8 Things That Can Make Labour Pain WORSE

8 Things That Can Make Labour Pain WORSE

I don’t know anyone who wants a more painful labour!

Usually when women plan or discuss their preferences for the birth, they consider their options for pain relief.

Yet, so many women go through labour every single day, not realising there are simple things that can actually make labour pain worse.

If they knew about and avoided these things, it could significantly help to reduce the amount of pain and discomfort they might feel during labour, hence their need for pain relief.

Unfortunately, labour wards aren’t set up for the most optimal birthing experience, which means comfort can be compromised.

8 Things That Can Make Labour Pain WORSE

So, let’s get started – what 8 things should you avoid in order to prevent labour being more painful than it needs to be?

#1: Lying On Your Back

Not only does lying on your back put all of the weight of the baby and your uterus on your back (which is not great for blood supply), but your uterus contracts forward.

So when you’re on your back, you’re not working with gravity – you’re working against it.

At all costs, avoid positions on your back during labour.

Instead, choose upright, forward-leaning positions where possible.

It’s okay to rest on your side if you need a break – but just keep off your back.

Reclining should also be avoided where possible, unless for a break.

#2: Fear

What has fear got to do with labour pain?

Simple – when we’re fearful, we tense up.

When we’re tense, we don’t breathe deeply, our body is tight and and we feel more pain.

So, how do you combat the fear?

I believe the best things a woman can do for herself (and her partner) to help prevent fear is get informed and educated with good quality information and surround herself with great support.

This includes:

  • Getting independent birth education (out of hospital)
  • Reading quality books that give you great information – see BellyBelly’s birth book list here
  • Hiring a doula or independent/homebirth midwife
  • Considering a homebirth
  • Look into Calmbirth/Hypnobirth classes
  • Join pregnancy or birth groups that are supportive of your choices
  • Hang around people who are supportive of your choices and have had the kind of experience you want
  • Ignore the horror stories and avoid spending time around negative people

A great book to get started with if fear is a hurdle for you is Birth Without Fear.

Also see BellyBelly’s article on how to reduce fear at birth and childbirth: your top 12 fears answered.

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#3: Not Having A Doula (Or Other Skilled Birth Support Professional)

Not having experienced, skilled birth support during labour can lead a mother-to-be feeling fearful… then that fear creates to tension, and the tension results in pain.

Most women don’t realise when they hire an obstetrician for childbirth, he or she will spend very little time in the birth room.

Hospital midwives need to manage several women in labour and don’t stay in the room as long as you may think too.

So if you’re labouring (especially for your first time) and you’re not coping or don’t have the tools to help you cope with the pain, it can end up being a much more painful experience than it need be.

A doula fills a much needed, missing gap in the birth industry.

A doula is a trained birth support person, who has the ability to change the experience of birth a couple have, from a painful, stressful event to a more relaxed, highly supported one.

In fact, studies have shown that a doula is more effective than hospital staff or the mother’s friends or family, due to a support trifecta she can provide unlike anyone else: she is known to the woman, she is experienced in birth, and she can provide continuous, one-to-one support (wont leave the mothers side).

Doulas not only build a relationship with you and help to educate you before the birth, but they have learnt many skills to help ease pain. Studies have shown that women who use a doula use less pain relief, are more satisfied with the birth experience and dads feel more satisfied with their role too. A doula supports the mother’s partner so he can better support her too – and that’s gotta be good for everyone.

If money is an issue, a student doula is a second best option. Doulas understand there is already enough pressure on a family to pay for a baby, so they try to make it as easy as possible with payment plans and other flexible payment options. At the same time, doulas invest a great deal of time and energy in this physically and emotionally demanding work, so they are definitely worth their weight in gold.

Find out more about doulas here.

#4: A Stressful Birth Environment

  • Is someone is in the birth room that you don’t want to be there?
  • Is the midwife or doctor upsetting you with their bedside manner or invasiveness?
  • Is too much is going on around you?
  • Is it too noisy or do you keep being interrupted?

These sorts of things can all make you stressed during labour.

As per my earlier point, stress causes tension, and you’ll end up not coping as well with the pain.

Make sure you’ve chosen skilled support people to make sure these things don’t happen. 

Make sure any untrained birth support people who will be at the birth have read BellyBelly’s article 10 Tips On Being A Great Birth Support Person.

Also, you and your birth team should watch BellyBelly’s The Truth About Natural Birth, which includes a whole section about birth support skills for partners, friends or family. We offer a money back guarantee they’ll learn so much more than traditional hospital based birth classes.

The team around you need to be able to rally together, getting you through your toughest moments in labour.

Unfortunately what happens when they fall apart or aren’t supporting you like you hoped, you’ll want the quickest escape route to try and deal with the stress.

This usually comes in the form of interventions or pain relief, to get it over as quickly as you can.

A woman in labour cannot support or keep together her birth support team, and have a great birth at the same time.

#5: An Induction Of Labour With Synthetic Hormones

Sometimes an induction becomes necessary due to the health of the mother or baby.

In which case, it’s very important that you trust your doctor and make the decision thats best for you.

However if there’s no urgent medical need and you can avoid an induction, your body will be able to labour in a more natural way.

While it can be lifesaving for some, being medicated with a drug that was designed to really ramp the labour up to get the baby out quickly can be quite painful for many women.

I would not say all, as I have worked with a couple of doula clients who have needed an induction with syntocinon, but not asked for pharmaceutical pain relief.

But many do find it challenging — myself included during my first birth when my labour was augmented. Syntocinon or pitocin is for those who need to get the baby out NOW. And you’re committed to doing what it takes to get the baby out once you’ve started. This will involve other interventions, so weigh up if the risks are worth it for you. Your decision is yours and yours alone.

Only accept an induction if you truly need it. For more information on inductions, check out BellyBelly’s article on medical inductions here.

#6: Not Knowing Any Natural Pain Relief Options

Where possible, its best to start with natural pain relief options rather than medical ones – some are particularly effective. After attending births, its been surprising to hear what helped my clients best cope with pain. One told me how the simple action of breathing with her made a massive difference, because it gave her something to focus on.

Another said she was so happy to hear me suggest to get into the birth pool, because she wasn’t sure if it was too soon (its more effective as pain relief later in labour). Once she got in, she relaxed and baby was born soon after.

Another client got through transition (the last, most intense part of labour before pushing) by hearing me take her through some visualisations that worked for her when she learnt Calmbirth.

Natural pain relief options can certainly help relieve pain. If you don’t know effective natural tools that work, you’ll head straight for the drugs, which have side effects to consider.

While some drugs can completely numb the pain, it sets off other courses of action, which may result in pain later down the track and even complications. An epidural can immobilise you in bed, meaning you wont be able to have an active labour and help your baby to move down. Not to mention the risks you need to weigh up.

Find out everything you need to know about epidurals here.

You wont be able to feel yourself push unless the epidural has worn off, which means that you could be pushing ineffectively, especially for first time mothers. This means that a forceps, vacuum or caesarean birth may become necessary.

You may be surprised – many natural options are effective enough to get women through the harder parts of labour – but if you don’t know your options then you don’t have any.

Be sure to take a look at out article, which offers 13 natural pain relief options.

#7: A Posterior Baby

Many women with posterior babies (baby’s spine against the mothers spine) find ‘back’ labour to be challenging. This is because on top of normal labour pain, they feel strong back pain. However, there are several things you can do about this. As a preventative, look into optimal fetal positioning (see the website www.spinningbabies.com), which can help encourage baby into an anterior (front) position. It involves simple positioning activities and tools and tricks – for example when you sit, sit in a way that your bum is above your knees, which changes the position of the pelvis.

You might like to find out if the centre you are birthing at offers sterile water injections, which can take away ALL the back pain for some women, and a significant amount for others. It doesn’t work for everyone but its a fantastic, natural option. Some hospitals aren’t aware of the sterile water injections, so print out BellyBelly’s article and ask them to investigate if they don’t know about it. If your centre allows you to bring in your own acupuncturist during labour, this is another option to help with back pain.

Keep active in your pregnancy as best you can, even a 30 minute walk every day at your own pace will help your body, mind and your birth. Keeping active during labour, changing positions and working with your pelvis will help to keep baby turning and moving until he or she is ready to be born.

Acupuncture is also a great option for turning babies, as well as general pregnancy wellbeing and birth preparation. Osteopathic and chiropractic checkups are also worthwhile to make sure your body is aligned and primed for birth. Its definitely worth booking yourself in with experienced practitioners to prepare you for the best birth possible.

#8: Being Dehydrated

Not drinking enough water and being dehydrated can cause problems in labour, because when you’re dehydrated, your uterus doesn’t contract as efficiently. Every single cell in your body relies on water to function properly, and when you don’t have enough, things start to break down – even your energy levels, concentration and focus can suffer when you’re dehydrated, no matter if you’re in labour or not.

You don’t have to throw back a heap of water, little sips often are ideal. Make sure you have bendy straws in your birth bag, so your support team can offer you drinks easily without you having to hold the cup. If you put a piece of tape across the cup to hold the straw in place, this can help stop the straw from moving around while mama is trying to drink. The little things make a big difference.

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Kelly Winder is the creator of BellyBelly.com.au, a writer, doula (trained in 2005), and a mother of three awesome children. She's passionate about informing and educating fellow thinking parents and parents-to-be, especially about all the things she wishes she knew before she had her firstborn. Kelly is also passionate about travel, tea, travel, and animal rights and welfare. And travel.


  1. My first birth was in a hospital with an OB (not by choice, my pregnancy was high risk) and I had a very hard labour and slow recovery. My second birth was at home with a midwife and it was wonderful. My best advice to help you relax is to breathe deep but, when you inhale, focus on your stomach expanding as you fill it with air. That got me through transitional labour with absolutely no pain relief whatsoever. That and a good soak in a warm tub!

    1. When I had my daughter, we had her at the hospital. I really enjoyed it and everyone there was great. She was three weeks early and everything was perfect. It was a quick delivery and no complications. I have decided though with my second child (after watching a film on natural birth versus hospital in my psychology class) that I am going to have an at home water birth. I’m really excited for when we get to experiencethat bbecause I hear nothing but positive feedback about it.

  2. i had a doula, no drugs and a calm birth intention for my first and ended up with a panic attack, induction, the Los to Ain I hope I will ever experience, and trauma post natally. The second time I had an epidural and was relaxed throughout, also less overwhelmed afterwards. Feel free to change your needs during birth if you haven’t experienced it before as you have no idea what you are entering.

  3. i don’t think you need a doula, you need attentive carers in labour, your mum and partner are all that’s needed and a Midiwfe to stay with you throughout. A Doula is just a paid alternative to your Mum.

    1. Not really, and studies (and a Cochrane database review of all available studies) have proven otherwise. A doula is a trained, experienced woman employed by the woman (not under any hospital restrictions) who provides continuity of care. Also doulas (including myself) often see mothers encouraging pain relief, especially when it gets hard (mums usually can’t stand to see their beloved daughter in pain!) and some even freak out, get emotional, cry when her daughter is doing it tough etc. Obviously not all mothers are like this, but training in normal physiological childbirth, what to do when labour stalls, interpreting what a labouring mother needs and how to explain the medical jargon is all something a doula learns. A mother does not know all these things, so can’t offer the same benefits, especially if there are hurdles with the labour. She can be a loving, continuous presence, but that is all. And if she hasn’t had the sort of birth you want, it can make it even more complicated. Even a friend who has had a c-section when you want a totally natural birth may not be the right choice. I am sure those who have had a good doula would say the same 🙂

      1. My mum was a midwife 30 years ago – and never lets anyone forget it! She would drive me crazy in the delivery room. With both my births I told her once babies arrived safely – she wasn’t happy but the thought of her rushing to the hospital and trying to gain access to delivery suite – well meaning but overwhelming and “all about her” – was enough to give me extreme anxiety. No thanks! Partner and midwife enough for me.

      2. I work in a L&D. Doulas are amazing! Most of our doula assisted births are much calmer and have fewer medical interventions. As a staff member, I am grateful for the undivided attention they provide to my patients. A good doula is worth their weight in gold.

      3. I truly do not know why the end goal seems to be delivery without pain relief intervention. Why encourage someone in pain and doing it tough to push through that. I know of now other situation in life where you would expect a person to endure this pain and be encouraged to bear it. As a nurse and now Doctor who has 4 weeks till my first child’s arrival, I am truly baffled. Emotional and physical support I 100% agree with and commend anyone trying to help , just realise interventional pain relief does not equal failure and should not be a set as a goal to achieve.

        1. I don’t believe anyone should go into labour with a single goal to have zero pain relief. Unless you have real, informed reasons for wanting that, it wont hold you in labour, you’ll likely buckle. They would be better served getting informed and educated about how they can avoid unnecessary pain and the benefits of doing so. A woman spends her pregnancy not taking pain killers or drinking alcohol… some want to keep it out of their system during that all important birth too, where it can impact their babies and birth experience (if they would like less intervention than more). So this information is written for them, in this labour bypass era.

        2. Ummm pain medicine and anything you are given in pregnancy or labor is going to get to the baby and will affect that child to one degree or another. That alone is enough reason why I chose an unmedicated and natural vaginal birth with my first as well as choosing that again with my second.
          Other reasons are that when you’re given some medicines or have interventions of many kinds it can and does slow down labor and can cause for further interventions which are not truly needed. We need more doctors who are less syringe happy and are more understanding and competent in the knowledge that this is NATURAL and CAN be handled without drugs or most interventions. Doctors mean well but most of them/you are not content to encourage women to give birth naturally and stay on the sidelines as a lifeguard who only intervenes in emergencies.
          I had Bad back labor with my first and was able to use breathing and other techniques to control my fear, pain, and mind. I had no one offer me medicine and that was a good thing.
          I’m not saying medicine and interventions should NEVER be given BUT we need more doctors who understand that natural
          Labor and delivery is posaible and is much safer and easier for women both during and after birth. We just need more and more support.

  4. Agree that these things are all important. But you cannot predict how your birth will go. Like the poster above, we had midwives, doula, natural childbirth intentions and education, and ended up having a very bad time and an eventual c-section despite many hours of natural labor. Don’t blame yourself if you need an intervention, and arrange for lots more help and rest in the postpartum period than you think you’ll need. I wish we had spent more time planning for the postpartum period/baby and less time fantasizing about the birth!

  5. With my 1st baby I had a bad experience at a public hospital…the environment itself and the treatment there made labour worse (3 days of labour)than expected but a month ago a gave birth to my son at a private clinic, 3 hours of labour,great support from sisters and midwives.

  6. These are awesome tips as I am about to have my first baby and I really want to do so naturally. I’ve been learning some great pain management techniques in my birth class and I know I’ll be so thankful for them when the time comes.

  7. Great article. OBVIOUSLY every woman’s birthing experience is going to be different and no one can be totally prepared, you just do the best you can with the information and options you have. I’m a first time mom, and at this point, I would like to try very hard to have a natural birth and I’ve heard wonderful things about the benefits of having a doula. That being said, can you offer a short list of questions I should ask a doula before I decide whether or not I’m going to hire her?

  8. I feel inclined to comment because I tried a home birth for my first born with an attendant private midwife and doula where my baby was posterior. My water broke as soon as woke and I was in labor with contractions coming quickly. The back pain was more intense than the contractions. I believe that not having enough water/IV as I laboured at home moving between hot shower and heated birth pool caused dehydration and made my contractions stop (ketosis). After 14 hours of labour I was still only 4-5 centimeters. Please make sure you have WATER or an IV during labor. I ended up transferring to the hospital and had to have two bags of water before an epidural was allowed because of dehydration. My baby’s heartrate fell as soon as the epidural was administered but then stabilized and finally the back pain was gone. I do believe that I ended up in a prolonged 32 hour labour because I did not understand the importance to the impact on contractions if not fully hydrated. PLEASE ensure you have more than ice chips if you are not otherwise on an IV.

  9. You can’t avoid a traumatic birth. At least that was my experience. My baby was faced down and happy for the whole pregnancy. I was encouraged to get a membrane sweep where my firm cervix was grabbed and yanked (I didn’t know that baby’s head would be involved in this until afterward otherwise I would have declined). I ended up with a really long early back labour (I’d had back pain every time I had Braxton Hicks contractions; from 20 weeks). The whole labour went for 51 hours. I was so freaked out after 24 hours of contractions that I couldn’t sleep and I wasn’t eating or drinking, I was too focused on the timing and length of the contractions. Baby turned while in the hospital and was born posterior (back to back). I remained on only gas and air and am now working through PTSD. My psychologist says I had difficulty voicing what I wanted. It didn’t help that the medical staff had changed 3-4 times while we were in the hospital. In this case it would have been very beneficial to have a doula, my husband was so exhausted that in the end he wasn’t much help at all.
    Having PTSD is not the end of the world, nor is it the first time I’ve experienced PTSD. Just make sure you get the help when you need it post birth.

    I guess my point is that everyone thinks they will have a standard birth but not everybody does. Each birth is completely different so you won’t know if you need a doula or not until afterwards.

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