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“A lot of women tense up during labor, and that’s the last thing you want,” says Kylie Mikuta of Ashburn, Va., who delivered her son, Titan, and daughter, Zoe, without the use of pain medication. She used self-hypnosis instead.
“For a gentle, natural birth, the muscles of your uterus need oxygen-carrying blood,” explains Marie Mongan, founder of HypnoBirthing, a program that teaches pregnant women self-hypnosis techniques for use during labor. “Fear directs blood away from the uterus, and the result is more pain,” Mongan says. What worked for Mikuta was practicing relaxation techniques, such as focusing on the image of a warm bath.
By relaxing and stretching the area around the vagina during pregnancy, perineal massage can safely help shorten labor and speed delivery, lessening the need for painkillers. While a correlation between perineal massage and natural childbirth is not proven, many midwives and doulas recommend the technique. You should do this for six to eight minutes daily, beginning no earlier than 34 weeks into your pregnancy; warm olive oil, soothing music and an agreeable partner may all help.
Several childbirth-education courses focus on unmedicated deliveries. The following are the best-known:
The Bradley Method (800-422-4784, www.bradleybirth.com). Fran Hill, a Bradley instructor in Orange County, Calif., says her course teaches techniques to avoid unnecessary pain. She boasts that more than 90 percent of women who complete the program have drug-free deliveries.
Lamaze (800-368-4404, www.lamaze.org). Debby Amis, chairwoman of the Lamaze International Education Council, says the organization is committed to promoting “normal” birth.
In the end, do what you can to “go natural,” but remember that there is always the chance factor. If the need for intervention arises or if you decide that you want pain medication after all, don’t beat yourself up; perhaps there will be a next time.
Jane believes the hospital setting placed time constraints on her labor, which led to her being given Pitocin. “Had they just let me progress naturally, I believe I would have given birth naturally,” she says. “Next time, I’d try hypnosis and look into having my baby in a birthing center, where the setting might be more relaxed.”