If you’re pregnant and planning a natural birth, the idea of labor and delivery can be a terrifying one. This is especially true if it’s your first time around. During my first drug-free delivery, the pain was more intense than I’d ever imagined. (Translation: screaming, biting the bedsheets, and begging for an epidural that never came.)

Learning from the experience, I approached my second delivery with a sense of redemption. This time around, I was determined to have a positive, drug-free birth. After reading up on the hypnobirthing approach, my whole perspective on natural childbirth changed for the better. The kicker was that I went into it feeling super empowered. The attitude shift definitely paid off – my second daughter came into this world by way of a calm, gentle delivery.

Katie from the Wellness Mama, who’s had five natural births, knows a thing or two about unmedicated deliveries. Read on for three practical tips to help make natural childbirth a little easier.

Don’t fight the pain

When contractions kick in, one of the worst things you can do is clench up. Resisting the pain and wishing it away is actually a surefire way to experience more of it.

“With my first labor, I found the pain and was scared if it,” says Katie, who adds that a positive labor experience is all about surrender. “With my second, I realized there was no way to fight it, and just surrendered to the pain. The difference was tremendous.”

In my own experience, yielding to the pain served to greatly downplay its intensity. Chilling out also sped up my second delivery. (Only three hours passed between having my first contraction and holding my daughter in my arms.) But be prepared; experts say that a first-time labor typically lasts around 18 hours.

Focus on your breathing

Short, altered breathing is very different from the way you breathe when you’re calm and relaxed. During my first delivery, shallow, nervous breathing only triggered more fear and more pain.

“As a mom who has been through labor five times, and also as a doula, I’ve learned that the best type of the breathing in labor is the one that works best for your body, and you intuitively know what it is,” says Katie. “It's just important to remember to breathe and to try to keep it slow, relaxing and rhythmic.” 

The hypnobirthing approach focuses on specific breathing techniques to coincide with the different phases of labor. And according to Lamaze experts, conscious breathing reduces heart rate, anxiety, and pain perception.

Get moving

While in labor with my second child, lying flat on my back in the hospital bed felt counterintuitive. In fact, all I wanted to do was move around. It makes sense considering that moving freely during labor has been shown to reduce labor time and improve pain management. For Katie, it’s as simple as taking advantage of gravity.

“Labor is tough work; Why not let gravity make it a little easier?” she says. “ In my own experience, my labors where I walked, swayed, bounced and squatted were shorter and much more comfortable than the labor where I was confined to a bed.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, walking or moving around during labor allows the uterus to work more efficiently. Frequently changing positions also helps move the pelvic bones, which supports the baby’s transition into the birth canal.