How to Have an Unmedicated Childbirth in Five Easy Steps


It occurred to me recently that I’ve never shared my birth story on my blog. Then it occurred to me that really, no one wants to read it. So in lieu of a journal entry presenting every gory detail of my ten-hour delivery, I can summarize all you need to know about my unmedicated birth into fourteen chronologically-organized thoughts I had during the whole ordeal:

  1. Oh yay! I think contractions are starting! Or is it a cramp? Well, let’s start timing anyways.
  2. Alrighhht, these are getting regular..and definitely contractions, these are definitely contractions…
  3. Okay, getting stronger, but I can handle this. Why does everyone freak out about childbirth?
  4. Well, these are getting annoying. I can sort of see why people get epidurals…
  5. Only 4cms???!! Waaaaaaat the fuuuuuck?!?
  6. Okay, this sucks, this sucks, this is really starting to suck…
  7. noooooo…nooooo.
  8. Nooooooo Noooooooo
  9. NOOOOooo NOOOOOOooo
  10. Aaaaaaah Damnit, no! I don’t want to do this anymore. I take it back!! Can’t you just pull her out?
  11. No seriously, pull her out, now. I give you permission. NOW!
  12. You want me to do WHAAAT??? What’s the ring of —-
    (Waaaaaaahhh !!! Waaaaaaah !!!)
  14. Okay, well I guess that wasn’t that bad….

Now for all my epidural-loving friends, let’s reread this title before your ambush begins. It is ‘How to Have an Unmedicated Childbirth in Five Easy Steps,’ not ‘Why I Think You Should Have an Unmedicated Birth’ or ‘Why Every Way Besides the Way I Do Things is Wrong.’ I’m not here to judge. I actually don’t care how you choose to push or pull or squat your babies out, I’m just here to share my experience and what I feel helped me to give birth without medication. So put down your pitchforks (or IV poles as it may be) and read on, if you’d like.   

1. Decide to do it.

Number one most important step in having an unmedicated birth? Decide to have an unmedicated birth. Not like decide this is what you want to try. Commit. Decide this is THE way, barring unforeseen medical complications, you will birth your child. If your birth plan includes words like ‘I’m going to try an unmedicated birth, but if the pain gets unbearable, I’ll consider the Epidural,’’ you’re 99%* more likely to end up with an epidural. Because spoiler alert, the pain is unbearable. (*Statistic not yet researched, but I’m 99% sure it’s true.)

2. Prepare yourself.

Learn about labor. Go to a class specifically designed to help you achieve an unmedicated birth, or a hypnobirthing class. Find a way you are comfortable coping. Meditation, music, praying to some cosmic labor god, whatever. Learn what to expect as labor progresses, what the pain is actually going to be like, so when the going gets tough, you don’t get the anesthesiologist.

3. Get a professional.

Some people have doulas, others a midwife, or maybe it’s your husband who can be your rock. I had midwives for each of mine, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way. Doctors are often there for the end, to catch the baby, or intervene in an emergency, whereas midwives are there for the whole delivery. It’s what they do. And they kick ass at it. Never have I trusted or depended on a complete stranger more in entire my life. There was a moment in each of my labors when the pain transitioned to complete and utter panic. These women kept me calm and in control and from freaking the total fuck out. 

4. Let everyone know.

Tell your nurse when you walk in the door that this is your birth plan. Along with my midwives, my nurse was with me for almost the entire labor and delivery. I found that if they know you want to go unmedicated, they are very supportive – and more present than they would be otherwise.

5.  Know your body.

Know how your body works and why it’s important to relax. The more you relax, the more effective your contractions and the sooner this shit show can end. Let that motivate you. Know that your body can do this. Know that your body is made to do this. Know that the vast majority of births are uncomplicated. And have faith in yourself that you can do this, and even though it’s awful, as soon as that wild little child is out, the pain ends in an instant like magic. And all you’re left with is baby!

I birthed two healthy girls without pain medication with these thoughts in mind. I loved both of my labors. If you want an unmedicated birth, believe in yourself and believe me – you can do it!

Our next recos:

Why Everyone Deserves a Doula

Acknowledging the Sadness When Your Birth Plan Changes

Top Birth Fears

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How to Have an Unmedicated Childbirth in Five Easy Steps

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  • Wow, people make this sound so complicated and out of your control and you’ve really summed it up into a few simple steps. Amazing! Do you have plans to do a similar piece called ‘how to make sure your child is born healthy and neither of you have any serious medical issues’? That is another topic where many writers make it sound like you might not actually be able to control everything, but I’m sure that with your gift for simplifying issues you could sum it up in five easy steps. I am especially interested in how to prevent prenatal heart issues, since that is closely related to ending up with a medicated birth experience.

  • This article perfectly describes how I felt about my 2 unmedicated child births. I was lucky enough to have labours that progressed quickly (14-16 hours from first twinge to babe in arms), so while things were very intense, I didn’t have to deal with endurance. I also have to say that the nurses and my husband were amazing support in the tougher moments.

  • I think this statement is a conjecture on the authors part and could be worrying for those wanting a epidural “I found that if they know you want to go unmedicated, they are very supportive – and more present than they would be otherwise.” You can’t say that nurses and midwives are going to be less “present” if you choose pain relief. I had an epi, my midwife sat at my bedside feeling contractions on my belly with her own hands for hours.

  • I gave birth unmedicated 2 weeks ago. This was not through choice but because my body progressed way faster than the midwives realised!! It all happened so fast that my husband didn’t even make it. So I did it by myself (1 midwife) and no meds, completely different to my first and IF I make the crazy decision to do it again (one day in the distant future) I will choose to do it unmedicated again 😊 Great read, thank you!

  • I love your take on this, especially the humour. It seems that everyone and their mother has an opinion on how women should give birth, so your helpful but not pushy advice is so refreshing. In fact, as a currently pregnant woman myself, the issue of people pushing their views about childbirth on others has really been irking me lately (which i wrote a little about here:

    I especially like your last point about your birth experience, about it not being so in the end! I sure hope that’s the case for me.

  • I was one of those “I don’t want an epidural right away…” women, but fully figured I would get one. By the time the pains got bad enough that I wanted one (and wanted it NOW) my L&D nurse did a cervical check and announced it was time for me to push and it was too late for the epidural. F$&?! It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but my labor was only 8 hrs total.

  • I agree you have to commit to having an unmedicated birth. Most women that I spoke to didn’t want to feel any pain at all and could not understand the desire to voluntarily push out a baby sans drugs. My reasons: 1. I wanted to be in control of what happened during the birth process.
    2. I wanted to feel empowered as a woman bringing life into the world.
    3. I was convinced any drugs could affect my baby. After all, you are advised against drugs while pregnant…why ingest them in labor?
    4. My mother & 2 sisters all birthed without drugs, I weirdly wanted to maintain this “tradition?!”
    5. My labors are lightning fast and I knew if I had a longer labor I would face my fear of a giant freakin’ needle in my spine!
    6. I recently gave birth to #3 &# 4…twins came in 35 minutes. Lightning fast.
    7. Support from my husband (also a nurse) was awesome. We also took Bradley classes which demystified what could happen–highly recommend birthing classes.
    The movie Business of Being Born sealed it for me–after learning about the birthing business I had made up my mind!

  • My childbirth was exactly like this! I had horrible back pain and not cramp like pain. If anyone wants an unmedicated childbirth then use the jacuzzi! It is so relaxing. I’m a germ-a-phobe but pain got me past that. I went from 4 cm to 10 cm in about 5 minutes. The jacuzzi really helps with relaxation.

  • Heh. I had to have an induction at 39 weeks for medical reasons, and I have to say I got mad at you back at “Only 4cms???!!” 🙂 Don’t I wish. Though it was important to have an induction (Cholestasis of Pregnancy), it wasn’t one of those every-minute-counts emergencies, so they were able to do a gentle ramp-up of 20 hours to start labor. Then after four hours of agony where my uterus seized up, also for medical reasons (let’s just say that I had had preterm contractions that lasted five minutes long at times, but my body really really didn’t want to do anything with any of them, even on pitocin), I got an epidural and it relaxed my body enough to actually progress. Yay! \o/

    I was very impressed, with my second baby and induction (Cholestasis again), when my body was more ready for childbirth, to find that *my pain went back down to zero in between contractions.* What is this magic?! When the pain really got going with the first, it was pretty much unbroken, I think the lowest it ever went was maybe a six on the pain scale…

    And then that one was awesome because the epidural sped things up again, but that labor was already faster and easier, so basically my husband almost missed the birth, going to get lunch. Let’s put in the catheter now… Oh wait, that’s the baby’s head.

    Anyway, I’ll just, uh… take my jealousy elsewhere? You rock! You’re awesome! Also, any women who happen to be reading the comments who had epidurals and the whole thing didn’t really go how you wanted and it’s all a bit of a sore spot? You rock, too!

    • Oh, and I forgot to say — with that first birth, after the 24 hours of induction thus far, when I got the epidural — I was at a measly 1cm. Yep. But hey. It gave me more appreciation for the second birth than I probably would’ve had, otherwise!

  • Haha. I can’t say I was 100% committed to unmedicated birth, but I really didn’t like the idea of a giant needle in back… Oh, how I hate needles. Thankfully my daughter’s birth went about smoothly as it could have, and I was 5 cm by the time I showed up at the hospital so I knew I was getting there. We’ll see what happens with the next one in May.

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