Coping with pain during labour

There are some things that you can do at home to cope with the pain during labour:

Taking warm baths or showers:

In the bath, making sure that if possible, your bump is under the water, as this will help the warm water to interfere with the nerve signals that carry the pain to your brain, this will relieve the pain and make you feel relaxed and calm. If you have a shower with an attachment, letting the warm water flow over the area that feels sore can also help. When you are in pain, your muscles tend to tense up naturally and warm water will help to relax the aching tense muscles and make the contractions easier to manage.

Breathing techniques:

These are also a good way to cope with pain at home in the latent phase of labour. When you focus on your breathing, it will help you go through each contraction taking your mind off the pain. It also helps you feel more in control and cope better with the pain. In the latent phase the main thing is to try and breathe slowly and rhythmically; the rhythmic breathing will help to conserve your energy and ease the pain. As soon as you can feel a contraction starting, breathe in slowly through your nose, drawing the air deeply into your lungs, pause for a moment and then breathe out slowly through your mouth. As you are breathing out, try to relax your muscles and let go of any tension and when your contraction is over make sure that you relax and rest as much as possible before the next contraction.

TENS machine:

A TENS machine can help you with contractions in the latent phase of labour. TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. The machine can be bought at several major outlets or can be hired – please see our further information on this topic for some suggested places to obtain one.

The TENS machine works in a similar way to acupuncture, as it helps by interfering with the painful nerve signals caused by the contractions. The TENS impulses block or reduce the pain signals travelling to the spinal cord and brain which helps to lessen the pain.

TENS is operated with a battery and you attach four sticky pads holding the electrodes to the skin on your lower and mid-back.

When you turn the TENS machine on, you will feel small electrical impulses which may feel like a tingling sensation. You are completely in control of the settings, which can be altered based on the strength of your contraction, there is a ‘boost’ button and you can click it as soon as your contraction starts. TENS also relieves pain by stimulating the body’s natural pain killer known as endorphins and will not affect or harm your baby. The TENS machine cannot be used in water as it is an electrical device. Here is a picture showing how to position the sticky pads on your back.

Non-pharmacological pain relief:

This type of pain relief involves any method of pain relief that is non-invasive and does not involve medications to treat pain. Non-pharmacological techniques include:

  • Water birth
  • Water immersion
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Aromatherapy
  • Acupuncture and acupressure
  • Massage techniques
  • Relaxation techniques such as hypnobirthing
  • Birthing balls and positions

While it is true that there is a lack of evidence as to how effective the majority of these different approaches can be, many women use them when in labour and find them useful.   Ultimately, it is your choice as to which option you feel will best support you with your own birthing experience, so do as much research as you can and ask your midwife about them.

You can find out more on the NHS website.

The videos below give you an idea of all the pain relief options that might be available to you – ranging from mild to severe pain as labour progresses.

Mild to moderate pain


Moderate to severe pain


Role of Oxytocin

During labour, contractions slowly push the baby further down the pelvis and the pressure of baby’s head against the cervix encourages your body to release Oxytocin hormone.  Oxytocin is a hormone produced by the brain as well as the placenta and membranes surrounding your baby and it helps your labour to progress. Its production is inhibited by stress, which is why it is important to remain as calm as possible throughout labour, taking time to remember that you are in control.


Some women find hypnobirthing an effective pain management technique and have had a very positive experience using it. Antenatal classes are usually available to teach self-hypnosis, supplemented with audio recordings that you can listen to during your pregnancy and labour. However, through this current period, there are many online courses available to support you with this and Youtube can be a very useful tool as well.

Hypnotherapy works by changing how you perceive pain, and by using this technique in labour you can enter a mental state where painful sensations can become easier to cope with and less unpleasant.  It combines breathing techniques with relaxation, visualisation and mindfulness, to help you focus on yourself and your baby during your labour and delivery. You will learn and practise deep relaxation techniques over and over again during pregnancy in advance of your labour.  By the time labour and contractions start, you will have taught yourself to relax, rather than to be frightened or anxious.  The more relaxed you are, the easier it is to cope with labour.

This form of pain relief might be useful for you to use as a coping mechanism through early labour, or might assist you throughout the whole of your labour. This is a personal experience and is completely dependent on each person using it.

Labour can also be a very daunting time for birth partners and can lead them feeling left on the side lines and feeling as though they can’t help. However, using hypnobirth techniques can be done in partnership, making the birthing experience a more intimate and positive experience for you both.

Please discuss hypnobirthing with your midwife or look for online classes and once permissible classes taking place in your local area.  You might also wish to add it to your birth plan, so that when you arrive at the hospital to have your baby everyone is aware of your preferences for labour.

Find out more at the Tommy’s website.