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What is it Like to Birth Without an Epidural?

by Ivy B

As a mom who has been through and believes wholeheartedly in natural birth, I recognize I childbirth without an epidural is subjective.  No one experience is the same.  Moms weigh in on what drug-free births were like for them.

What does childbirth feel like without an epidural?  This is a seriously great question!  And one I don’t have an exact answer for.  In fact, there’s only one REALLY GOOD answer.  Every mom who has gone through childbirth without an epidural is going to tell you something different.  The pain (or lack thereof) one may feel during childbirth is completely subjective.

The thing about any birth experience is that they’re all different.

Women all prepare differently for childbirth.  Some of us walk into it believing it’s our God-given ability to birth naturally and don’t prepare.  Others attend childbirth classes, force their support person to learn everything, and expect them to work with them to continue encouraging their birth wishes go as planned.

Pain tolerances are different.  Some of us have greater control over our minds.   Every birthing experience is different.  Baby’s position, location of labor pains, and our abilities to express ourselves and become uninhibited play roles in the perception of the pain.

Did you know that being scared of labor is actually a bad mentality for a laboring mother?  When you treat labor pains as though “something’s wrong” you’re stressed and your body stresses.  But, when you work with the contractions and remind yourself “this is my body doing it’s job” you signal more peace to your brain and body.

I know.  This isn’t the information you were looking for.  I can hear you saying “I just want someone to tell me what a drug free birth feels like.”

What childbirth without an epidural felt like to these moms. | www.sahmplus.com
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What Does Childbirth Without An Epidural Feel Like?

Since I am fully aware that childbirth without an epidural can feel completely differently to every mama, I thought it best I not answer this myself.  These moms graciously offered to let me quote them on their natural birth experiences.  This is what they had to say about childbirth without an epidural.

Labor was too fast for an epidural

“Because my labors were so fast I couldn’t get an epidural but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The recoup time after the epidural vs no epidural are significant. The contractions are significantly dulled with an epidural but when all is said and done and pushing begins having control of your pushing without the epidural is huge.  I’ve given birth 6 times and not having an epidural made a huge difference in my recovery. I was up and walking right away vs couldn’t get up and wash shaky all over with epidural.” ~Elia M

Elia shares her 6th child’s birth story here.

Long Labor vs. Short Labor

“As a mom having been through two natural births, I can tell you they were both very different.  I would never tell you they weren’t painful, but there were ways to manage the pain of both.  My longest (26hr) labor was more exhausting and I had back (and butt) labor making it impossible to sit.  The contractions increased at such a snail’s pace that I had plenty of time to adjust to every spike in pain.

My second, on the other hand, was a very intense 9 hour labor.  My son had been stuck on a bone in my pelvis and ended up being 13 days past due.  After I got him moved, my body went into a very painful labor and I felt as though I would explode from the middle.  The contractions increased in strength and length so quickly, I barely had time to think.  My pain threshold was met nearly every time I fought the contractions.  But, with the help of my husband in the delivery room, I was reminded to breathe through and move with them, which lessened the severity of pain I felt.  Additionally, the ring of fire was no where near as concerning as I’d been told.  With my second birth, I never even felt it.” ~Ivy B

Pain roller coaster

“Childbirth without an epidural feels like the biggest pain roller coaster you’ll ever experience! The waves of pain are so overwhelming you’ll think you can’t get through… But you can and you will! Somehow the baby comes out (even if unexpected medical interventions occur) and it’s all worth it!” ~Susannah K

Susannah shares both her sons’ birth stories on her blog.  You can read Josiah’s Birth Story and  Caleb’s Birth Story on her blog at Simple Moments Stick

More like intense menstrual cramps

“My second birth was so rapid, there was no time for medication. I wouldn’t even describe the sensation as pain, but rather extreme discomfort – like super intense menstrual cramps that build up and gradually go down. Crowning was also nothing like I expected – like a burning, stretching, almost abrasive sensation that goes away immediately after the baby is born. With both my births I remember saying right in the middle of labor, “this isn’t nearly as bad as I expected!” With my unmedicated birth I felt much more in control, but I attribute that more to the fact that it was my second time experiencing labor rather than the absence of medication.” ~Kristina S

It was super fast

“I had my first and only baby fast, painless and no drugs. He was 3.920kg. I was lucky because he was perfectly engaged the whole last month of pregnancy and when the time came, it was super fast.” ~Carolina S

Shoot me

“My second birth was VBAC without medicine. What helped me to get through was my focus at the picture on the wall. It was of a mum holding her baby. I was just reminding myself that I’ll soon hold my baby too. The pain…I was howling like wolf or fox….at the end when my baby got stuck after an hour of Pushing, I just wanted somebody to shoot me, KILL me right there and give me relief.” ~Capricon L

The second was like a freight train

“Both of my births were unmedicated. Both were the most empowering experiences of my life, in completely different ways. Some women rely on their partners or birth team for support, but for the first one, I went completely inward. I didn’t want to be touched or messed with. I wanted to labor in the corner like some kind of primal animal. I pushed for 20 minutes and had a crying healthy baby boy on my chest.

My second one happened FAST. I went from active labor to pushing in 40 minutes. It happened in the water before the tub was even full. I had a lot of back labor with this birth and needed my birth team to support me with hip squeezes. Once I got in the water, the contractions came one on top of the other and it was like holding on to freight train. I had the baby out in 3 pushes and pulled him up to my chest. It happened so quickly that neither the nurse or midwife made it into the room in time!” ~Naya Weber, IBCLC, LactivistinLouboutins


“Unmedicated birth for me was an empowering marathon of unusual acrobatics. I worked my way through several positions all with keeping in tune with my body to determine when I needed to push through and when I needed to rest. At the end I truly felt like a super hero.  I had some damn good help with my husband and midwife too. ” ~Kameron M from Mombie and the Munchkin Monster

In the tub, dull pressure

Childbirth without an epidural - dull pressure in the tub

“For the first 15min, the water had completely relieved the pain.. My contractions felt like dull pressure that wrapped around my lower back and belly, different from the sharpness I experienced when I was out of the tub. But as time went on, I could feel my baby moving down.” ~Jenn M from Brooklyn’s Birth Story on Modlins Multiply

It’s real

“I gave birth to both my daughter, and my twin boys without pain medication.   I would say that an epidural free childbirth is definitely REAL. Every labor and delivery experience is real, but med free is real in the sense that you remember everything, you feel everything, your entire body is literally present for everything. It’s empowering (and exhausting lol) to make it through delivery that way. ” ~Tiara J

Not sure I’d do it again

“My most recent labor was unmedicated although I’m not sure I would do it again. The burning pain at crowning is the worst pain I’ve ever experienced and it felt like it lasted an eternity. But the good thing is that as soon as the baby slides out the pain instantly disappears.” ~Hannah C shares her experience in this birth story.

Pressure, not pain

“I used the Hypnobabies program and had a really good first time experience. For a day leading up to the “real” labour I felt literal contractions in my midsection that I mostly ignored. Then they started to ramp up! At the worst, it felt kind of like a really hot hand grabbing and squeezing my stomach. I also experienced leg labor which made it very difficult to get comfortable, thankfully I was in water which helped. But during the actual pushing I felt nothing! I was so deep in hypnosis that my midwives and doula had to actually tell me it was time to push. Once I became aware of this, I could feel the pressure of her head but no pain.” ~Kristine M

Not if you’re induced

“My first birth was in a birthing center. While it was painful, I had some coping techniques that worked and my midwives made it so peaceful. My second was a whirlwind. I was in a hospital and I was induced. I don’t recommend going without pain medications while being induced since pitocin contractions are a lot worse than natural contractions.” ~Aubree P shares 8 tips to achieve your dream natural birth

You can survive anything for half an hour

When asked about childbirth without an epidural, this mom said "you can survive anything for half an hour"

I’ve had two intentionally unmedicated birthday, and will have my third in a couple months.  I always say, “it’s really not that bad!” It’s essentially strong menstrual cramps until the last half hour or so, and a person can survive anything for half an hour!” ~Juli H from Mostly Caffeinated

It’s primal

I completely agree …. childbirth without an epidural is very primal!

“My second was an unmedicated birth (on purpose) and the only way I can describe it would be to say that it feels like the closest I will ever get to a primal state of being. It was painful, yet powerful. And it’s followed by an immense happiness that I hadn’t felt until that moment.” ~Rachel L from It’s a Hero

The easiest labor

” My third was my only unmedicated birth and easily my easiest labor. The nurse kept coming in and you could see the awe on her face, I felt amazing. The last five minutes I had intense sensations as I pushed, but that was it. “It was the most empowering thing I’ve ever felt in my life.” It was also mindblowing because I felt amazing the entire time.” ~Shannon S from Our Piece of Earth

There was no time for the epidural

“…when I realized there would be no epidural, I was terrified… but then I guess I just switched into work mode ?? he came out so fast, he busted blood vessels in his eyes and bruised his little nose! ? but how it felt…. uh!? I remember pressure and I remember the pain.. squeezed the life out of my husbands hands (mostly to make sure he wasn’t running away ?) and just when the pain got to where I wasn’t sure I could hang.. he came and I felt 10,000 times better!!

I loved postpartum soooo much better without the epi… I was able to stand up and go to the warmer while they cleaned him and weighed him. I was completely alert and mobile right away!! And I really liked that!” ~Deanna Grace from Love and Scribbles

Real-Life Wonder Woman

real life wonder woman

“My second birth was without any drugs mainly because I labored to fast to get them. I had full intentions of having a drug-free birth but the speed that I labored at made it feel like someone stuck one of those pap smear thingys in me and just kept cranking it open quickly. I screamed for drugs. When I got to the hospital I was 7 cm dilated, the nurse said it was too late to give me anything. She left and it couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes later when I told my husband to go yell in the hallway for someone to come catch the baby bc he was coming out NOW. I labored for a total 5 hrs (mostly at home) and used the method from Hynobirthing. It was amazing. Yes the contractions are painful but they’re a very manageable pain and meditation was the perfect way to manage them. I was able to really enjoy birth. And afterwards I felt like a real live Wonder Woman. That moment really cemented for me that women are the strongest of the sexes and men should bow down! ” ~Bridgid M writes her birth story snippets and encouragement in her post You Were Built for This

Painful, yet powerful

“I have had two (planned) unmedicated births. I feel so blessed to be able to carry and birth children, and I wanted to feel present in every moment of that. Giving birth was painful, yet extremely powerful. It is so incredible to feel your body working to get your baby out. Once the baby is born, it is such a relieving and empowering feeling.” ~Amber R shares her son’s birth story

Induced and avoided epidural

“I gave birth to my twins without an epidural while being induced! With twins things are a little more complicated and I consented to an induction after a lot of consideration and input from my midwives and doctor. But I wanted to keep it as natural as possible even if I was induced and in a hospital. So I wanted to avoid and epidural, which I did!

I was on max doses of pitocin for 2 full days before giving birth, but for me the pitocin wasn’t much worse than natural labor, which I had experience with my daughter. It mostly feels like period cramps until you get to transition, and that’s when all hell breaks loose.

I have back labor with my births. It basically feels like someone is stabbing a knife into your lower back on top of really bad period cramps. It’s honestly not fun, but it is a short period of time. Once I hit the stage where I started doubting if I could actually do it, I knew I was close. Many women go through that “omg I can’t do this” stage, but that’s usually right before you’re ready to push those babies out!” ~Morgan B

The Flash

“It was the most painful and most purposeful thing I’ve ever felt. My water broke and I could feel him moving through me like a Mack truck. There was no stopping it. My body knew exactly what to do. I screamed and then suddenly there he was. ” ~Kristin B shares Flash’s Birth Story

I couldn’t control my body

” It felt so powerful and intense. I couldn’t control my body and it started pushing with no thought or intent from me. The final stages felt like the convulsions you have when you are vomiting, that kind of retching feeling that you can’t control but you know is your body naturally doing its job. The feeling once the baby is out is like no other and you instantly feel like you can conquer the world.” ~Holly P from Pitter Patter Pither

Leg day at the gym

“I remember saying afterwards ‘that was bad….but so is leg day at the gym'” ~Grá C

Enjoyable …

Would you imagine childbirth without an epidural as enjoyable?

“I don’t have any comparison as this was my first but birth without an epidural was amazingly empowering. I honestly felt no pain and the rush of hormones you get is unbelievable. I thoroughly enjoyed my labour.  We did do hypnobirthing which I believe helped me a lot and my labour was short and sweet. I slept through pretty much all of it.” ~Bella D from Documenting the Drews

Similar to food poisoning cramps

“I had both my children at home. Both planned. No drugs, unless you include the 2 bags of Jelly Babies I munched my way through.

I felt my contractions in my back and the pain was similar to food poisoning cramps (infact that’s what I thought it was initially!). They come in waves, they slowly build up to a peak and then slowly die down again. When I was having a contraction I went into my own little world, concentrating on my breathing. In between contractions I would eat Jelly Babies and have inane conversations with my husband about the weather etc.

The pushing part is a bit surreal. Our bodies have been doing this for years so they know what they doing. Just go with the flow and don’t fight it.

The head popping out feels like your muscles are being stretched as far as they can go, which they are. Once the head is out, you are on the home straight.

Painful? Yes…but manageable. Nowhere near as bad as I had heard. I had tonsillitis a few years ago and that was much more painful than childbirth. At least with childbirth you get a break between the contractions and you get a wonderful present at the end.” ~Sonia J from The Parent Express

I’d do it again

” I had two home births, both planned. No drugs, and honestly, I wouldn’t have had time for them anyway. Both of my labors were less than 12 hours from first contraction to birth. The only time I felt like I couldn’t handle it was when my youngest son’s head got out of position. My midwife reached in and MOVED HIS HEAD! But then, he was ready to go and was Earth-side about 90 minutes later.

As far as pain, yeah, there was pain, but really, it was manageable. I really liked being able to feel everything and have control of my body. I walked around my house and tried different positions for pushing and I couldn’t have done that with an epidural. It was a WEIRD feeling having my hips spread apart with my first born (he was 9 lb, 5 ounces with an ENORMOUS head). My youngest was moving down the birth canal even between contractions, which was also another very weird sensation. The best part of not having any drugs was how alert both of my boys were after birth. They both latched right away and I was able to bond with them as long as I wanted. Plus, with the home birth, I was able to sleep in my OWN BED right away. That was SOOOOO nice. I have no regrets and if I’d ever have another kid, I’d do the same thing. ” ~Rachelle W from Mama Writes Reviews

I wasn’t in the right mindset

Wrong mindset for childbirth without an epidural

Sometimes we’re just not prepared for childbirth without an epidural.

” I’ve had one epidural birth and one unplanned unmedicated birth. My daughter wanted out and she wanted out right that second, from start to finish was just over 2 hours. I have never been in so much pain in my life. I was not in the right mindset, I had planned having a medicated birth from the beginning, but God had other plans for me. The worst pain my life, so I was thankful it happened so fast!” ~Sarah C writes about her two birth differences in her post You Are Always Enough

Keep the conversation going – in the comments, tell us if you’ve experienced childbirth without an epidural!

If you’re here considering childbirth without an epidural or want to share your own story, continue the discussion in the comments section of this post.  I’d love to hear from you!

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Janine Huldie March 23, 2018 - 8:53 am

With my first I had an epidural and truly think it prolonged labor. My second they tried, but the epidural never actually took. So, I ended up delivery with no epidural and honestly was such an easier delivery when all was said and done. Plus, I agree with those who said recovery time was so much quicker as I was up and walking around only a short time after, as well. So, I think if I ever did have another baby, I would opt for no epidural if I could from my past experiences.

Ivy B March 23, 2018 - 1:28 pm

It’s like any drug on the market – everything comes with a side effect (or a thousand lol) and may or may not work. I’m glad to see you have a positive outlook on the experience, even though it wasn’t what you planned <3

Laura Dennis March 23, 2018 - 3:53 pm

3 babies. 3 epidurals. No problems.

Ivy B March 24, 2018 - 4:58 pm

I’m so glad to hear that. I have friends that had epidurals who feel effects from them years later.

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