidural Risks

When I was attempting to prepare myself for an unmedicated birth, it was helpful for me to remember the potential risks of the epidural.

You’re probably aware of the benefits already. Getting the epidural can allow you to rest, experience less pain, and if you end up having to have a c-section, you can be awake for the procedure.

What about the risks? (source)

  • You will likely have to lie in bed, alternating sides. This may cause labor to slow or stop and increases the possibility that your doctor will give Pitocin.
  • You might experience shivering, ringing in your ears, backache, soreness, nausea, or difficulty urinating.
  • It could cause your blood pressure to drop, which would also cause your baby to go into fetal distress. Less oxygenated blood will be pumping to your baby.
  • It might make pushing more difficult as you may not be able to feel your contractions at all (that sounds great, but take it from me. It’s not a good thing. Read my experience below to learn why).
  • You may not be able to walk without assistance for a few hours after birth. Your lower body will be numb.
  • Studies suggest that your baby might have trouble with the breastfeeding latch.
  • Other studies suggest that the epidural might increase your baby’s heart rate or cause breathing difficulties.
  • Due to these potential issues for your baby, use of the epidural increases the possibility of birth interventions, such as the use of forceps, vacuums, c-sections and episiotomies.

Is Labor Faster Without An Epidural?

While every birth and experience is different, on average unmedicated childbirths are faster than medicated births.

First of all, your mobility is limited when you get the epidural. The epidural gives you one option: laying in bed. Without the epidural, you are able to walk, bounce, bathe or do whatever helps you make it through the contractions. Simply being in the upright position (not laying on a bed) is helpful because of gravity.

Also, during natural childbirth, your body will produce oxytocin (source). Oxytocin will signal your uterus to begin contracting and will send endorphins (your body’s own pain killers) throughout your body. The epidural can prevent your body from producing these natural hormones, therefore slowing labor.

Natural Birth Benefits

If you’re determined to say no to the epidural, it’s also helpful to keep all of the natural birth BENEFITS in mind.

  • You are able to move around freely. You may even choose to labor in a birthing tub.
  • You are more likely to avoid unwanted interventions, such as Pitocin or a cesarean section.
  • Your labor may be faster.
  • You’ll know when and how to push.
  • It’s safer for your baby. Studies suggest that your baby could be less alert because of the epidural, as well as having increased risks for breathing and heart rate issues.
  • You might feel disconnected from the experience or out of it.
  • You and your baby will be able to breastfeed immediately after birth.
  • You will recover more quickly. You will be able to get up and walk around immediately after giving birth, and you also may avoid unnecessary tearing due to not knowing when to push.
  • You will experience an oxytocin high after giving birth which will give you a much needed boost of energy.
  • Last but not least, going without the epidural is cheaper. If you are expecting to pay some of your labor and delivery expenses, you should know that the epidural costs around $1,000.

Tips For Birth Without An Epidural

Let’s get down to it. You really would like to have a natural, non-medicated childbirth. In order for that to happen, you’re going to have to WANT it to happen. You’re going to need to be educated and prepared and confident in your body’s ability to give birth naturally.

  1. Attend A Natural Birth Class

One of the things that should be on your third trimester to-do list is to educate yourself on natural birth.

I like to think of it like this. If you want to do something that is difficult and you don’t know how to do it (or even IF you can do it), don’t you take a class? Educate yourself?

Natural childbirth is no different. There are so many external factors that will cause you to question your ability to do this. What you need is education and empowerment.

I HIGHLY suggest my friend Liesel’s online class Birth It Up. Liesel is a labor and delivery nurse and mom who developed this course because she wanted to help women all over the world have the natural birth that they dream of.

She literally talks about everything in her video course, from benefits of natural birth to how your labor will progress. Most importantly, she will teach you how to get rid of the fear and get excited about your birth!

Want to learn more? Click through to see exactly what is covered in the course and to preview one of the video lessons. You will LOVE Liesel and feel like she’s a friend who’s right there with you to help you rock your birth!

Leisel has graciously offered up a 10% off coupon code for Paper Heart Family readers! Simply use code PAPERHEART at checkout.

You can also check out the best online infant care classes.

2. Avoid Telling Friends And Family

When I decided that I wanted to have a natural birth, I was excited to tell my friends and family. I thought they would be encouraging and impressed at my lack of fear. However, their reactions were not what I had imagined.

Most people kind of laughed and made comments like “Just wait until that first contraction hits! You’ll be begging for the drugs!” Other people made me feel stupid for wanting to go natural, because WHY in the world would I want to suffer if I didn’t have to?

Everyone has an opinion and for some reason, some women love to tell their birth horror stories. Don’t let those get to you.

It’s best not to tell anyone. Think about when you have a goal. You write it down, you repeat it frequently and if you’re really brave, you tell someone else. You don’t go around telling everyone you see that you have this dream of starting your own business, or running a marathon. You might tell the person closest to you, such as your spouse, but you’re not going to shout it from the rooftops.

And as with any lofty goal, you might have doubts. Can I actually do it? What if I FAIL?

Do you express those doubts to other people? Probably not.

It’s the same thing with birth. Telling your spouse that you want to have an unmedicated birth and then also telling him, “but, you know, I might get the epidural” is telling your spouse that you don’t believe in yourself. This is going to cause your spouse to unintentionally believe that the epidural is in your future. I

t’s also going to cause you to give up on yourself easier. If you never expressed your uncertainty to your partner, your partner would be confident in you.

3. Keep A List Of Positive Birth Affirmations

You might think that this idea seems a little silly, but hear me out. If you want to believe something, you need to tell yourself that it’s going to happen. Over and over and over, until you believe it.

If someone told you every single day that you were smart, or beautiful, you would start to believe it.

Here are a few of my favorite positive birth affirmations:

  • My body knows exactly what to do.
  • My baby is working on a perfect position for birth.
  • Women do this everyday.
  • This pain is temporary and the end result will be holding my baby in my arms.

You can find more positive birth affirmations here.

4. Educate Yourself On The Cons Of The Epidural

I wrote about the drawbacks of the epidural above. Read through them again if you have to and figure out which risk is scariest to you. When you feel your confidence starting to waver, force yourself to think of that risk.

Keep it in your mind, along with your positive birth affirmations if that’s your thing, throughout your pregnancy and labor. Write it down and keep it somewhere visible. You can even go as far as keeping little sticky notes everywhere to remind you of your goal and to keep you focused on it.

5. Keep A Focused Mindset

MOST of the women who have had a successful natural birth will tell you that it all boiled down to mindset.

Don’t forget your WHY. Why did you want to have a natural birth in the first place?

If you think you’re going to fail, you will likely fail. This is why my first birth ended in an epidural and my second didn’t. For my first, I was simply too unsure of my body’s abilities. For my second, I was DETERMINED to prove to myself that I could do it. I didn’t let myself consider any other option, and I didn’t let my husband or my nurse consider any other option either.

Think about the last time that you did something really, really difficult. How did you overcome it? How did you make it happen? I’m sure it had a lot to do with your determination.

6. Write A Birth Plan

It can be difficult to express to your doctor exactly what you want from your labor experience, especially if you’re not feeling 100% confident. This is why I LOVE Earth Mama’s Free Birth Plan. It allows you to simply check off what you would like to do and what you would like to avoid during labor and delivery. You then simply print it off and take it with you to your next appointment to discuss with your doctor.

7. Make A Playlist

You probably have various playlists for various scenarios. A playlist for working out, a playlist for relaxing and maybe a playlist for motivating yourself. Why not have a birth playlist?

You could check out this list of 30 songs that Spotify recommends as the perfect birthing songs.

However, I suggest developing your own unique playlist. You might want upbeat, encouraging, powerful songs, or you might want soothing, calming songs.

Imagine later on, when you hear the song that was playing when you gave that final push and your precious baby was placed in your arms. It will forever remind you of the first time that you met your little baby.

8. Communicate With Your Spouse

Even though our husbands and significant others are amazing and awesome, sometimes they legitimately DO NOT KNOW what we need from them.

Speak with him ahead of time and let him know what you need from him. Do you want him to hold your hand? What do you want him to say to you?

I’m not even kidding. Write down a few lines and tell him to say them to you throughout the labor process. Things like: “You’re doing great”, “You’re so strong” and “I’m so proud of you”.

9. Use Different Birthing Positions

One of the best things about not getting the epidural is the freedom that you will have to go through labor in whatever way makes you most comfortable.

I spent a lot of time bouncing on a birthing ball during my second labor. It allowed me to focus on something else other than my contractions, and using a birthing ball can help coax your baby into the right position.

Laboring or actually giving birth in a tub is another option. Laboring in water can help you to relax and can ease your contraction pain. Laboring in a shower is also an option.

10. Keep The End Result In Mind

When you are physically in labor, and you start to think that the pain is too much, focus on the end result. This period of pain that you’re experiencing is going to disappear as quickly as it came once your baby is in your arms. At that point, the ONE and ONLY thing that you will be thinking about is how much you love this little person who you’ve just met.

Focus. On. That. And know that because you are going medication-free, you will be able to focus more on your baby. You will feel more connected to the process and you will get that amazing rush of endorphins that will make you feel more like a bad ass than you’ve ever felt before IN YOUR LIFE.

Oh, you could also focus on the big plate of sushi that you’re going to devour immediately after you give birth too. Maybe you could even set that as your reward. If you make it through labor without any meds, your reward is SUSHI.

11. Focus On Your Breathing

Above all, focus on your breathing. Close your eyes and breathe slowly in and out and try to think of nothing else.

You could also try focusing on one spot in the room and counting slowly.

My Experience: Natural Birth Vs Epidural

As I said before, for my first birth I intended to have a natural birth, but caved and asked for the epidural. My biggest mistake was telling my husband that I wanted to have a drug-free birth, but that I might get the epidural. My husband, who of course had never experienced seeing me in so much pain before, didn’t realize how much I wanted to go drug free because of what I had told him.

Looking back, I know that I could have done it, but I had been unsure and afraid of the unknown. Looking back I also know that my first labor was MUCH less painful than my second.

My First Labor And Delivery- With The Epidural

When I went into labor, everything was pretty textbook. My contractions started and got progressively stronger and closer together as the day went on. My plan had been to be active (walking, bouncing, etc) but it hurt so bad to walk. So once I got to the hospital, I stayed in bed.

My nurses were great, and didn’t pressure me, but because I wasn’t completely against the epidural they informed me that I would have to get a liter of fluid before the epidural was possible. My very stressed out husband kept looking at the fluid, telling me that I could “soon get the epidural”.

Ultimately, I caved. I asked for the epidural, and then found out that I was 8 centimeters dilated. If I could go back, I would ask for a check before committing. Eight centimeters means it’s practically over.

So I got the epidural, and then waited a few more hours, while my baby peacefully and slowly descended on her own. When it was time to push, I felt nothing.

While this may sound great (and it was in the moment), I believe that my lack of feeling caused me to push at the wrong times. I had BAD tearing and a tough recovery. Even after I was given the go-ahead to be intimate with my husband at my 6-week follow-up appointment, (TMI) it was excruciatingly painful (and impossible) for FIVE MONTHS. I blame the epidural.

Labor with an epidural did allow me to laugh and relax before I started pushing. My mother-in-law came in to visit and it was just a really calm, relaxing time.

And although some mothers report that the baby had difficulty latching after an epidural, we had absolutely no issues.

On the negative side, I wasn’t able to get up out of bed and walk around by myself for about 12 hours after because my left leg was completely numb and I wish I had been able to walk around and be by my baby’s side while the doctors where administering the Apgar test.

My Second Labor And Delivery- Medication Free

The second time, I was more confident in my ability and more determined to go without medication. This labor was however, very different.

My water broke 3 weeks before my due date without warning. Hours later I still had not felt any contractions. Despite trying everything in my power to get labor to progress (walking, bouncing), 12 hours later my contractions were still not consistent and hardly present, and I was stalled at 3 centimeters. That’s when I was told that Pitocin was necessary. Pitocin. The one thing that I did not want. The one thing that made me panic.

The ONE thing that made me question my ability to have the natural birth that I desperately wanted.

Pitocin was started and increased every 30 minutes. My contractions felt stronger and stronger, but according to the monitor, they were the same as before. I was in too much pain to stand. Then, I was in so much pain that I was just rolling from side to side, curled up in the fetal position.

I asked to be checked. Still 3 centimeters. All I could think was, how am I going to make it? Why in the world does it hurt so much if I am only THREE centimeters dilated. I had made it to 8 centimeters with my first baby and that pain had been much more tolerable.

My confidence was starting to waver. For the next 30 minutes, I tried hard to focus on my breathing and to remember my why.

Then, suddenly, and strangely, 30 minutes after being checked and being told that I was still only 30 centimeters along, I was involuntarily pushing.

My husband probably thought that I was delusional when I told him that I NEEDED to push. I told the nurse, and after she gave me the “you are delusional” look, she saw that the baby’s head was right there. The actual pushing was oddly much more tolerable than what led up to it, and before I knew it, there she was. My sweet baby. And everything that I had just endured was so worth it.

At this point, my doctors told me that the baby had been in the posterior position (faceup) which is why my labor was stalled at 3 centimeters for such a long time.

What does it feel like to give birth without an epidural? It hurts. A LOT. But if I were to have another baby, I would without question opt for a natural birth again.

My Experience: Why I Prefer My Non-Medicated Birth Experience

I loved that I was able to get up immediately after I gave birth and that I wasn’t stuck in bed, unable to move.

I also loved that my recovery was so much easier, and my tearing was not an issue as it had been after my first delivery.

After my second birth, I felt like I could do anything that I set my mind to. There is something strangely empowering about having a epidural-free childbirth. I felt completely alert and fully able to soak in the moment of my baby’s entrance into the world.

This is what your body was made to do. You’ll never know what it’s capable of unless you try.

Want to hear another natural birth story? Check out Jessica Hover’s natural birth story video.

What is your reason for wanting to give birth without an epidural?

How to have an epidural free birth.

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Monday 27th of June 2022

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Monday 23rd of March 2020

This was beautiful! Thank you for sharing your birth stories. My first was a home birth that turned into an emergency csection because we found out my daughter was breeched at the last minute. My second birth was a successful VBAC at a hospital. I labored at home as long as I could with a doula and my husband and got to the hospital fully dilated. The third labor was at a birthing center. I had her only an hour and 20 minutes after arriving. I practiced hypnobirthing and really credit a quick labor to being relaxed. It was an amazing experience and yes, very, very empowering. I was home just a few hours after giving birth.


Friday 12th of June 2020

Thank YOU so much for sharing your experience, Eva!