Read our latest advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Our services are open and safe to attend – we are here to help

Coping methods in labour


More in this section


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

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

Most of these methods will help you to cope with labour pain, but will not take away the pain completely.

You can also use pain relief methods, such as epidural or 'gas and air' for labour. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please speak to your midwife. 

Positions for labour

You will be asked to move around during labour, as this 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 posistion.


  • 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 (antenatally).
  • 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.

Get information about our pool rooms.


  • 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.


  • There are 2 birthing pools at the Home from Home birth centre, and sometimes during busy times they might both 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.


  • 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.

Other complementary therapies

Some people might want to try other complementary therapies and self help options. For example, acupuncture, yoga, hypnotherapy or reflexology.

These options are not offered by midwives in the maternity unit. If you are interested in trying these, speak to your midwife first so you know which methods are safe for you. 

TENS machine (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)

This is a gentle electrical current that flows through 4 flat pads (electrodes) placed 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.

TENS machines are not given out by the unit, but we can give you information about hiring or buying the machine.


  • 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.

Antenatal classes

To prepare for the arrival of your baby, you might find it helpful to go to antenatal classes.

The classes give you information about what happens during your pregnancy, how to care for your baby, and what to expect when you go into labour. You will learn about methods to help you cope with labour pain.



Ref number: 0075/VER4

Date published: March 2018 | Review date: March 2021

© 2018 Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

A list of sources is available on request


Where next?

 Contact us

If you have any questions, contact our helpline, Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm.

Phone: 020 7188 8760

Print this page

Download Coping        methods and options for pain relief in labour (PDF 141KB)

Staying safe in our hospitals

We've made some important changes to help keep you safe. Find out more.

Was this helpful?

If you have any comments about this information, we would be happy to hear from you. Fill in our simple online form or email:


Our information is changing

Find out how we are making our patient information more accessible and inclusive.

PIF TICK logo - trusted health information