Kierstin is a mom to two little girls and host of the satirical podcast Really Good Advice for New Moms.
Does It Hurt to Give Birth Without an Epidural?
It hurts like nothing I could ever describe despite my wide vocabulary, yet I’ll try. Read on!
How Each Stage of Labor Feels When You Don’t Have an Epidural
First, I can’t stress enough—however birth goes down for you, whatever you take, whatever you refuse, whichever way your baby ends up being brought into this world is something you should be proud of. In 2013, I gave birth to my first daughter and had an epidural during that labor. A year and a half later, I was preparing to give birth for the second time and searched relentlessly to see what other women experience when they choose to give birth without an epidural. I found a few great posts on the mom forums, but for the most part could only find info that was super medical and possibly not even written by a woman. Sweet!
So, here’s my personal account of what it was like for me, an actual real woman without any sort of medical degree whatsoever, to give birth without an epidural, through each stage of labor straight through delivery and recovery.
Early Labor—Everything Is Great; I’m Fine
The first phase of Stage 1 is called Early Labor. Anyway. There I was, having a peaceful afternoon with my husband, watching a really weird Joaquin Phoenix movie (but which one?), when I started to feel the familiar cramping of Braxton Hicks. If you’ve experienced them, the best way to understand what early labor feels like is Braxton Hicks that last longer and come closer together, like mine started to by the time we were halfway through the movie. While you might normally have a handful of Braxton Hicks each day towards the end of your pregnancy, you’ll know the difference between these and labor contractions by how far apart they are. True early labor contractions will come anywhere from five to thirty minutes apart. Also, your water might break at this stage (though mine did not this time).
As the credits rolled, I looked over at my blissfully unaware husband and told him that the movie was mostly not my favorite and, also, we should probably start packing our bags for the hospital (she was early; I promise I’m not that lazy).
How It Was Different From Getting an Epidural
It was not, yet. At this stage of labor, almost no one is thinking about (or receiving) an epidural because contractions during early labor often feel no more bothersome than mild period cramps.
Active Labor—Time to Go to The Hospital
After early labor comes active labor. I knew, and you will too, that active labor had begun because it was becoming harder to breathe through my contractions, and when they came I would have to take a deep breath. Another way to differentiate active labor from early labor is that walking through active labor is much harder. You’ll have to stop and brace yourself each time a contraction comes on. This is when we left for the hospital (I live ten minutes from mine; if you live further, make sure you have a solid timeline with your doctor about when the best time for you to leave would be).
After being admitted to the hospital, I changed into my pajamas and discussed with my labor and delivery nurse how I wanted things to go down. I told her that I really wanted to try to not get the epidural this time, and she agreed she’d do everything in power to support me through that, starting with gently bouncing around on an inflatable exercise ball. My hospital provided this one to me, but if yours doesn’t and you plan to try for an epi-free birth, this really helped me to ease through contractions and manage my pain through movement—especially because, much to my nurse’s chagrin, I didn’t want to walk those long hospital halls while laboring.
How It Was Different From Getting an Epidural
At this point, if I had received an epidural I wouldn’t have been able to bounce on the exercise ball, and I also wouldn’t have been given the option of taking a walk. Each hospital varies, but in my experience, once you have the epidural, you have to labor in the hospital bed. You’re also unable to change positions.
Transition—Look, I Don’t Want to Scare You, But This Is Where It Gets Rough
Following active labor come the shortest phase of labor before your baby is born—transition. Transition is also, by and far, the toughest part of giving birth without an epidural. At this point, you’re just about ready to push as your cervix makes it to 10 centimeters. For this part, I labored mostly on all fours while consistently screaming at my husband to stop trying to comfort me and begging my nurse to go get the epidural guy (spoiler alert: she didn’t).
How It Was Different From Getting an Epidural
Listen, I’m not a hero, I’m not going to pretend I acted great here. But I also don’t want to lead you on to think that it’s only going to hurt a tiny bit more med-free. During transition, it hurts whole universes more than if you had just gotten the darn epi.
My stomach and pelvis were the epicenter of a pain so intense it radiated up and down in all directions the way a stubbed toe does, but full-body. But I was also able to labor in whatever position was most comfortable for me during this stage, and though it was the worst physical pain I’ve ever experienced, it also is the part of labor that is the shortest. It can last anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours, and mine fell somewhere around the longer end but was still shorter than the early and active phases of my 12-hour-total labor.
But also, if someone is like, “It’s not that bad,” they’re just trying to act cool. It IS that bad.
The second stage of labor is pushing! This can supposedly last anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours, but the truth is that it varies for everyone. With my first daughter, I pushed for 3 hours before I received intervention, and with my second daughter, the epi-free one, I’m not sure I even pushed for 10 whole minutes before her beautiful blond head emerged.
How It Was Different From Getting an Epidural
I could really feel what I was doing! When I had an epidural during my first birth, I couldn’t feel anything below my ribcage, and this was problematic when it came to pushing.
When it was time for me to push this time around (and you will know because suddenly the pain of transition tapers off into pressure in your vaginal area to which your response will be to, well, push!), it was like my body and brain were working in perfect synchrony to get my baby out.
The pain here for me was actually very minimal, though I know others have different experiences. With each push, I felt relief from the pain of my baby’s head crowning, and once it did, the worst was over (once your baby’s head crowns, the nurses and doctor may actually help pull your baby out at that point as you give one more push).
Pushing the Placenta Out
Stage III of labor is when your baby is out and it’s time to make one final push to get the placenta out.
How It Was Different From Getting an Epidural
I know this is different for everyone, but by this stage I was holding my new baby and experiencing a rush of euphoria that I didn’t with my medicated birth. Pushing out the placenta wasn't very memorable, maybe because I was so distracted by how cool my new baby was.
I didn’t feel much pain, but I felt some pressure for sure. I don’t think it was different from when I had my epidural birth, to be honest, except that I felt more alert and with it this time.
After you birth the placenta, it’s time for you to recover from, you know, bringing a new human into the world. Recovery doesn’t end when you leave the hospital; it goes on for a long time afterward. In my own opinion, I feel like it’s at least a month, just physically speaking.
How It Was Different From Getting an Epidural
I bled a LOT after my epidural birth, for weeks afterward, and though that’s pretty normal, I didn’t experience that with my unmedicated birth. The bleeding ended fairly quickly, which I think is partially because I didn’t push for nearly as long the second time around. I also didn’t experience the dizziness that I did post-epidural with my unmedicated birth. Is that epidural-related? I don’t know, but that’s my experience.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Epidurals During Labor
Before you have your mind set one way or the other, ask your doctor these questions about epidurals before you make your final decision:
- Are there any medical reasons I'm unable to have an epidural?
- What are the risks and side effects associated with an epidural?
- Can I eat or drink during labor if I have an epidural?
- Will I be able to ask for an epidural whenever I want or do I need to have a plan going in if I want one?
Questions About Unmedicated Birth
Do You Still Get a Hep-Lock Even if You Don't Get an Epidural?
In some situations, yes.
Some hospitals require a hep-lock—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 one placed in my hand in my non-epidural birth as protocol because I passed out after my first delivery (I was pretty tired, so).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!
What Are Some Techniques That Help With Pain in an Unmedicated Birth?
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 cool mist 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. They're 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.
So, What About You?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: I'm about to deliver my 4th and I've had epidurals all three times but I'd really love to go without it this time. If you were going in for a third delivery, would you get the epidural or go unmedicated?
Answer: I would try my absolute hardest to go unmedicated, only because for me, the effects of the epidural were so negative! Every woman is different, and I have friends who do fine with the epidural, but I'm a lightweight and it really gives me a "drugged up" feeling that makes it incredibly difficult for me to concentrate during labor, which I find more comforting than pain relief.
I will be honest, during transition, I deeply regretted not getting the epidural. That lasted just under two hours of the total experience. My recovery was much quicker when I went epi-free.
© 2016 Kierstin Gunsberg
Nicole Ng on August 11, 2020:
Im surprised so many women prefered unmedicated. My first birth I had an epidural and my second happened too quickly to get one.
Both my births were "fast". (It's not as ideal as people who haven't had one think it is.)
My first, my contractions started 5 mins apart. I got my epidural but when I was about ready to push the babies heart dropped. It was a vacuum delivery. Despite this everything felt under control for me. I could concentrate on what was happening and push comfortably. I tore pretty deeply but getting stitched up was easy. I could still feel what was happening during the birth but it wasn't very painful. The next day I actually felt pretty good.
My second, I ended up being induced because when I saw my midwife during early labour the baby responded oddly during a test she did. Heart rate dropped. They decided to induce me. I labored way faster then they predicted, no time for epidural. Pushing felt totally out of control. I tore again, but less severe. Being stitched up after was horrible. I felt couldn't hold my baby because the pain of freezing and stitches I was worried I would drop her. The next day the tension I felt through labor left me feeling beaten by a bat. It was horrible...
Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on May 12, 2020:
Anu, thanks for sharing your experience! It sounds like your epidural was less potent than mine, maybe even what they call a "Walking Epidural."
It is definitely possible to deliver your second baby without the epidural but it sounds like you had a good experience with one so if you decided to have another, well, that would be understandable!
Anu on May 12, 2020:
i just read through your post. my first delivery was with epidural. i asked for epidural when the pain was at the extreme. but still i was able to realize when it is painful so that i can push the baby out. i am planning for the second child, im thinking whether is it medically possible to deliver second child without epidural.
Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on October 23, 2019:
Rreny, I wouldn't want to use laughing gas to manage my labor pain because it makes me super loopy. It's the stuff you get at the dentist when you're a kid - for me, I needed my wits about me to push. But also, to each their own! If it works for someone else that's awesome.
Rreny on October 21, 2019:
I have also heard that Laughing Gas can also help and manage labor pain. http://bit.ly/2MWrghr
Do you think it will can work as a better alternative for epidurals?
Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on July 24, 2019:
Whit, I love comments like this! They help those who are researching epidurals to realize that every woman's experience is different. Thanks for sharing and thanks for reading!
Whit on July 24, 2019:
I made it through 7 hours of labor and couldn’t take it anymore. I went for the epidural then. Unlike your experience, I had the epidural and pushed my son out in 20 minutes.
Carey on January 28, 2019:
I had a natural birth. My son was 9 lbs 4 oz and I was in labor for 5 hours total, start to finish. My contractions were only 2 minutes apart from the time my waters broke, and they became very intense very quickly. By the time I decided I wanted an epidural, I had also missed my window of opportunity. My body forced itself to rest in between contractions. I would actually fall asleep, even during the pushing phase, only to be woken up a minute later as the next contraction began! I agree that the ring of fire is a myth. I had 3rd degree tears and didn’t even realize it until my doctor said she had to stitch me up after the placenta was born. In the moment you feel contractions more than anything else. Honestly it wasn’t all that bad, and I would do it again a million times over for my boy. So worth it!
KAT V. on January 17, 2019:
I am currently 25 weeks pregnant and have yet to experience this wonderful, exciting moment. When I first found out I was pregnant, I was sure I wanted all the drugs in the world, no questions asked. But.. at about 20 weeks or so, I determined I wanted to go without epidural. I started doing research on labor and delivery without and educating myself and realized that it's all mind over matter. I fully understand that it'll hurt, there will be painful pain involved from beginning to end but it's all temporary. With that in mind, I think I will do great and reading this article along with so many other ones, with and without epidural, it has reassured me and I feel I am mentally ready and excited for the day to come. I can not wait to meet my baby BOY! #April29
Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on January 04, 2019:
Stephanie, thanks for reading this and leaving a comment. I'm so sorry you had such a traumatic first birth experience. My first birth left me feeling frustrated and traumatized too, perhaps partly because giving birth when you've never done it before is just naturally scary! Whether you go with an epidural, no epidural, or another route altogether, I hope your next birth experience is more peaceful.
My two births were vastly different from one another and I can say that my last birth experience was actually pretty awesome and I look back on it fondly! It's easier when you go in knowing what certain pains and feelings to expect.
Stephanie P on January 02, 2019:
I had an epidural. After inducing for 4 days unsuccessfully (my fluid was dangerously low so I had to be induced), I knew the pain of actual labor would be too much. After 2 hours, I could feel anything below my neck. I ended up having to vomit and couldn't, causing a huge scary ordeal of nearly choking without feeling it. It was awful and they weaned me off for 7 hours before I finally dialated enough to begin pushing. It was a horrible and scary experience for me and my husband. We are having our aecond and I will not do another epidural.
Yes this is one woman's experience. Don't bash her for sharing. Do your research, read other stories and make an educated decision. No one will have the same birthing story or experience, but I appreciate the insight into a non-medicated birth because most people I know took meds or can't remember enough detail to answer my questions.
A. Hickmam on December 24, 2018:
This is one person experience and does not speak for all, I had natural childbirth in a home, I also had a midwife, it was the worst pain I hope to feel in my life, sure you will get through it, millions of women have but I don’t think the pain is to be down played at all, also the scriptures say, ”in pain, shall she bring forth children” and the scriptures don’t lie. just my two-cents.
Dinithi Weerasooriya on September 26, 2018:
This article is very helpful ♥️ I’m going through my first pregnancy and I’m enjoying it. And I want to have a natural birth without the medication. I’m bit scared but I think I can go through it. Thanks again for the beautiful ideas.
Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on September 12, 2018:
Oh, that sounds awful! My first experience with childbirth was not great either, it was pretty bad actually and turned me off completely from having another. I did go on to have one more baby (of my own volition) and my birth experience with her was strangely satisfying but I'm also done having children because I have hyperemesis gravidarum and for me and my family, having another baby would be a really unhealthy decision so more power to you for knowing your boundaries and only having as many children as you felt comfortable with.
As for the PTSD, not that you're looking for advice, but talking to a therapist might help to ease some of that trauma and help you find resources to deal with it so you can focus on the future and let go of what happened.
One and done! on September 11, 2018:
I was in labor for 60 hrs... They tried to get the epidural to work but it failed 3 times. Thats 3 needles in my spine while having contractions. Plus pushing for a half hour and tearing forward instead of backwards. In other words it was the worst experiance of my life! I love my son but i will never have another baby, ever. I had never planned on having a baby at all but my son was a result of birthcontrol failing. I was always terrified of child birth after watching my brother be being born. When i found out i was pregnant i was terrified, devistated and angry. I begged for a csection, i know its not the easy way out but i would of been more willing to deal with that pain then a tore up vag. But i was told no reapetedly. But they did induce me. Was induced tuesday night, started contractions immeditaly and hes was born friday morning. No pain meds at all!...
Im getting my tubes removed in october, i never want to experiance that horror ever again! And i honestly dont understand women who volenteer to have multiple children they are stupid. I do not feel brave or impowered for experiancing child birth. If anything i hate my body, it is forever ruined. I now suffer from ptsd and just the thought of giving birth sends me into a rage.
I cant even look at the photos taken the day my son was born. I love my son more than anything in this world but i hate how he came into this world.
Cant wait to never have to worry about getting pregnant ever again.
And another plus to having my tubes removed is im also done with paps/exams, yes it dont prevent stds,stis or cancer but i no longer will have birthcontrol to be held hostage by obgyns. So glad i wont ever have to go through child birth again and no more Paps/ exams!
Amanda on August 24, 2018:
The active part of labor was very long for me. (Definitely longer than 5 hours). I arrived at the hospital at 6 am, 6 cm dilated and 9- percent effaced after almost 24 hours of pre-laboring at home. My transition was at 4:30 pm when I began pushing. I pushed for 4 1/2 hours without medication and he ended up getting stuck in my pubic bone. The doctor had to come in and take him out with a vacuum. The ring of fire, in my experience was the worst part. The best way I was able to relate to the pain was like trying to fit a square through a small hole. It definitely hurt when he came out but it was also amazing and the pain went away immediately. I was also a first time mom and I would definitely give birth that way for my second if the cards are in my favor...
Kate on August 20, 2018:
I disagree. Pushing and the "ring of fire" was the worst part for me. Transition wasn't exactly fun but pushing to the point of tearing and feeling that was the worst. Thank God it was over afterwards.
I'm about to give birth the second time and I am not planning to have an epidural again. I am just so freaked out about the idea of a needle in my spinal column. I fit your definition of a "saint" in the article - because I loved that the nurses were there to support me in my decision not to be poked in the spine with a huge needle. OMG. The nurses were wonderful. I am also not really a saint, just a wuss about spinal anesthesia.
Katy on June 18, 2018:
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.
Kristi on June 18, 2018:
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!!
Christina on May 22, 2018:
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.
Mica H. on May 16, 2018:
This is a great article. I’m really considering having a natural birth and al of this information helps :)
Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on March 15, 2018:
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.
Camren on March 14, 2018:
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 (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on March 10, 2018:
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.
Claribel on March 10, 2018:
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 (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on March 10, 2018:
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?
Claribel on March 09, 2018:
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.
Mariah Hessel on March 02, 2018:
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 (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on February 02, 2018:
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!!
Tabitha on February 02, 2018:
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 (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on January 16, 2018:
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.
Casey on January 15, 2018:
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 (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on December 06, 2017:
Maliki, as a fellow sufferer I'm so sorry to hear that.
Maliki on December 06, 2017:
I had suffered from HG full 8 months
Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on October 09, 2017:
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.
Alex on October 09, 2017:
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 (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on September 02, 2017:
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.
Karen on September 02, 2017:
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.
Esther on August 06, 2017:
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.
Kelsie on August 06, 2017:
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?
Lily Martinson on April 03, 2017:
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.
Kalasini on March 31, 2017:
Thanks for this post! I am preparing for my first birth drug free!
Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on March 27, 2017:
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.
Christin Sander from Midwest on March 18, 2017:
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.
Nicole K on November 26, 2016:
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
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 30, 2016:
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 from Sierra Foothills, CA on September 27, 2016:
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.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 27, 2016:
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.