Coping methods in labour

Labour and birth

There are different ways to help you cope with any pain or discomfort you might have during labour.

We can give you pain relief such as epidural or gas and air. However, there are also non-medical methods that you mind find helpful. These methods will help you to cope with labour pain, but will not take away the pain completely. We'll support you to use:

Each of these has advantages and disadvantages. We've included these to help you decide which method is best for you.

Some people might want to try other complementary therapies and self help options. These could include acupuncture, yoga, hypnotherapy or reflexology. These options are not offered by midwives in the maternity unit. If you're interested in trying these, speak to your midwife first so you know which methods are safe for you. 

Positions for labour

Moving around during labour helps your baby to move down the pelvis. It also takes your attention away from the pain.

Try different positions, use a birthing ball, mats, beanbags, a birthing stool or wall bars to hold on to. There are pictures of different positions in all the labour rooms, and your midwife will be able to give information and advice about each position.

  • Easy to do, and can be done anywhere.
  • Helps your baby move down through the pelvis.
  • Shortens the length of your labour.
  • Can be used with other coping methods and complementary therapies.
  • Changing positions will not take away your pain completely.
  • It can become tiring if your labour lasts a long time.
  • You will need good support from your birth partner.

Relaxation techniques

There are different methods of relaxation, for example breathing techniques, meditation and massage. Relaxation techniques can take your attention away from labour pain.

Basic massage techniques can be learned during antenatal classes. You do not need to have any knowledge of massage before you go into labour. The midwives can tell you about some helpful massage techniques.

  • Easy to do, and can be done anywhere.
  • Can be used with other coping methods and types of pain relief.
  • It is more helpful if you start doing this before labour.
  • Relaxation therapies will not take away your pain completely.

Birthing pool (hydrotherapy)

Water is useful for managing pain in labour. It helps you to relax and is thought to make contractions seem less painful.

The National Childbirth Trust has information on using water during labour and birth.

  • It helps you to relax.
  • It lowers the pressure on your tummy (abdominal) muscles.
  • The water helps you feel supported.
  • It relaxes the muscle that lies between the bottom part of the vagina and the bottom (perineal tissue).
  • It lowers your blood pressure.
  • Birthing pools might already be in use. You might find it helpful to have a bath or shower in your labour room if the birthing pools are not available.
  • Being in the birthing pool will not take away your pain completely.


Aromatherapy uses essential oils taken from different plants.

It can be used in massage, in the bath (but not the birthing pool), by applying a hot or cold compress, on a tissue, by breathing it in (inhalation) or through a vaporiser or diffuser.

Aromatherapy is used for people who are already in the early (latent) or established (stronger) phases of labour, unless there is some medical reason why aromatherapy should not be used.

The essential oils used in our maternity unit have been carefully selected for their benefits in labour.

  • Clary sage to support labour and help with regular contractions.
  • Eucalyptus for pain relief.
  • Frankincense to help with anxiety.
  • Jasmine and rose to help with anxiety and depression.
  • Lavender to help with anxiety, help you to relax and to stop headaches.
  • Lemon and mandarin to boost your mood, uplift and energise.
  • Peppermint to help with feeling sick and being sick (nausea and vomiting).
  • Chamomile to help with anxiety.
Advantages Helps you to relax and lowers anxiety.
  • People with asthma or other allergies might not be able to use all of the oils.
  • They are not recommended for people with some health conditions, or if you have had a caesarean section in the past. 
  • Some oils are not recommended if you are not in labour, or if you are using homeopathic remedies.

TENS machine

TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a gentle electrical current that flows through 4 flat pads (electrodes) on your back. The current creates a tingling feeling and helps your body to make its own pain relief, called endorphins.

Your birth partner can put the TENS machine on you at home when you need some pain relief. It can be started during any stage of your labour, but is thought to work better if it is started early, especially for backache.

We do not give out TENS machines but we can give you information about hiring or buying them.

Read more about TENS on the NHS website.

  • You can control the strength of the machine yourself.
  • There are no known side effects to you or your baby.
  • It needs to be started in the early stages of labour.
  • Some people can be allergic to the material used on the electrode pads.
  • It will not take away your pain completley.
  • It cannot be used in the birthing pool, bath or shower.
  • It takes about 40 minutes to build up your body’s natural pain relief.
  • It is usually less useful in the later stages of labour.

Resource number: 0075/VER4
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