Pain relief in early labour

In early labour, hormones and contractions (usually irregular) are working to soften, thin and move the cervix to the front while dilating the first 4cm. This process may involve some pain or discomfort due to the complex combination of physical (pressure and stretching of the uterus, cervix, joints, ligament, vagina and perineum) and psychological aspects (fear and tension). Research shows that the labour environment has a great effect on the fear and anxiety a woman will experience during her labour, as well as her levels of satisfaction with her birth experience. With a low risk pregnancy, the best place to be for the pre labour and early labour stages is at home. You are able to relax in your own space, have easy access to your own food and drink and there are no time limits/ hospital policies placed on you. Keep in regular contact with your healthcare provider and if you are worried at anytime about yourself or your baby call them for advise or present to the hospital. To help with any discomfort or pain you may feel during these pre/early labour stages give a few of the following a try!

Breathing and Relaxation

Breathing and relaxation is the basis of programs such as CalmBirth and Hypnobirthing as it helps the woman drift into a calm state, which in turn assists with reducing feelings of anxiety/panic, allowing the body’s natural endorphins to be released. Being in a relaxed state helps your uterus contract efficiently, allows oxytocin to do its job, saves precious energy and can increase the oxygen getting to the baby. Focusing inwardly whilst taking deep long breaths in and out through your nose (to keep your mouth and jaw loose) can help produce the relaxed state that will reduce the perception of pain. The best results are usually achieved by lots of breathing and relaxation practice throughout the pregnancy. You can look for local hypnobirthing/calm birthing teachers, do an online course or buy a book and teach yourself.


Oils may be massaged into the skin (with a carrier oil), used in a bath or inhaled using a diffuser or burner to help reduce anxiety, fear, pain and nausea. Some essential oils have properties that come in handy for a labouring woman; oils such as lavender and chamomile are used for calming, peppermint for nausea and clary sage can help bring on/strengthen contractions. Consultation with an experienced aromatherapist is always recommended prior to using any essential oils, especially during pregnancy.


Position changes

Pelvic dimensions vary with different maternal positions and can make a huge difference in discomfort felt and the length of labour. Squatting and kneeling while learning forward have both shown (via MRI) to increase the diameters substantially, allowing baby to engage and pass through more easily. Try walking, rocking, lunging and pelvic tilts to assist in getting baby in to most optimal position and rest on your left side when tired for a speedier labour.


Massage not only provides physical comfort and relief of muscle tension but also communicates love, support and commitment from the giver. Massage can be both physically and mentally calming when performed in-between and during contractions.

Some popular massage techniques include:

  • Heel of the hand contact massage over the lower back, coccyx and sacrum in a slow firm circular pressure. It is helpful for back pain and can be a counter pressure as baby moves down through the pelvis.
  • Stroke with firm hands from neck, down either side of the vertebral column and down around the hips.
  • Start at the back of the neck and shoulders, apply firm even pressure—stroking across the back of shoulders and down the arms
  • Heel have the hand contact massage or thumb kneading down the muscles of the back – can help to relieve pain and tension.
  • Shoulder and neck muscles massage—roll muscles between thumb and fingers.
  • Inner thigh massage—firm pressure through the flat of the hand from groin to ankles.
  • Massage thigh and calf muscles
  • Temple massage

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

TENS is a non-invasive, drug-free method of controlling pain. The TENS unit consists of a battery powered stimulator and two pairs of electrodes with connecting leads. A mild electrical current is produced by the TENS unit which you will feel as a tingling sensation on your skin. The intensity, rate and duration of the electrical impulses produced by the TENS unit can be adjusted by the wearer.

Benefits of using TENS in labour

  • TENS is a form of non-invasive pain relief
  • TENS has no harmful effects on either the mother or baby
  • TENS does not restrict your ability to move about in labour
  • TENS can be applied at home during early labour
  • Other pain relief options can still be used if TENS does not provide you with adequate pain relief

When we experience pain, messages are sent along the nerves to the brain and then pain is felt. The TENS unit produces tiny electrical impulses which are sent through the skin to the nerves. This electrical stimulation of the nerves blocks those pain messages from reaching the brain. TENS also increases your body’s production of endorphins – these are your body’s natural painkillers. See a review on ElleTENS+ at:

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Warm Water immersion

Water is a simple, effective and readily available pain relief option. Warm water immersion provides comfort and pain relief as it provides support and buoyancy that enables relaxation and weightlessness. If you don’t have a bath/ fit in the bath, the shower is also very effective at providing pain relief.

Heat packs

Heat is a simple but effective pain relief option. Heat stimulates the sensory receptors, blocking the transmission of pain signals to the brain and therefore providing pain relief. The Wheatbags Australia ‘closing neck bag’ is perfect for using during pregnancy, labour and postpartum to help with muscle pain and discomfort. Adding two extender belts enables you to attach the microwavable bag around your waist, providing heat, pain relief and counter pressure to the back and hip area. Check the range out at:



Magnesium helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, relaxes muscles, reduces cramping and is great for pain relief. Magnesium is best absorbed transdermally (through the skin) so using magnesium flakes in the bath during pregnancy and labour can assist with relaxation, sleep and provide pain relief. Amazing oils has a great range of magnesium products such as bath flakes, wipes, gel roll on and spray, making it super easy to add some magnesium to your labour bag. Check out their range at:


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