When making the decision to have a home birth, or while working on your home birth plan, it’s natural for your mind to drift immediately to the pain factor. Whether this is your first birth or not, we can all expect some degree of pain during childbirth.

Choosing to give birth at home increases your likelihood of a natural birth free of medical intervention. But it doesn’t mean that you’ll be left high and dry, gritting your teeth while you lay in your own bed for the duration of labor. In fact, it should look like quite the opposite!

Home birth allows for freedom of movement and lots of opportunity for natural pain management techniques and sometimes some slightly more ‘medical’ ones, too.

So, what pain relief can you have at your home birth?

Some options include hypnobirthing, massage, acupressure, essential oils, positional changes, TENS units, and water birth/water therapy. In some cases, your home birth midwife may be able to administer nitrous oxide or pain killers, too.

Here, we’re going to take an in-depth look at all the pain relief you can have at your home birth so that you know exactly what to expect, plan for, and ask about before you’re due.

What pain relief can you have at home birth?

Typically, when we think about home birth and pain management, we think of natural pain management techniques. These are non-medical ways to help your body cope with the pain of childbirth. Choosing to have a home birth increases your odds of a natural birth immensely, but it is still best to prepare to achieve this.

Simply wanting a natural birth alone can make achieving it a challenge. But learning exactly what natural pain management options are available and creating your own ‘tool kit’ of natural strategies will make the goal of natural birth more attainable, a more positive experience, and less daunting.

Furthermore, practicing these natural pain management strategies before you’re due will go a long way in their effectiveness and your confidence when labor begins. One great way to do this is with a childbirth class that includes guided practice, such as hypnobirthing.

Natural Pain Management Strategies

Without further ado, let’s dive into some of the most effective and widely used pain coping techniques during home birth and natural births in general.

Positional changes and movement

One of the biggest perks of home birth is the complete freedom you will have to move around and listen to your body. Trusting that our bodies inherently know how to birth is an important mindset as you approach your home birth.

By allowing our bodies to guide us into various positions, we will naturally find positions and movement that alleviate some of the pain associated with contractions and pushing.

Some of the best laboring positions and movements to cope with labor pain include:

  • A “yogi squat” that is supported by a yoga block, firm cushion, or step stool
  • Having your partner support you by sitting and holding you under your arms while you squat between their legs
  • Using a squatting rope, birthing bar, or rebozo to find a supported squat
  • Sitting on a birthing ball and rolling your hips
  • Sitting on a birthing stool
  • Sitting cross-legged or in a butterfly positions
  • Side-lying with a peanut ball or pillow between your legs
  • Resting in child’s pose, receiving counter-pressure on your hips
  • Hand and knees position, rocking or adding movement as it feels good
  • Walking
  • Stair-climbing
  • Slow dancing or hugging

Essential oils

Essential oils are a wonderful addition to any home birth pain management toolkit. This is because essential oils are known to help relax you when necessary, give you energy when you need it, add focus, relieve stress and even ease pain.

In the article, Best Essential Oils for Home Birth, Whitney talks about the different ways to utilize essential oils during your home birth. You can diffuse them, add them to massage oil, create a hot or cold press that has been soaked in essential oils, or add them to your birthing tub/pool.

Some of the essential oils she recommends for labor include:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Black pepper
  • Bergamot
  • Lavender
  • Ylang Ylang
  • Peppermint
  • Grapefruit
  • Chamomile
  • Clary Sage
  • Eucalyptus

To learn details about why each of these oils is helpful during labor, how best to use them, and blends you can create, check out 10 Best Essential Oils to Use During Labor.

Breathing Exercises

When we think about natural birth, many of us envision a momma using specialize breathing techniques. And this is for good reason! Breathing exercises are a highly effective way to promote relaxation by slowing down your heart rate and decreasing the release of stress hormones in your body.

Practiced and intentional breathing can also promote the release of endorphins which are natural pain-relieving hormones. Read more details about breathing exercises for your home birth by heading here.

Birthing Ball

I’ve already mentioned the use of a birthing ball to help with labor pain in the position and movement suggestions above, but because it is such a stand-out prop during natural labor I wanted to give it its own shout out.

Birthing balls are a must-have during any home birth because of their ability to provide pain relief during labor, help your baby drop lower, and maybe even make your labor shorter! Your birth ball can be used in a variety of ways throughout your labor to help you find comfortable positions and movements.

For example, you can sit on the ball and roll your hips, you can go on your knees and drape your upper body over the ball, or you can lay on your side and use your birthing ball to prop your legs open.


Music and sound are far more powerful at providing relief during your labor than you may think. While music isn’t working physiologically to address the pain, music or soundscapes provide a distraction, aid in meditation, and help transport your mind to another place during your labor.

Music also has the ability to enhance our moods and feelings, so you can use it accordingly to promote relaxation or help you energize. What’s more, studies have shown that music can help our brains release endorphins, the body’s own natural pain-blocking hormones.

For this reason, creating a playlist of some of your favorite bands or songs can be a wonderful way to prepare mentally for your home birth. During my own labor, I listened to some of my favorite live Phish concerts, and it definitely helped me meditate and “zone out” during contractions.

Heat and Ice

Another wonderful tool to help you through labor pain is the use of heat and ice. A hot water bottle or heating pad can do wonders, particularly during painful back labor or back contractions. You can also consider incorporating essential oils into hot and cold compresses.

Massage and Acupressure

We can’t forget about the healing power of touch as a pain management technique. Massage and acupressure are highly effective ways to induce relaxation, relieve anxiety, and provide pain relief. Massage on the lower back, counter-pressure created by hip squeezes, and foot massages are particularly effective.


Next, let’s talk about an often over-looked pain-coping mechanism here in the US, a TENS unit or TENS Machine. TENS units, which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, is a non-invasive and portable pain-relieving machine that is commonly used during labor in the UK and Canada.

A TENS machine is considered a non-pharmaceutical way to deal with labor pain and is something that is slowly gaining popularity during natural births here in the US. TENS units work by electrically stimulating your nerves through wires. Sometimes it is referred to as a “muscle stimulator”.

The idea is that this nerve stimulation blocks your brain’s pain receptors. In short, the TENS unit doesn’t remove the pain but helps reduce your brain’s awareness of the pain.

If you choose to use a TENS machine, you will have electrodes placed on your back. These electrodes are connected via wires to a handheld machine that gives you complete control of use. The TENS machine creates a sensation that is like a buzzing or prickly feeling. TENS machines are compact and can be easily put on and off of your body for use throughout labor. (source)

If you are interested in using a TENS machine during your labor, some professionals suggest starting to use one before you’re due so that you are confident and comfortable with its use. Your home birth midwife should be able to provide more information on TENS units so be sure to bring it up at your next prenatal appointment.

What are the benefits of a TENS Unit during labor?

  • It is safe and does not affect baby
  • You do not need a medical professional to use it
  • It is portable, allowing you freedom of movement and positional changes while in use
  • You can use it during a home birth

One thing to note is that a TENS unit should not be used in a birthing pool or shower or if you have a pacemaker or heart problem.

Water Birth

The next highly effective pain relief option I want to discuss for your home birth is water birth. While there is no way to quantify pain during birth because each women’s pain tolerance and labor is unique, many water birthing mommas describe water as a “liquid epidural”, calming, serene, and relaxing. Others say that the labor pain is still there in the water, but is far less than when they are on land.

Another major pro of water birth for pain relief is that being in the water is naturally relaxing which promotes the release of the hormone oxytocin, and less production of stress hormones.

Additionally, being in the water gives pregnant women a weightless feeling which can make finding comfortable positions to labor in easier. This can take some added stress and discomfort of moving around with a pregnant belly out of the equation.

Even if you decide that actually birthing in the water isn’t for you, adding water therapy to your toolkit of ways to cope with labor pain at your home birth is a great idea. Laboring in your bathtub, shower, or a dedicated birth pool are all wonderful ways to feel the healing powers of water during contractions.

Interested in learning more about water birth? Learn all about birthing pools and what supplies you’ll need to make a water birth your reality.

Can you have drugs at a home birth?

Now that we’ve discussed some great non-medical ways to deal with labor pain, some of you are probably wondering, but what about drugs? Can I have drugs at a home birth? Well, the answer isn’t as cut and dry as you may think. A lot will depend on what your midwife is willing to offer and where in the country you’re giving birth. So this is a great question to ask your midwife directly.

One thing that is for sure, you cannot have an epidural at a home birth. This is because epidurals have to be administered by an anesthesiologist in a medical setting. Your midwife will not be able to administer an epidural.

Let’s talk about the two types of “drugs” that may be available to you during your home birth:

Nitrous Oxide: also known as “gas and air” is an increasingly common pain relief option being used during birth here in the US. Like a TENS unit, this is far more popular in the UK and Canada, but more and more birth places and midwives are offering it here.

When used as a pain intervention during labor, nitrous oxide is known to have anti-anxiety and pain-reducing effects. Many say that it doesn’t take away the pain of labor but helps you relax and care less about it. For use in labor, nitrous oxide is given in a 50/50 blend with oxygen.

You self-administer it with a breathing mask through inhalation and within 5 minutes it completely leaves your body. Many mommas see this as a pro because if you don’t like it, you can stop use and it doesn’t stay in your system.

If you are interested in exploring nitrous oxide as an option at your home birth be sure to discuss it with your midwife. While gas and air is not as commonly used in home birth settings here in the US as it is in Europe, some home birth midwives are starting to supply it and trends in use mean it will become more and more prevalent.

Narcotic Pain Killers: Another type of drug that your midwife may be able to supply at your home birth is a narcotic or opioid pain killer. Using this type of pain killer during birth can take the edge off of your pain, but does pose some risk factors to your baby (source). These include potential respiratory depression, central nervous system depression, impaired breastfeeding, altered neurological behavior, and difficulty with body temperature regulation.

Typically, if you decide to use this type of pain intervention it should be given during the early stages of labor to decrease the risk of effects to baby. This type of drug would be administered as a onetime shot in the leg or bottom when used for pain relief in a home birth setting.

Narcotic pain killers are widely available at home births across Europe, but may or may not be available to you at a home birth in the US. If you are interested in having this as an option at your home birth, you likely need to have it prescribed ahead of time by a doctor or CNM and be sure your home birth midwife is comfortable and able to administer it.

What birthing methods help with pain during natural birth?

As you prepare for your home birth, you are probably thinking more and more about childbirth classes and different birthing methods. Childbirth education is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for a natural birth. Knowledge erases some of the unknown and the right class or birth method can provide you with practice and pain-coping tools to rely on during labor.

Here are some popular birthing methods that will prepare you to handle pain during natural birth:

HypnoBirthing: This is a method of child birthing used around the world that utilizes deep relaxation, self-hypnosis and a change in mindset surrounding birth to erase labor pain.

Hypnobirthing aims to remove any fear and anxiety surrounding labor and through careful preparation and practice through a hypnobirthing class you will be equipped with a variety of mental pain-coping strategies, breathing and relaxation techniques to utilize during labor.

Bradley Method: This childbirth philosophy, also known as “husband-coached childbirth”, teaches and trains partners to be active participants (ie: coaches) in labor. The Bradley method involves learning specific breathing techniques and relaxation to use during labor.

It also emphasizes nutrition and exercise during pregnancy to prepare for labor and teaches mommas to trust their own bodies and the childbirth process.

Lamaze: The hallmark of the Lamaze childbirth method is controlled breathing techniques to help you cope with labor. But if you choose to do Lamaze childbirth education you will also learn how to trust your body and feel confident during childbirth, relaxation techniques, massage for labor, position changes and how to best use hydrotherapy.

How painful is home birth?

Unfortunately, there isn’t really a black and white answer to this question. For most mommas, giving birth at home means having a natural birth, free of medical interventions. The pain associated with natural birth varies from woman to woman because everyone’s pain tolerance is unique and everyone’s labor is unique.

Some women progress quickly through the stages of labor, others experience longer labors. Some women have excruciating back labor, and some describe their contractions as intense period cramps that are totally manageable. In other words, we can’t know how painful your homebirth will be.

But there are a couple of things we do know. Choosing to give birth at home means that you will be in a more relaxed and comfortable state of mind. The more relaxed you are during your labor, the better your body is able to produce the hormones necessary to help you naturally handle the pain.

Additionally, knowledge of ways to deal with labor pain naturally will go a long way in how you perceive the pain during your home birth.

What if I can’t handle the pain during my home birth?

If you decide to plan a home birth but find yourself in a position where you simply can’t handle the pain, you can always transfer to a hospital. Often, hospital transfers during home birth are discussed in more of an emergency sense, but some mommas choose to transfer to the hospital due to pain. And this is nothing to be ashamed of!

In some cases, if you have an extremely long labor, your midwife may even suggest a hospital transfer for the use of epidural to help your body rest and recover as you continue to labor.

Plan and prepare for pain relief during your home birth, momma

As your home birth approaches and you begin to plan and prepare, be sure to intentionally plan and learn about your pain relief options. Your midwife will be able to provide a lot of insight and advice about pain management, and the addition of a doula to your home birth team can also be an excellent source of labor coping wisdom.

Preparing your birth plan for your home birth also provides a lot of opportunities to discuss pain relief strategies that you want to prepare for and utilize during labor.

Lastly, don’t forget that the right childbirth class will provide you with a lot of strategies for your pain management toolkit.

Remember to pin this article as a reference for labor as you create your home birth plan and decide which pain coping strategies you want to utilize in your home birth!

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