What's My Alternative: Epidural

By Diana Reynolds Roome

When Chandra Lund discovered she was pregnant, she faced a dilemma. She wanted a natural labor, but media images of women screaming in pain haunted her, and the “horrible, painful” birth stories her friends told made her think twice. On the other hand, her mother, an ob-gyn nurse, had shared enough experiences of complications from medical interventions, especially epidurals, that “getting a needle put in my back scared me more than giving birth,” says Lund.

The Conventional Rx: Hospital birthing centers frequently administer pain medications through an epidural, which is a regional anesthesia injected through a catheter into the spine. Though effective
in reducing the pain of contractions, side effects—such as dizziness, fever, headache, and occasionally more serious complications—often outweigh the benefits. What’s more, an epidural can actually slow labor by inhibiting the natural production of birthing hormones, requiring manual intervention such as forceps or a vacuum to extract the baby.

The Alternative Rx: Self-hypnosis. With the help of Fay Kelly, a childbirth educator and hypnotherapist in San Mateo, California, Lund learned to welcome rather than fear the powerful energy that comes into play when labor starts. She and her husband practiced breathing techniques and rainbow meditation, a relaxation practice that involves focusing on colors. Soon Lund could identify the muscles and hormones that power the birthing process, and Kelly taught her visualization techniques she could use during labor to stimulate the hormones that soften and dilate the cervix. “Through self-relaxation and hypnosis techniques, you can coax your uterine muscles to let go instead of pushing,” says Kelly.

The outcome: When labor began, Lund stayed relaxed and in control. And her meditation and visualization training paid off: Lund’s labor totaled seven hours—much fewer than the average 12—with only 12 minutes in the hospital delivery room and no drugs or epidural. Her baby, Ricky, arrived calm and alert.