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What are 'Alternative' Pain Relief Options?

Why is it that when we think 'alternative' we think hippies, harem pants, stone circles and dreadlocks! Not that there is anything wrong with this, but the word 'alternative' doesn't seem to conjure up an image that is aligned with who all of us are - capable birthing women.

If you have watched any of my videos, you will know that I don't fit that category of 'alternative'. But I do believe strongly in alternative pain relief options. Even if you plan to use Gas and Air or have an epidural, having a bag of tricks up your sleeve before you reach that point, can make birth more comfortable and give you the best chance at labour progressing naturally.

I will say this about medical pain relief - I do find it crazy that for 9 months we are very good girls, we don't drink alcohol or eat foods that could harm our baby, and yet we get to the birth and heroin (diamorphine is a form of heroin!) is one of the things suddenly we are allowed! That does not make any sense to me! But none-the-less the first time around I didn't have any options it felt like, and I used this.

So second time around I really did my research so that I didn't reach this point again. Here are my top 5 alternative pain relief suggestions.

  1. WATER

Whether you plan a water birth or not. During early labour, hop in a bath, it will help your muscles relax, ease tension and allow labour to progress more efficiently. If there is pain in your lower back, get on all 4's and run the shower head on your lower back or have your birth partner do this. Finally, obviously, if you are able to have a water birth have one! This can really help keep you comfortable as your body naturally relaxes, but also you are more able to move around and being able to adjust your position during birth, and get into positions that you can't on dry land, can really help with pain.

2. TENS Machine

If you are not having a water birth, a tens machine is a great gadget to add to your birth bag. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It’s a form of pain relief that you can control with a hand-held device.

TENS is thought to work as the electrical pulses stimulate nerves that run to the spinal cord and block the transmission of pain. This creates a tingling feeling. You can control the strength of the current yourself or your birth partner can do this. This can help you stay in control of your contractions.


Birth combs use acupressure as a form of pain relief in birth. The gate control theory states that your brain can only focus on a few sensations at the same time. By squeezing the comb into the 'Laogong' acupressure point on your palm it acts as a distraction, diverting your brain so your body can adjust to the pain. I used this comb during labour and you can hear my opinion on this below:


Having your birth partner massage your back can really help with any discomfort you may feel during contractions. There are specific massages they can learn to support your labour and help them feel more confident doing this. For me, having my hair played with really helped relax me and made contractions more bearable as I knew a lovely head massage was coming. You can actually take your own massage oil to the hospital, or if you are birthing in the AMU the midwives may offer you some for your birth partner to use.

*Top Tip: Create your own aromatherapy massage oil using Clary Sage essential oil. This herb has been shown to help induce labour and can speed things along.


The main idea of most alternative pain relief options, water and massage included, is to help you relax your body and distract your mind. A relaxed body births better - its that simple. If you are tense, contractions will feel more uncomfortable and labour WILL slow down. Hypnobirthing is all about learning how to be deeply relaxed for birth. Learning breathing exercises and listening to hypnobirthing MP3s can hugely help manage pain relief. To read more about hypnobirthing click here.

Final Thought:

Having different ways to manage pain before any drugs, is a great way to have more control over your birth experience. You can use one, then another and so on, and when things become more intense, you can layer them and use them all at once. All before you reach for the gas and air.

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