Woman in labor

Whether you have a medical reason that prohibits you from getting an epidural, or labor happens so fast there’s no time to get one, don’t freak! There are plenty of ways to ease labor pain without an epidural.

What to know when an epidural isn’t available

You dream of a pain-free labor and delivery so your heart is set on getting an epidural. Guess what? You may not be able to get one.

Before you freak out, read on.

Reasons an epidural may not be an option

You may not be able to get an epidural if you have certain medical conditions or take certain medications. There's always a possibility the anesthesiologist may not be immediately available right when you want one. Depending how far along you are in labor, it may be too early — or too late, more on that later — to get an epidural.

The good news is there are plenty of ways to ease labor pain without an epidural.

Arm yourself with alternative pain relief information

I can't stress the importance of taking a comprehensive childbirth class enough. Your childbirth educator should spend time teaching you about natural coping techniques for labor — breathing, massage, hydrotherapy, visualization, squatting, sitting on a birth ball and more. You should also learn about the benefits and risks of non-epidural medications like narcotics that can be administered through an IV or injection.

Learn more about how to manage labor pain during childbirth >>

Consider working with a doula

Doulas provide physical, emotional and information support during labor and birth for moms regardless of pain relief choices. If you can't get an epidural, this type of professional labor support can be very helpful. I'm a doula, and a mom I worked with knew in advance she couldn't get an epidural for medical reasons. We knew going into labor that we really had to work together on other coping techniques. She was able to get narcotic medication, but also spent much of labor using comfort measures like breathing, sitting on a birth ball, laboring in the shower and relying on her husband and me for added support. It wasn't easy, but her beautiful, healthy baby was worth it.

Find your own way to cope without an epidural

Mary's labor went too fast for her to get an epidural, but she didn't focus on specific natural comfort measures to cope. She says, "I just accepted that I'd have to suck it up and get through it."

Galit also had a lightning-fast labor but didn't just suck it up — at least not right away. "There's just no way to sugar coat it," she says. "I cried. It wasn't pretty."

Both moms relied on their husbands to support them through their epidural-free labors, and look back on the experience positively even though it didn't go quite as planned.

Learn how to create a birth partner checklist >>

"I am so grateful that I didn't have a long labor or a difficult delivery," Mary says.

Galit shares that not having a choice was great preparation for parenting. She explains, "It was probably the first time in my life that no matter how I was feeling, there was no turning back — which I think is an undeniable metaphor for parenting."

Bottom line? Labor is unpredictable. Whether learning about your options in childbirth classes, working with a doula or even "sucking it up" there's no reason to freak out if you can't get an epidural.

Good luck!

More about labor and delivery

When epidurals are a real pain
Positions and comfort measures to ease back labor
Are childbirth classes a waste of time?


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