Epidural Alternatives

No matter what your birth “plan” is, childbirth can always take an unexpected turn. And, epidurals are not evil. They can help you get through something strenuous, exhausting, and even potentially dangerous.  Many mothers feel in a more peaceful, empowered way because of their epidural. That's it’s a good thing. What matters, at the end of the day, is you and your baby’s safety and wellbeing. 

I do know, though, that avoiding an epidural is a goal many of the mothers I work with have, each for their own reasons. 

So, I wanted to offer some tips on preventing an epidural if that aligns with your goals. 

How Common Are Epidurals?

About 60% of women who deliver vaginally in hospitals use an epidural.

What is an epidural, and how does it work?

It is local anesthesia. It's injected into the part of your back that provides sensation to your pelvic floor and upper legs. It usually works within 10-20 minutes. 

Are there any after-effects of an epidural?

A great study came out recently. It investigated if pelvic floor muscle functions and urinary incontinence are at all affected by epidural at 6 weeks postpartum. The conclusion is that there was no significant effect.

This study looked at if women who received an epidural were more likely to have postpartum depression 6 weeks postpartum. They found no correlation.

What they did find is interesting. Women whose birth experiences were different from what they anticipated have a higher likelihood of postpartum depression.

If that’s your story, it can be really helpful to talk through that experience with a professional.

Clinically, I’ve seen a handful of women who had epidurals with residual back pain at the injection site. Cupping around this area helped significantly. However, I did find a study that didn’t find a correlation between epidurals and back pain postpartum.

Do epidurals affect the baby?

This is definitely a conversation to have with your doctor. The Journal of American Medicine published a multicultural systematic review. It was a pioneer study. The goal was to find a correlation between epidurals and an autism spectrum disorder. I read through this study very carefully, and they are quick not to draw absolute conclusions. This is their final comment:

“The widespread use of LEA during the past few decades has significantly improved perinatal outcomes for mothers and their newborns. However, our findings raise the concern that the short duration of LEA exposure may be associated with long-term neurodevelopmental disorders in offspring. We believe that further research is warranted to confirm our study findings and to investigate the probable mechanistic association between LEA and ASD.”

Sometimes, pharmacological intervention is necessary. Overall, epidurals have improved birth outcomes for both mother and child. Just know that it’s not mandatory or required. If it’s not feeling like the right decision for you and your body in the moment, that's ok. 

Holistic Methods For Reducing Labor Pains

Moving meditation. 

What you’re up for will depend on the stage of labor you’re in. I'm a big believer that for women to relax our minds, hearts, and body, we need to be in a gentle, repetitive motion. It can be squeezing a hand or a stress ball, You can go bead to bead on a rosary. Swaying gently. Walk in slow circles.  

Prenatal Yoga

Keep in mind this is only appropriate for the beginning stages of labor. 

  • Standing, seated, or on all fours cat/cows. This keeps your back loose and gently stretches your pelvic floor
  • Goddess squats. Energy conservation is a key principle in labor. But if you are feeling some pent-up energy this can be a good way to help your brain connect to your lower body. Activate your glutes and supportive muscles so the pelvic floor feels supported. This movement lets gravity assist with baby’s descent.
  • Childs pose. This helps stretch and open pelvic floor muscles


Saying something repetitively to help with focus. It can be anything you want. Mine was “We’re OK. We’re OK.” 

Support of a Partner or Doula. 

Feeling safe and supported are essential human needs. It can be helpful to have positive reinforcement and an advocate in the room. 


This is where I get on my lateral breathing soapbox. Take a deep breath and expanding your ribs out to the side like an accordion. This calms your nervous system and takes the pressure off your pelvic floor muscles.

Hydrotherapy Tubs AKA Water Birth

This study looked at rates of anxiety, pain, contractions, and the effect on the neuroendocrine system in women who utilized a birth tub. Only 11 women were in the study. But what I like about it is that they use chemical blood markers to measure the above variables. They didn’t just collect qualitative information about anxiety levels. While in the tub, cortisol levels dropped, intrauterine contraction frequency decreased. The conclusion was that water births are helpful to our physiology when delivering. This study also mentions hydro births shortening the second stage of labor.


Massage, in any stage prenatal or postpartum, can be wonderful. It sends a calming, gentle signal to our sympathetic nervous system. I know it can be tempting to ask for a “deep tissue massage“ light touch is a great idea too.


Positive aromas help you stay present. But proceed with caution. Using heavy aromatherapy and essential oils during the later stages of labor isn't always a good idea. They can be difficult for a little newborn baby’s lungs to handle. 

Any Questions?

I hope this gives you some more information to help guide you through your options. If preventative medicine is your thing, check out our fitness birth plan options. You can always shoot me an email too!

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