What Does It Really Feel Like to Give Birth Without an Epidural?

Updated on May 14, 2018
Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

Kierstin is a mom to two little girls, not a fan of Popples, and really, really good at removing crayon from practically any surface.

Curious to know what it's really like to give birth without an epidural?
Curious to know what it's really like to give birth without an epidural? | Source

Dealing With Natural Labor Pain Without an Epidural

Last year, I gave birth to my second daughter, a beautiful bundle of sunshine and blonde love wrapped up in the sweetest disposition I've ever encountered sans pain medication. I'm pretty vocal about my difficulties with hyperemesis or severe morning sickness during both of my pregnancies, so why not be vocal about my two very different birthing experiences? I hope my account will help to decrypt some of the confusion so many moms feel leading up to delivery day.

Before birthing both of my girls, I Googled nine month's worth of the many, many inquiries women ask during pregnancy, some of which included:

  • Why can't I stop throwing up?
  • Has anyone ever died from morning sickness?
  • Does birth hurt and how badly?
  • What does natural childbirth feel like?
  • What are the pros and cons of getting an epidural?

I asked about the ways women choose to give birth in hopes of solving the magical mystery that is childbearing. Some of the answers helped, and some of them didn't. Most of my questions went unanswered in the form of vague responses meant to soothe the panicked and the curious. I personally didn't find anything helpful. So, here's a list of the questions I most often asked Google regarding labor and delivery without an epidural in the detail I was looking for, and my personal experience giving birth drug-free.

Disclaimer

Always consult with a medical professional when making medical decisions.

Does It Hurt to Give Birth Without an Epidural?

Yes, it does. It hurts badly, but not for the entire process. Before I had kids I kind of thought of birth as one long, linear experience, but it's not. There are several stages of labor and each individual's experience may vary. Below, I've incorporated the various stages of labor and what to expect in each. I also cover the transition phase of labor, which was the most challenging time for me and for many mothers.

Why Did I Decide to Give Birth Naturally?

Long story short, I didn't decide to give birth naturally (it was all natural, by the way). I was staying open to the idea, and actually missed my big chance—the window during which you can decide—and headed straight into the "transition phase" and had my baby without medication. The cervix dilates between 7-10 cm during the transition phase and you will definitely want to make your decision before then. It may help to establish a birth plan weeks prior to solidify your decisions.

It is important to make a decision about whether or not you would like an epidural before entering into the transition phase of labor.
It is important to make a decision about whether or not you would like an epidural before entering into the transition phase of labor. | Source

Under What Circumstance Will You Not Be Given an Epidural?

The main reason most women don't get an epidural is because they miss their moment, just like I did. Other reasons for not receiving an epidural would be:

  • You heroically chose from start to finish not to have one and you stuck to your word even through the most physically painful moments of your life because you're a saint, wow. Good job, gold medal. You probably didn't scream at your nurse for tricking you. You probably also didn't shove another nurse away from you as she tried to monitor your precious baby's life. You probably didn't wish the fiery pits of hell on the nurses. Good for you for being that kind of person. I'm not.
  • Low platelets which could complicate the epidural. The main risk here is a spinal epidural hematoma.
  • Medications that would disagree with the epidural (i.e. blood thinners).
  • An abnormality in your spine which can make locating the correct site and placing an epidural dangerous.

Do You Still Get an IV Catheter Even If You Don't Get an Epidural?

In some situations, yes. Some hospitals require a catheter—this is a mechanism that is put in place intravenously in case you require fluids or the rapid administration of an emergency drug. I did have a catheter placed in my arm in my non-epidural birth as protocol because I passed out after my first delivery (thanks to my epidural!) They used it to fill me full of fluids and hey, it was actually great . . . I stayed hydrated and I believe the IV fluids helped me to have the energy I needed to push and recover. You could ask for fluids too, even if you don't want medication!

The stages of labor during childbirth adapted from the American Pregnancy Association website.
The stages of labor during childbirth adapted from the American Pregnancy Association website. | Source

The Stages of Labor and Delivery Without an Epidural

Early Labor

Early labor occurs when the cervix dilates up to 3 cm. Early labor triggers cramps that may make you wonder, "Okay, either I'm about to poop or I'm having Braxton Hicks contractions." Then, the cramps keep coming and maybe you do poop but it doesn't stop them. The cramps may be uncomfortable when they're happening and then they're over and you're super relieved. Some women may not even realize they're in labor at this point.

What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?

The term "Braxton Hicks contractions" originated in 1872 when Dr. John Braxton Hicks, an English doctor, derived the phrase to describe false labor. Here are the characteristics of Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • They can start as early as the 2nd trimester but typically occur in the 3rd
  • Contractions last between 30-60 seconds and upwards of two minutes
  • They are infrequent, unpredictable, and uncomfortable
  • They are irregular in intensity and disappear unpredictably
  • Many midwives theorize these contractions prime the uterus and soften the cervix
  • Triggers include contact, activity, intercourse, and dehydration

True early labor lasts approximately 8-12 hours and is most commonly associated with your "water breaking" during which the amniotic sac ruptures. It is important to note the color and odor of the fluid and at which time your water broke. Contractions will then occur everyone 30-45 seconds with 5-30 minutes of rest in between. Contractions may progressively become stronger and feel like menstrual cramps, pelvic tightness, or pain in the lower back.

Tips for coping with the early stage of labor:

  • Relax during this phase
  • Drink water and eat small snacks
  • Keep track of the time of your contractions
  • You do not need to rush to the hospital or birth center (unless a high-risk pregnancy)
  • Your support person can help keep you stay distracted with simple tasks (e.g. calming support or assistance timing the intervals of the contractions)

Active Labor

Whoa boy, things are intensifying. Active labor lasts 3-5 hours and happens when the cervix dilates to 3-7 cm. This is the time when most women realize they need to get to the hospital. At this point, it's hard to deny you're in labor, even if you are a champ. Contractions are consistent, and occur every 45-60 seconds on average with a 3-5 minute rest in between. It feels as if you're getting a stomach cramp that takes your breath away. Holding onto something helps, whether it's your partner's hand, an armrest, or in my case, the roof handle of our car en route to the hospital.

Tips for coping with the active stage of labor:

  • Switch positions frequently
  • Try walking or take a warm bath
  • Drink water
  • Urinate frequently
  • Your support person can offer you verbal reassurance, help make you comfortable with props and pillows, keep track of the contractions, and provide distractions (music, simple games)

The Transition Phase

The transition phase is when the cervix dilates to 7-10 cm (fully dilated). This is the scary part, and the peak of the roller coaster. The whole time you were just chugging up that steep incline, and now here you are staring the endless reality that is motherhood right in the eyes. This is undeniably the most painful stage of labor, but it also goes by pretty fast—between a half an hour to two hours for most women—and at this point, your contractions are overlapping. This is the part to mentally prepare yourself for if you forego an epidural. Hot flashes, chills, nausea, vomiting, and gas are common occurrences during this phase.

Tips for coping with the transition phase:

  • Have your support person offer encouragement and praise
  • Avoid small talk
  • Focus on relaxation throughout the contractions
  • Know that anger and strong emotions are common during this phase

Quote by author. Anger and high emotions are to be expected during the active and transition stages of labor.
Quote by author. Anger and high emotions are to be expected during the active and transition stages of labor. | Source

What Is Epidural Anesthesia? What Are the Risks?

There are many benefits to epidural anesthesia, but some mothers elect to forgo this option in order to experience all that childbirth has to offer—the good and the bad. Epidural anesthesia allows for regional analgesia or pain relief. The nerves of the target area of the spinal chord are blocked with local anesthetics which are often combined with opioids or narcotics to extend the efficacy of the block. The epidural is usually placed when the cervix is dilated at 4-5 cm and numbness occurs within 10-20 minutes upon first administration. The anesthetic drugs are administered via syringe pump or by periodic injection.

One such concern for epidural anesthesia is the risk of low blood pressure or hypotension. Hypotension is thought to occur due to the suppression of the sympathetic nervous system in the body and the blockage of the cardiac branch of the sympathetic nerve, thus lowering heart rate and causing a rebound effect on blood pressure.

Epidural anesthesia is a localized technique to block nerve communication in regions that would otherwise be susceptible to intense sensation during labor and delivery.
Epidural anesthesia is a localized technique to block nerve communication in regions that would otherwise be susceptible to intense sensation during labor and delivery. | Source

Side Effects and Risks of Epidural Anesthesia for Labor

Focus
Side Effects
Intervention
Mom
Low blood pressure or hypotension
Requires IV fluids, oxygen, drugs, monitoring
Baby
Temporary respiratory depression, lethargy, heart rate variability
Increased monitoring, emergency intervention
Labor
Extended duration of labor; fetal malpositioning
Intervention with forceps, vacuum, cesarean or c-section delivery, episiotomy or enlargement of the vaginal opening
Post-Delivery
Permanent nerve damage (rare), ringing of ears, backache, nausea, numbness; post-dural headache (due to spinal fluid leakage in 1% of women)
Endure symptoms until faded; urinary catheterization
Walking, bouncing on an exercise ball, and stretching helps to relieve contractions.
Walking, bouncing on an exercise ball, and stretching helps to relieve contractions. | Source

What Do Contractions Feel Like Without an Epidural?

Contractions without an epidural are not a big deal, rather, they are annoying and painful. I'd compare them to the worst period cramps you've ever felt or the pain you experience during a stomach bug. They're fleeting, they come, they leave, you breathe, and so on. Walking, bouncing on an exercise ball, and stretching helped relieve them for me.

Roll With It

Milliard Anti-Burst Peanut Ball Variety Pack - Approximate Sizes: Green 39x20" (100x50cm) & Blue 31x15" (80x40cm) Physio Roll
Milliard Anti-Burst Peanut Ball Variety Pack - Approximate Sizes: Green 39x20" (100x50cm) & Blue 31x15" (80x40cm) Physio Roll

One of the things my maternity nurse had me do to alleviate pain and focus on my contractions in the early stages of my epi-free labor was to bounce and roll on a giant inflatable exercise ball. The cool thing about these peanut-shaped exercise balls is that you'll be able to really press your back into the curves for a deeper, more relieving stretch. Plus, give 'em a good wipe down when you get home from the hospital and you can use them for some gentle post-partum exercise while baby naps.

 

Tips for Handling the Transition Phase of Birth Drug-Free

Here are things that helped me to navigate the murky waters of an epidural-free transition:

  • Find a Focus Point: Whether it's a neutral object, like the telephone on your bedside table, or even something more motivating like the outfit you've brought to bring baby home in, use a focus point to remind you that all of this work culminates in something worthwhile . . . just don't stare at the clock like I did. It will just frustrate you!
  • Get Off Your Back: Have the bed adjusted so that half of it is at a 90-degree angle. Position yourself on your knees and brace your arms and body against the angled part of the bed.
  • Use Your Voice: Make noise. It's embarrassing, but you're bringing a new life into this world, you're entitled to humiliating yourself a bit.
  • Practice Aromatherapy: Consider placing a few drops of lavender oil on a cotton ball so you can inhale it if it seems soothing, or diffuse a couple of calming scents using a portable essential oil diffuser.
  • Darken the Room: Get the room as dark as you can, shut lights off, and close the blinds. Too much light can be overwhelming at this point.
  • Ask Your Partner Not to Touch You: Just trust me. S/he is safer that way.
  • Get Naked: At this point, clothes are probably just going to literally rub you the wrong way. Get them off. You're a wild woman! You're about to bring forth another life! Dress the part.
  • Grab a Rubber Band: If you have long hair, whip that mess up into a bun. The less distractions for your body, the better.

Giving birth without an epidural is easier when you focus on tranquil and peaceful thoughts or imagery,
Giving birth without an epidural is easier when you focus on tranquil and peaceful thoughts or imagery, | Source

What Is The Worst Part About Not Getting an Epidural?

The worst part about not getting an epidural is the transition stage of labor. In my opinion, this was the darkest part of labor and delivery. It's also the shortest stage of labor prior to pushing.

What Does Pushing Without an Epidural Feel Like?

Pushing without an epidural feels pretty awesome and I don't mean that sarcastically. Pushing med-free is great because it alleviates the pain and pressure of labor. You feel every muscle and contraction needed for productive pushing and it's physically on par with taking a really tough poop at this point. In fact, if you want an idea of what pushing without an epidural feels like, pooping is the closest thing you're going to get: discomfort and relief at the same time.

I didn't use an epidural or any pain medication. I kept my eyes closed and concentrated on my husband's voice and hummed through the contractions. It was the most empowering thing I've ever done. I would do labor over again in a heartbeat; the nine months preceding it is the hard part.

— Meredith, Bradenton, FL

What About "The Ring of Fire?" Does That Hurt Without an Epidural?

No, in my experience, the "ring of fire" is some weird myth. The pain of labor cancels out all lesser pains, "ring of fire" included. It's nothing more than a sensation, even without an epidural. The "ring of fire" is a term used to describe what some women feel when the baby enters the vagina and their labia and perineum (between the vagina and rectum) stretch to accommodate the baby's head; it is a burning sensation, and an episiotomy or incision may be made to ease delivery.

What Is Recovery Like After Not Receiving an Epidural?

Recovery is like listening to the opening of Florence + The Machine's "Dog Days Are Over." Thanks to all of that oxytocin your body releases during delivery, the first moments after giving birth unmedicated are nothing short of euphoric since there's nothing there to dull it. I, like many women who give birth without an epidural, physically and emotionally recovered quickly, and I was sent home feeling fairly strong and healthy just 24 hours after delivering my daughter, with no side effects or lasting issues.

In contrast, my recovery with my medicated birth was sluggish and hazy, and while I did recover fully, it took much longer. That's okay, but it wasn't as enjoyable as my experience unmedicated.

Labor was by far the hardest physical activity I have ever participated in. But once you get to the pushing stage and have that feeling that is similar to having a bowel movement, you are almost done. And you know that if you can just make it through the last little part, you will meet this wonderful little person you have dreamed about for so long!

— Kari, Onalaska, WI

What Is the Best Part About Not Getting an Epidural?

The best part about not getting an epidural is pushing and the recovery. As I said before, pushing was so easy and unexpectedly joyous. My first experience had been traumatic in that I couldn't feel the lower half of my body post-epidural, but my second birth was amazing. I loved feeling what my body was telling me to do, and I was empowered by how easily it happened when my body was left to its own instincts.

Would I Give Birth Again Without an Epidural?

Some women experience birth and claim, "I never want to give birth again," but yes, I most definitely would give birth without an epidural again. The transition phase was awful, however, it was just one hour out of many, and the remaining hours were much better because I was unmedicated. Plus, I have THIS amazing person to show for it (pictured below).

Many women want to know whether or not they can tolerate labor pain without an epidural or pain relief. Unfortunately, the only way to truly know is to experience it.

My beautiful baby girl.
My beautiful baby girl. | Source

So, What About You?

Have you had at least one medicated and one unmedicated birth? What overall experience did you prefer? If you had a medicated birth by means other than an epidural leave a comment below!

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Have a Question About Going Sans Epidural?

Ask away in the comments below!

Questions & Answers

  • I've been on modified bed rest during my entire pregnancy, and I am somewhat overweight. Is it wise to give birth without medication if you are out of shape?

    This would definitely be a good question to ask your doctor. However, from personal experience, I wasn't in shape when I gave birth unmedicated. I'd been in bed for the first four months of my pregnancy because of hyperemesis gravidarum, and for the rest of my pregnancy, I didn't move around much either because too much activity would stir the HG back up. I didn't have any complications.

© 2016 Kierstin Gunsberg

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    • profile image

      Katy 

      4 weeks ago

      I was in labor at home for about 24 hrs. Didn't go to the hospital because I didn't want to be strapped down. When I finally did go, I arrived at the hospital 10cm dilated and only had to push once. Honestly the entire experience was not that painful. I felt nothing when her head was crowning, or the "ring of fire". I would definitely give birth again. 90% at home without medications.

    • profile image

      Kristi 

      4 weeks ago

      Claribel,

      I too am due with our little lady in July...she seems to want to come here soon so not sure if we will make it to the 7th or not.

      I have a deformed back. From what I gathered is you need to let the person doing the epidural know how far up your spine the deformity is...what medical terminology is used so they can better decide what to do. I was told that if they could not stick me then I had two options...one is natural with other pain relief and if something goes wrong and I do need to have a c section...then they put me to sleep to do that. The only scariest thing about being put to sleep is they have just a few minutes to get baby girl out before she starts to get that medicine.

      I am lucky to have a mom as a nurse and she knows more than I do with medical terminology and talked to the right people and they think there is a chance they can stick me with an epidural...I am still bringing my reports on my mri of my back with me just Incase. Good luck momma!!

    • profile image

      Christina 

      7 weeks ago

      Both my girls were born naturally. With my first I would agree with you that transition was the hardest, darkest part and pushing was that weird balance of hard but also a relief. I pushed about 45min-1hr time. However with my second, while transition was still painful, I found the pushing phase to actually be harder and experienced the ring of Fire. Thankfully I did it in about 4 (excruciating) pushes. So I have had two pretty different natural birth experiences.

    • profile image

      Mica H. 

      2 months ago

      This is a great article. I’m really considering having a natural birth and al of this information helps :)

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      4 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Camren, I'm sorry you had a bad first birth experience. My first experience wasn't as joyful as my second and I hear that a lot from friends. I wonder too, if there's a tendency to be less afraid going into the subsequent births after the first which is more than anyone can really even imagine.

      I think you're going to see such a difference between an epidural birth and an epidural-free birth. I didn't have an experience as traumatic as yours when I had my epidural, but I just didn't enjoy it and had to deal with a lot of side effects. I think that some of us are more sensitive to heavy drugs than others.

      Congratulations on your new baby and I hope this next experience makes up for the first.

    • profile image

      Camren 

      4 months ago

      I has an epederal my first pregnancy and had a very bad reaction because they gave me too much of the drug. My blood pressure dropped to a dangerous level and my baby's heart rate slowed. They had to give me chemical endorfins i beleave it was called efedren. Or me and my baby could have died. It was traumatizing and i am still haunted by that experience. We are both fine and I have a beautiful little girl. I am now pregnant with my second and have been looking for answers about giving birth without an epederal. I just want to say thank you for your article. I am going to go without this time around.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      4 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Geeze, that's tricky. Since I'm not a doctor I can't say for sure why they're recommending that. The most educated guess I can take is that if they're referring you to a neurologist, their concern is more complicated than whether or not you should deliver with a pain medication, especially because the most common form of pain medication used during a c-section IS an epidural.

      Before you go to the appointment with your neurologist you should write down all of your questions and concerns so you can get clearer answers.

    • profile image

      Claribel 

      4 months ago

      Kierstin, they told me to go to my neurologist and ask her if it’s ok for me to receive spinal medication. I already made the appointment, but then they told me that if I couldn’t get the medication I would have to have a cesarean, that kind of through me for a loop because what does one thing have to do with the other. In any case that I wouldn’t be able to receive spinal medication I should be able to give birth without it. Right?

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      4 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Claribel, I'm kind of surprised that your doctor's reasoning is that they want you to have the option of an epidural. There are other pain management options besides the epi and in my experience, my doctors have actually tried to discourage the epidural.

      Is there another doctor at the practice you can talk to who can maybe clarify things for you?

    • profile image

      Claribel 

      4 months ago

      I have a really messed up spine to say the least with a few herniation and pinched nerves. I just want to know if with these medical conditions I will still be able to give birth naturally. I don’t mind not getting an epidural I will stick it through no matter what, but my question is would I have to have a Cesarean? My doctors scared me to be honest and now I’m terrified. I think I can do a vaginal birth, but they’re concerned that I can’t get an epidural due to the condition of my spine. And I think I should be given the option to give natural birth and not be medicated. After reading this I feel confident that I will ok in giving birth and I’m not worried. If anyone has had similar medical conditions or can help me ease my mind I would really appreciate it. My miracle baby girl gets here in July and I can’t wait to meet her.

    • profile image

      Mariah Hessel 

      4 months ago

      I'm going to choose to go fully unmedicated for my first child (not counting the prenatal vitamins), but I am super excited after reading this because I have been really scared recently about giving birth. I am having my little one in June!

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      5 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Thank you for reading and for sharing your experience, Tabitha! It's almost like maybe our bodies are just more in tune with how to recover the second time around, regardless of if there's medication or not. I definitely felt a lot more energized after giving birth to my second and maybe it had to do with not having the epidural but maybe a lot of it had to do with not being so darn terrified about what had just happened since I'd already done it before!!

    • profile image

      Tabitha 

      5 months ago

      I have had 2 and am almost done with 3. I had an epidural with both prior because when the pain got really bad I decided being calm and “relaxed” was more important to me than “proving I could do it” (I’m a thrower, things will get thrown). It’s my first I had the epidural for about 3 hours before delivery and I tore and subsequently had stitches, it was not a terrible recovery but it did take longer. I was still released 24 hours post partum. With my sencond, well I was told later if the resident dr taking the lead on my case had checked me instead of just issuing the epidural I would not have had it, because the pain I was feeling was transition and it was time to push before they gave it to me. My recovery was very quick with my second. I mean within a few hours after delivery I was bouncing off the walls and they made me take a walk to calm down. I’m naturally hyper so this is not surprising to me and traditionally I heal quickly. So the bouncing back thing may have more to do with 1) extent of damage, 2) length of time, and 3) personal healing time. Just food for thought.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      6 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Casey, thank you for reading!! I'm really glad to hear that these tips helped you :) One thing that also helped me going into my med-free birth was keeping an open mind. I didn't tell myself I had to do things one way or the other, I just let things happen as they happen. No matter how things turn out and what decisions you make during your labor and delivery, it's a very empowering experience and whatever choices you make will be the exact right ones for you and your baby!! I hope these next few weeks fly by - you'll be holding that baby before you know it.

    • profile image

      Casey 

      6 months ago

      I'm currently 35 weeks pregnant with my first child and am trying to under go natural birth. These are all really helpful tips that will hopefully prepare me for the big day. Thank you!

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      7 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Maliki, as a fellow sufferer I'm so sorry to hear that.

    • profile image

      Maliki 

      7 months ago

      I had suffered from HG full 8 months

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      9 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Alex, it's so interesting to me how different each labor is for each woman. I don't remember being very nauseated which is HILARIOUS because I am a hyperemesis gravidarum sufferer. They did break my water with my second. They wanted to break it as soon as I got there but I knew from the first time around that once that happened the baby would come fast so I kept telling them no because I just honestly didn't feel like pushing yet, like I somehow wanted to postpone all of the drama. They finally got sick of me putting it off, came in and broke it and I had her about two hours later.

      It's okay, I don't really regret it, but it was a different experience than the first time around when it broke on it's own.

    • profile image

      Alex 

      9 months ago

      I had both mine without because I was more afraid of the epidural. I would say it mostly just feels like bad cramps until the very end. It was no worse than my period except I was much more nauseated.

      For my second birth, the doctor broke my water on purpose and the baby came shooting out, so that was pretty awful, so make sure to scream at them not to break your water on purpose. There is no reason for it.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      10 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Holy cow, Karen, thanks for sharing that. I hope it's okay if I ask, but did you tear? Also, after having both kinds of births, why do you think that you're choosing to shoot for another epi-free birth? I'm curious because if I had another baby I would also try to have an epidural-free labor because I felt so much better afterward and I'm wondering if it's the same for you.

    • profile image

      Karen 

      10 months ago

      When I had my third baby I did it without an epidural. I'm about to have my fourth and am planning to go epi free again. But when I was pushing my son out without an epidural, it felt like two people were ripping my vagina apart and setting it on fire at the same time. That's all.

    • profile image

      Esther 

      11 months ago

      I gave birth to a healthy baby girl about seven weeks ago without an epidural because I chose not to have it before going into labor. I gave birth in a hospital with the assistance of a doula which I think made all of the difference in my ability to deal with the pain and not succumb to the medical staff pushing meds on me. In my experience my recovery was horrible notwithstanding the fact that I had no epidural. It took me several weeks before I was able to walk normally. Also, for me the most painful part was the transition as I felt like I was ripping in two. However, it was the shortest part and before I knew it I was ready to push. The pushing part felt like I was committing out of my vagina. I never expected that and I am surprised that no one was honest with me about the pain and feelings I could expect. I am like the author that I wanted as much information as possible to prepare myself but I find that people's responses were sorely lacking. I'm glad that the author was honest in this article about her experience. Would I do it again? Yes.

    • profile image

      Kelsie 

      11 months ago

      This is a great post, as my hubby and I are TTC and I am terrified for the birthing process! I am curious though, and I hope this isn't too personal/rude, but one reason I'm not entirely sure about the epidural is the effect I've heard it can have on the baby. Since you've done both (epidural and natural), did you notice a difference in your babies after birth?

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      15 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Alex, thanks for commenting!

      There were definitely many huge positives to having an epi-free birth for me! I try to be careful about saying that any one way is the right way to have a baby because I don't agree with that. We all do things in different ways and as long as we're doing our research, staying true to ourselves, and celebrating the pregnancy and birthing journey as much as possible, then I think there's no right or wrong way to do it :)

      Personally, I chose a hospital birth for financial reasons and because I had some health problems throughout both pregnancies. I don't regret it at all! I have friends and family who have had home births and even a free birth thrown in there.

      There are just so many ways to bring those sweet babies into the world.

    • profile image

      Alex 

      15 months ago

      First, women do not chose natural birth because it is some heroic feat. They choose it because they are well educated and know it is best for a healthy mother and baby. If they are really well educated they will typically choose a home birth so that it is also most likely to be unhindered...Families who want a truly unhindered birth choose free birth.

      The entire process can be pleasurable, ecstatic, and at times orgasmic if you prepare your body and mind well before birth. It may be intense but not painful. This is a truth that women need to start hearing. When all we hear is how scary and painful it is that is the mindset you go in with and fear gets you pain.

      Knowing the chemical/physiologic process well will help more women and families have pleasurable experiences from start to finish.

    • profile image

      Lily Martinson 

      15 months ago

      I just gave birth to my 2nd child about 2 weeks ago. I walked into the hospital when I was already in active labor. If you know you want to at least try going med-free, try to labor at home for as long as you feel comfortable.

      When I got into my room, I told the nurse that I wished to try laboring without an epi for as long as I could stand it, but it wasn't completely off the table. I signed a consent form for one, but after hearing that it would take 20 mins to put it in, it didn't sound as good. I didn't want people talking to me or touching me during the contractions that came every other minute. I just focused on something and breathed through it.

      I'll admit I had a very small dose of Stadol. Which makes you sleepy, but does not take away the pain at all. That lasted all of 15 mins. I believe the brief period of a little relief is what did me in. My water broke and it happened quickly after that. I even asked for an epi, too late! It was time to push. The meds completely wore off and my body was pumped with adrenaline. 10 mins later of natural pushing and she was out!

      I gave birth both times at a military hospital where they don't have things like birthing tubs. I would have been in there if they did!

      I had fentanyl with my 1st baby. The experience was night and day. I was more alert and awake for the 2nd. Recovery was quicker and I felt more present instead of loopy from drugs. I've never had an epidural, and I'm happy to say that I can get through birth without it.

    • profile image

      Kalasini 

      15 months ago

      Thanks for this post! I am preparing for my first birth drug free!

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      15 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Cristin, I'm so glad you commented with your experience! I wonder if the reason pushing felt like a relief to me is because the transition was so awful so, in comparison pushing was nothing. You were smart to be in the water, I bet it really alleviated things for you and if I could do it all over again I would totally request a tub! The problem is that at my hospital, unless you flat out tell them ahead of time "I refuse an epidural" they won't book you the deluxe water-birth room (lol, I don't think that's the name, but it does sound luxurious) so by the time I missed my epi I didn't have a chance to request getting in the water. Boo!

      I couldn't agree more on the episiotomy! I had one with my first and though it was necessary in my situation, it just made the recovery so long and painful.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 

      16 months ago from Midwest

      My experience differs from yours somewhat. I hated pushing... that was the worst part for me with an unmedicated (by choice) birth. The recovery though is the best ever! My first child they missed with the epidural, his birth was much harder and topped off with spinal headaches. After that fiasco, I determined I would go natural "on purpose" with my second, and it was indeed very empowering and of course much easier to gauge when I needed to push etc. I also had a tub in my room - if you can do a natural water labor/birth that is highly recommended. MUCH easier transition that way. Although, by the time I felt the need to push the water was annoying me and I wanted out of the tub and gave birth sitting upright on the bed. :). I guess every woman is different in which parts she feels are the most painful, but for me pushing with both babies was the horrendous part, no relief, felt like I was being split in two and set on fire at the same time lol but once the baby was out - much better! I made the nurses mad because I was getting out of bed less than an hour after giving birth to the second baby. I had to pee and I wasn't waiting around... lol.

      Also, I highly recommend NOT getting an episiotomy. The midwife who did my second delivery did not do it and my recovery was SO much better. I had the episiotomy with my first, and wow, it was so painful to go to the bathroom after that I thought I was giving birth again. When I had the second baby with no episiotomy it never hurt to go the to bathroom after. I also healed up much nicer and faster.

    • kiddiecreations profile image

      Nicole Kiddie Granath 

      19 months ago

      Thank you for describing in-depth how an unmediated birth feels. I got the epidural with my three-year-old and my one-month-old, so I have not yet experienced a med-free birth. I am curious about what it would be like, and getting the epidural does give me anxiety in the moment. I have two sons and someday we'll probably try for a girl, so maybe I'll do it sans medication like you did... If I can work up the courage! Haha

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      21 months ago from Oakley, CA

      Well, my first child was born sans medication, but not by choice. Everything just happened so fast after a very weird beginning, that the only medication I got was a sniff of nitrous oxide, and a local for the episiotomy.

      In fact, she was delivered by staff doctors, because my OB thought "First baby, I've got plenty of time to get to the hospital." He got there in time for the stitching-up!

      With the second child, I did have an epidural, but I was on the verge of saying I didn't want it after all, because I seemed to be handling the contractions well, having read a lot about natural birth in the couple of years between kids. However, they had already shot me with a sedative, and my mind wasn't thinking fast enough.

      The very down side to that experience, was that they placed the injection too high in the spine; I couldn't even feel myself breathing, and felt nauseated; I panicked. They gave me oxygen for the nausea, and I was instantly "out." I woke up in recovery not knowing what gender my child was. (A girl.) This was before ultrasounds were done. It was always a surprise.

      In retrospect, though, I never had a labor pain as bad as the horrible cramps I used to get every month; cramps that would have me curled up in bed with a hot water bottle and crying; missing school for a day or day and a half.

      Very interesting article, and very brave to put yourself out there like that! And congrats on making it to the Hub Pages page on Facebook, where I found your article!

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      21 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      I gave birth to three children without any medication. Women have been coping with it for hundreds of thousands of years. It seems odd to me that an epidural seems to be the default during childbirth. At our local hospital, it is not even offered. They do offer medication, but it is much milder.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      21 months ago from Central Florida

      Kierstin, I had my son naturally, in a birthing center, not a hospital. A mid-wife delivered him. There were no drugs whatsoever and the pain was tremendous. I remember thanking my midwife for never telling me NOT to push when I had to push. It's an involuntary reaction that I wouldn't have been able to stop if my life depended on it. And I pooped while I pushed. It was embarrassing, but my midwife said it happens all the time.

      Because my midwife believed in letting the birthing area tear naturally, I wasn't given an episiotomy. It wasn't until she was stitching me up that I was allowed a shot of something to alleviate the pain.

      There we no gadgets hooked up to me or my son when he was born. I was shown how to breastfeed him and had to remain in the birthing center for at least four hours to let the pain med I was given while she sewed up my torn skin, then we were released. Because my son was born in a birthing center, the state of Florida requires his live birth be certified by a licensed OB/GYN/Pediatrician. We accomplished that, Christopher had his birth certified and we were home when he was just 10 hours old.

      I've only had one child, but if I were to do it again, I wouldn't have done anything differently.

      Oh yeah - I never had an ultrasound done either. His gender was a complete surprise. That's exactly how his dad and I wanted it.

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