How to Have a Natural Birth with a Low Pain Tolerance

Over the years I have had many women pull me aside and ask a quiet question - “can I have a natural birth if I have a low pain tolerance?” Usually her voice is low and her cheeks are red with embarrassment - but this is a common question! In a world where pain relievers are everywhere, many woman wonder if they can handle labor pain at all!

You can have a natural birth even with a low pain tolerance. First, you need understand labor pain - it’s different than other pain. You should know why a natural birth is worth the effort. Then create a good birthing environment and get educated about how birth works. Prepare before birth: learn natural birth techniques and spend some time on your mental game!  You'll be holding your baby before you know it 😉

Keep reading for full details on all of this and more - after my own natural births and helping thousands of mamas prepare for their birthing time, I know that you can do this! I'll show you how:

The Scoop on Natural Birth for Mamas with Low Pain Tolerance

Here’s a secret: birth pain is different than other pain. Headaches, sprained ankles, sciatica, and your lower back going out: it all feels unbearable and pointless. But the sensations you feel during labor have a purposeThey indicate that:

  • Your cervix is softening and opening for your baby
  • The muscles of your uterus are pulling back and thickening to help push your baby out
  • Your baby is turning and rotating into a birth position
  • Your tissues are soft and full of oxygen-rich blood to bring protection and safety to your pelvic floor and your baby
  • Downward pressure indicates your baby is moving through your body and out into your arms

All of these things are happening during your birthing time and the sensations that you feel are part of all of that!

(NOTE: Want Real Mom Tested Techniques for Handling Labor Pain? Use these 11 proven natural childbirth techniques to handle labor and keep things moving right along. Get them here.)

Handle Labor Pain

Does Birth Have to be Painful?

While birth is very intense, women experience birthing differently - and it’s not always something that’s painful.

In fact, natural birth is not a simplistic, mechanical process - we have this belief that birth is a mama’s body “cranking open” for a baby ( which of course sounds painful!).

But birth is a softening, opening, turning, flowing to bring out your baby.

One of the things that flows is hormones. Labor hormones have a profound pain-relieving effect, but this effect is literally cut off by many birth interventions (and totally short-circuited by medications).

Oxytocin and beta-endorphin are two hormones especially potent in pain-relieving effects. They’re also strong bonding hormones that you pass on to your baby…

…in fact, during a natural birth the oxytocin levels in a mother’s body are so high that people in the room get a “contact high” off of oxytocin, which acts a pheromone!

Only natural oxytocin (not the synthetic oxytocin in Pitocin or Syntocinon) has this pain relieving effect.

Pain During Labor versus After Labor

Many women only consider pain during labor, but “afterpains” or the contractions after giving birth to your baby are actually rated as the most painful part of labor by the majority of mamas (and this is according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists!).

It’s possible to take some pain medications after birth (simple over-the-counter medications can work) - but this isn’t even a stage of birth where you’ll have an epidural as an option!

Natural pain relief methods keeping working after birth.

Plus, women who have given birth naturally often feel better after birth - they’re able to be active sooner, often have less tearing and other pelvic floor trauma, and feel stronger and more clear-headed overall.

While many women do not experience ongoing side-effects from labor medications, other women do have “epidural headaches” and epidural site pain after birth, which is another thing to consider.

Unmedicated Labor v Epidural Limitations

I won’t lie - epidurals work for most mamas. They’re effective. But, they come with other problems.

They limit movement (in fact, women who want to move during labor are much more likely to decide not to have an epidural for that reason). You really can’t move, at all, after you’ve had an epidural.

Also remember than an “epidural” is not the drug - it’s the method that delivers the medication (a thin, hollow tube is inserted in the epidural cavity of your spinal cord and the medication flows through that).

The medications that flow through the epidural have typical side effects for heavy pain-relieving medications… they remove all sensations so not only do you not feel contractions, you don’t feel your baby’s work to help during birth.

Many women also feel groggy and “out of it” with an epidural. Some women opt out of an epidural in later births just because they don’t like this sensation.

Babies born naturally to moms with low pain tolerance

Why Do You Want a Natural Birth?

Knowing why you want to have a natural birth is an important and powerful part of preparing for labor and delivery - especially if you hope to have a natural birth with a low pain tolerance.

Your baby is powerful motivator to help you move through birth. Doula Nikki Knowles shared a story about a client who was having trouble with the intensity of her contractions - and was asking for labor pain medications.

Nikki showed the mom her phone, which had an ultrasound picture as the lock screen image. This was an instant reminder to this mama - the why behind this work.

She took some breaths, changed positions, and made it through the rest of her labor to meet her beautiful baby face-to-face - and riding high on the elation that comes from a great natural birth.

This story is important because it shows you how your “why” can become a powerful ally for you - and your baby is often the best “why.”

You’ll hear a lot of people tell you not to be a hero (or, my least favorite, a martyr) and just ask for the epidural. But natural birth has huge benefits:

  • Babies are more alert
  • Babies breastfeed better
  • Moms are more alert and interested in their babies
  • Natural hormone levels are high, protecting from postpartum hemorrhage
  • Natural hormone levels are high, promoting bonding
  • Natural hormone levels are high, helping moms feel confident and even elated
  • Moms can be mobile quickly to go to the bathroom, get cleaned up, etc. - so you feel better and stay safer from hemorrhage and other complications
  • Greater mobility during labor
  • Fewer interventions during labor and after delivery
  • Babies gain back their birth weight faster
  • Lower risk of cesarean section
  • Labor is often shorter and easier
  • Recovery is often faster

The truth is, natural childbirth isn’t something you do for a medal or to show you’re “strong” (though you may feel ready to take on the world after giving birth naturally!) - it has real advantages.

Keeping these in mind as you go into birth can help you handle what comes and stay dedicated to working with your baby even if you have a lower pain tolerance - because it matters for your baby <3

Get Educated About Natural Childbirth

Giving birth is natural, but there are many “natural” things that we can become more skilled at. Think about running, hiking, or intimacy with your husband… all “natural” things you can get more skilled at 😉

Childbirth is the same way…

…so take the time to prepare for a good birth.

You don’t have to dedicate hours every day, but you should plan to go through a childbirth class…

…and actually practice the techniques you learn in the class!

A good class series will cover nutrition, exercise, and other things that help you prepare for a smooth, easy delivery. Pay attention to these parts of the class because a healthy body does make a difference.

Of course a comprehensive class also outlines plenty of strategies and techniques for your labor and birth - including ways your husband or birth partner can help you make it through labor and delivery naturally.

Choose a skills-based course like local Bradley classes, or look at Hypnobabies or my own comprehensive childbirth class series, MamaBaby Birthing.

Hospital classes tend to teach hospital policy and procedure, but may be light on teaching you to be healthy for birth or how to handle labor naturally - my recommendation is to skip them and choose a skills-based option like I highlighted above.

(NOTE: Want Real Mom Tested Techniques for Handling Labor Pain? Use these 11 proven natural childbirth techniques to handle labor and keep things moving right along. Get them here.)

Handle Labor Pain

Creating the Right Environment for a Natural Birth with Low Pain Tolerance

If you’re worried about low pain tolerance in labor, your birthing environment is a critical consideration - the support you have…

…and how safe and comfortable you feel…

…can make a huge difference in how smoothly your labor goes (and how much natural pain relief you experience from high levels of natural birth hormones).

The first consideration is your birth team - in general, fewer people in the room is better.

It’s especially important to have only people who support your plan to have a natural birth in the room. Many women who have a low pain tolerance have had that since childhood - so their friends and families know it and keep reminding them of it!

You already know you struggle with pain, so you don’t need unhelpful reminders or people who don’t support you in your plan.

It’s actually good to have fewer people in general because the room feels safer and more intimate with fewer people.

I’ll be blunt - think about birthing your baby the SAME WAY you think about making your baby - you wouldn’t make a baby in a crowded room 😉 Things need to be quiet and intimate.

Childbirth is not a spectator sport.

One person to have supporting you is a doula - she can help you when you’re struggling. In fact, doulas are clinically proven to decrease pain for birthing women, and outcomes for moms and babies are better when doulas assist at births.

The Room

Let’s go back to the baby-making analogy for a moment: what kind of environment would you think about? Probably private, with low lighting and quiet sounds. There might be some low background music, but overall, it’s a darker, more peaceful environment.

You can also think about how your dog or cat might have given birth - generally they find a quiet, secluded spot. They get comfortable!

If possible, keep the lights dim and the room quiet (except for your music). Ask for minimal people in and out. Ask to wear your own clothing as long as possible - a soft, large t-shirt is a good choice. If you’re at home or a birth center and feel comfortable, you might opt for no clothing.

Fewer interventions are better, so talk to your care provider about this. No IV and intermittent fetal monitoring mean you can move around more freely and get more comfortable.

Also request fewer - or better yet - NO cervical checks. Cervical checks (also called vaginal exams) are painful and essentially pointless. They give no real information because a woman’s body can change quickly and there’s much more going on during labor than just changes to the cervix. They also introduce bacteria to the cervix, bringing a chance of infection.

Finally, choose an environment where you can move - movement is one of the most powerful ways to handle contractions naturally. A change of positions, going to the bathroom, standing in the shower, sitting on the birth ball - all of these things can help speed labor up, stop back labor, and help lessen the intensity of contractions.

Key to Labor and Delivery with Low Pain Tolerance

Preparations to Make Before Labor Begins

I’ve had 8 babies naturally and after just a couple I found things that really helped me feel confident and ready for birthing:

Affirmations and Quotes

I enjoy birth affirmations and quotes (click here to read my favorite birth quotes and get them as a printable!). Reading these every day reminds you that women have been birthing babies successfully for ages - and that you can, too!

Affirmations also help you remember your “why” - there is a reason to choose natural birth and stay dedicated, even if it feels difficult.

Prayer

My faith is really important to me and I also believe that pregnancy and birth are inherently a spiritual journey for the mother. For me, prayer has helped me talk to God and reach out to Him for support and strength. Anytime something feels bigger than I am - like contractions - I know that God can help me handle it 😉

Physical Preparation

I mentioned this in the section on childbirth education above, but I want to bring it up again: getting physically prepared for your baby’s birth by eating well and exercising daily (even if it’s just a walk) will really help you have an easier delivery. It also increases the safety of your natural birth - it’s why I cover these topics in detail in my online childbirth classes.

Birth Stories

I love birth stories because you can read about how other women experienced labor and birth and you can read about how they worked with their babies to have a good birth.

You can check out many natural birth stories here on NaturalBirthandBabyCare.com (including my 8 babies’ births) - and also check out my favorite pregnancy books for some of my favorite published stories - I read many of these stories in every single pregnancy!

Childbirth Education

Remember, childbirth education is another way to prepare beforehand - if you’re worried about giving birth naturally with a low pain tolerance, you definitely want to have a good set of tools and techniques to help you get through labor!

How to Handle Labor Pain Naturally

Here are some specific strategies to help you handle labor pain without medications:

  • Wait to go to the hospital - you’ll feel more comfortable at home and if your labor gets well-established it will speed up (instead of slow down like it does for many women) when you get to the hospital
  • Use a birth ball - this gives you a lot of mobility, even in small hospital rooms or homes. Rocking on the birth ball is a great way to handle contractions
  • Stand or squat in the shower - warm water is really soothing in labor, and the upright position helps your baby come down
  • Dance or sway - again, an upright position helps your baby move his or her way down and moving can help you handle labor contractions
  • Get in the tub - even if you don’t plan to birth in the tub, water is proven to be extremely effective for relieving pain.
  • Sing or moan (but keep your voice low) - vocalizing can help you move through the energy of contractions, and by keeping your voice low you keep both your jaw and bottom soft and open.
  • Use breathing techniques - slow, even breathing keeps you centered between contractions, and helps you prepare as a contraction starts up and as it’s ending. During the peak of contractions, athletic breathing (in through your nose, out through your mouth) works. Read more on breathing here.
  • Change positions when things feel tough - often a change in position makes a difference for you if you feel overwhelmed, or if you’re experiencing back labor. Sometimes your baby needs a small amount of room to move down - and your change in position can do the trick!

Your Mindset When Going Into Natural Birth With a Low Pain Tolerance

Sometimes challenges are a mental game - I’m not telling you that low pain tolerance is all in your head - but I am saying that you can do a lot to be mentally prepared and ready.

Control

One thing to consider is your need for control. I’m a really organized, “Type A” personality. I like routines and schedules and organization! That's not how birth works...

...as much as we read about neat, organized “stages of childbirth” - it doesn’t usually go quite like that.

If you’re like me, just accept that part of yourself - and trust that your body can handle this even if you’re not directly in control of it. After all, it has grown your baby beautifully over the last 9 months! It can handle birthing, too…

…you put your organization super-powers into preparing your baby’s things and putting up a bunch of freezer meals before baby arrives 😉

Fear

Fear is another issue that comes up during birth - and I want to encourage you that you can overcome fear.

Looking at your fears, being curious about them, asking yourself how you’d handle them if they happened…

…and then preparing for a great natural birth…

…can help you settle with your fears, overcome them to the extent you need to, and have a great natural birth.

Birth Energy

A LOT of energy moves through your body during birth - it's intense.  You can deal with that energy in many ways.

After a few of my babies I realized that I wanted labor to move right along - so I focused on being grateful for the labor that would bring my baby and getting right down to doing the work.

When it got really intense I moaned, held onto my husband - and sometimes I kissed his cheek at the end of the contractions just to get some of that energy out of my body!

That might feel a little too “hippie” or “crunchy” for some of you and that’s okay - you do what works for you to handle birth energy - because you are incredible, powerful, and there’s going to be a lot flowing through you to bring your beautiful baby into your arms!

Give Birth Naturally even with low pain tolerance graphic

Related Questions

How can I make my natural birth less painful? Get upright; lean up against a counter or your partner. Or sit on the toilet or a birth ball. Being upright lets you move your hips, which can really help you deal with the energy of contractions (spiraling, rocking, or swaying can all help). Standing in the shower or laboring in a birthing tub is also helpful - water is a proven pain reliever!

Read my full article on having an easier labor and delivery by clicking here.

Is it possible to not feel pain during labor? It is possible to have a painless birth, and many women do. Birth activates the same hormones as intimacy and lovemaking - which are pleasure hormones. Birthing in a quiet, intimate environment (low lights, few people, soothing or empowering music, few interventions) makes it more likely to have a painless birth.

I talk extensively about birthing hormones in my online childbirth class series, MamaBaby Birthing - hormones are a key to having a smooth, safe birth… and they are powerful pain relievers and pleasure generators that can help your birthing time be amazing, too!

Can you avoid tearing during childbirth? YES! Tearing is a difficult part of postpartum recovery, so preventing tearing during your baby’s birth is helpful. Many of the steps I’ve outlined in this article help you minimize tearing because a calm, smooth birth reduces your chances of tearing. Push in a side-lying or hands-and-knees position, and push only when you feel the urge to push.  Click here to check out my full class on tearing.

Natural birth for mom with low pain tolerance

About the author 

Kristen

Kristen is a wife and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! She has spent years helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Find her on her website NaturalBirthandBabyCare.com and helping families through her online childbirth class MamaBabyBirthing.com

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