While many would-be-mothers are happy to take all the pain relief they can get their hands on during labour, others would prefer to embrace the experience and take control of the birth of their child and the process leading up to the event.
Kate Middleton is due to give birth to her first child in a fortnight or so and is said to be learning to hypnobirth – a process where the pregnant woman uses self-hypnosis to help herself to relax during labour. It is a method which is proving popular among women who favour drug-free and even pain-free deliveries.
While many women turn to pain-relief to help them through the delivery of their baby, we spoke to three mothers who gave birth to their children without the aid of medication.
Tracy Donegan (left) is a doula, a trainee midwife and the author of The Irish Better Birth Book and The Irish Caesarean and VBAC Guide. She teaches the GentleBirth programme – a positive preparatory programme, which is suitable for anyone who is anxious about giving birth and the main goal is to help women achieve a 'fear-free pregnancy and birth'.
"My first baby (Jack) was born following an induction, epidural and vacuum – not the birth I was expecting, but I thought this was just how birth was 'done'. I trained as a doula and hypnotherapist and eventually went on to midwifery training. It was during my time as a doula that I saw how effective hypnosis was for labour – mums were so much calmer and labour seemed to be a lot more manageable and shorter.
"When I found myself pregnant with Cooper (left) in 2009, I decided to have a homebirth.
"As it was a second baby, I expected the labour to be shorter, but it took 16 hours on the hottest day of the year in 2010. It wasn't pain-free, but it was manageable.
"I used a birthing pool which was amazing. It was intense at times, but once I was able to stay relaxed the time passed quickly – at no time did I think I needed an epidural.
"Cooper was a juicy 10lb 7oz and I had two stitches. I did no active pushing – he pretty much pushed himself out. I felt like I could move mountains. It was one of the most empowering days of my life. That feeling of accomplishment was my medal.
"Now I teach the GentleBirth programme which is suitable for women who want to prepare for the best birth possible, 99pc of our mums give birth in hospital, but only 15pc of GB mums have an epidural, even with inductions.
"Preparation is essential for any mum planning on a drug-free birth with as little routine intervention as possible.
"It's just like preparing to run the marathon – you wouldn't just rock up to the starting line having not trained and expect to complete it.
"Labour without drugs is a focus marathon, but with the right team, the right support and preparation it's achievable and hugely satisfying.
"Pain in labour is subjective. It depends on so many variables – how well supported mum is emotionally, how mobile she is, Baby's position and mum's own pain threshold.
"My advice is to keep your options open and build your labour toolkit (hypnosis, acupressure, movement etc).
"The epidural is another part of this toolkit, but most GB mums don't feel things get so bad that they need it.
"Our hospitals are not set up to promote natural birth – 30 delivery beds for nearly 30,000 women in Dublin alone means time limits and routine intervention to speed things up.
"A big part of our programme is educating couples how to navigate and negotiate Irish maternity services so they make the system work for them – rather than them fitting into our very over-stretched maternity services."
Sara Gilchrist and her husband James Sheehan live in Glasnevin with their son Sean. She gave birth last September and made a conscious decision not to use pain relief – she found the whole experience very enriching.
"I gave birth on September 18, which happened to be my 31st birthday, and by that time I was 11 days overdue.
"I knew I wanted to give birth without pain relief as I believe it's wrong and dangerous to mess with the natural process. I felt it was best for baby and me, but decided if I couldn't cope, I would consider some pain relief.
"I had a birth pool and candles lit around my home – so I felt safe and warm and the private setting was what I needed. I used the GentleBirth programme throughout my pregnancy to eradicate any fears, so I really felt I could do it.
"I didn't think of the contractions as pain, but more as pressure or surges bringing my baby to me. I just gritted my teeth and got on with it. I retreated into myself and trusted my body to do its job. I really needed my husband beside me holding my hands. I wouldn't let him move.
"The warm water helped a bit but in the end I had to get out of the pool. I kept changing position again to help me deal with the pain.
"I just focused on one contraction/surge at a time. In my head I wanted them to cut me open and get it over with or give drugs – but I'm so glad they didn't. I was silent the whole way through, but at the end I roared with relief, 'Thank f***ing God that's over'.
"It was definitely a very rich experience as I was in control of my birthing experience. I followed my instincts and did what my body needed to safely birth Sean.
"His heartbeat was completely calm the whole way through and he arrived very calm – all 9lb 5oz of him.
"It was a richer experience for my husband, too. We felt Sean's head as it started emerging – it was amazing and gave me strength to keep going.
"After the birth, I was exhausted, but felt perfectly calm and myself again – I rested on the couch with Sean then went up for a shower and got into bed with Sean and Jimmy. I believe that giving birth is a normal bodily process and that if you interfere with nature things get complicated and birth then becomes scary.
"Today, birth is seen as a medical condition and hospitals take over and interfere unnecessarily. Once you eradicate your fears, giving birth naturally is completely possible."
The next GentleBirth workshop takes place on July 6. Over the two days new parents will build their labour 'toolkit' learning tips and techniques used by midwives around the world. Contact Tracy at 087 057 2500 or visit http://www.GentleBirth.ie for more details. For more antenatal advice visit www.cuidiu.ie