Can I get through labor without an epidural?

by | Apr 8, 2023 | You Ask, Henci Answers

You ask:

I want to deliver unmedicated, and I’ve been planning on using pain management techniques so I won’t need to get one, but everyone tells me I’ll end up getting the epidural. It’s making me doubt myself. Can I get through labor without an epidural?

I answer:

Of course you can get through labor without an epidural—as any of the millions of women who have had home or birth center births and the millions more who have had unmedicated hospital births will tell you.

Whether you do or don’t, however, depends on several factors:

  1. Wanting an unmedicated birth,
  2. Preparation,
  3. Encouragement and support during labor, and
  4. The luck of the draw.

You’ve got the first two boxes checked—and, by the way, I recommend hiring a doula in addition to you and your intimate partner learning non-drug strategies for dealing with labor pain—so let’s talk about numbers 3 and 4.

Number 3 is important because you will be vulnerable in labor. Make sure that everyone you bring with you is on board with your intention. As for the nurses, ask them to please not suggest pain medication to you and that you would love to hear any ideas they have for working with your labor without it.

Number 4 is a reality of life. You can’t control how long or difficult the labor will be, and everyone has an “enough” point. A couple of things you can do up front to minimize your reaching yours, though, are:

  1. Choose a hospital that provides amenities that support a drug-free labor and the policies that go with them, and if you are at low risk for complications in labor, consider having your baby in a freestanding birth center (one that isn’t inside a hospital) or at home.
  2. Choose care providers whose default approach is to support the natural process. Typical hospital-based medical management involves the routine or frequent use of procedures, restrictions, and treatments that haven’t been shown to have benefits when used in this way but that increase pain and discomfort while preventing the use of non-drug strategies to cope with it.

Finally, if you do reach your “enough” point, take a deep breath, know that you did your best, and move forward with an epidural the same way you would with any other medical intervention that isn’t what you wanted but becomes your best option in the moment.

Medical Disclaimer: Henci Goer is neither a physician nor a midwife. Content and information on this website are for informational and educational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. Users are advised to consult their physician or midwife when making decisions about care.

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