Pregnancy can be one of the most special and significant times in a woman’s life, however the fear of labor pain can cast a dark shadow over the final trimester. While everyone has heard the horror stories about long and difficult labors, these fear-inducing stories can cause women to lose sight of important measures and coping strategies available when it comes to creating a birth plan and managing pain during contractions and delivery.
Whether you’re looking for ways to experience a drug-free natural birth, or are simply looking at additional pain relief measures to integrate before and after an epidural injection, there are a number of approaches that can use natural pain relief techniques that may come in handy when it comes to making the childbirth experience a bit more manageable.
Mindset, Expectations and Breathing
If you are finding yourself fighting fear, it is important to note that when it comes to pain and fear associated with childbirth, your first defense is your own perspective. While screaming and yelling through the bouts of pain may feel like a relief, and though they are fully acceptable, in some circumstances this can expended energy that you will need to reserve for the final moments of pushing. Though you may not have control over many aspects of your baby’s delivery, your mindset and breathing are something you can focus on to stay in control of something during the big day. This is about your mental and emotional preparation for giving birth and it is a two-fold effort. Through additional methods of self-hypnosis or visualization techniques you may find a new approach to managing and even dulling the pain.
First, do not listen to other people who want to tell you horror stories about birth. This raises your stress levels and sets you up for worry. Second, be prepared for all possibilities and have a backup plan for how and why you might want to change aspects of your birthing plan. You may not need that back up plan, but sometimes just knowing it is in place can help convince you to relax and find peace of mind during the tough moments.
Every TV show or movie depiction of labor shows the mother’s performing breathing patterns. This is one area where they actually get it right. When we are in pain, we tend to hold our breath, but this can be dangerous for the baby and detrimental to your comfort level.
Rather than tensing up with each burst of pain, which counter-productively increases pain, deep breathing forces your body to relax and move with its natural rhythms.
If you take a birth preparation class, chances are that the instructor will cover breathing techniques. There are also many great videos online demonstrating different deep breathing methods. Since you won’t know what works for you until you are in the moment, it helps to familiarize yourself with more than one technique. Some women even find it helpful to vocalize while exhaling, while others find that focusing on visualization with deep breathing bring more focus and relief.
Pain is part of the process. It is important to accept that and not to focus on it. Pain levels vary from one birth to the next and the fact is, that pain is not there to hurt you or do damage, that pain is a process to introduce you to the greatest human you will ever know. Strive to adjust your mindset and get your brain to think of the pain as helping you push your baby out. With this mindset, visualize each contraction bringing your baby closer to existing in the world.
With a new mindset in place, focus on long, slow, and deep breaths during contractions, which can help you focus on your breathing and mindset rather than the pain. This approach to breathing can also help provide relaxation in between contractions when your body is feeling most tired.
If you are giving birth at a hospital, by default nurses will get you situated in a bed. That does not mean you have to stay in the bed. In fact, laboring on the back is one of the least intuitive positions. In fact, in most traditional societies it was common practice to squat to give birth rather than lay down.
When it comes to positioning yourself, follow your own instincts when it comes to which labor positions you prefer and whether that means you are doing so in bed, or out of it. If turning onto your side feels better, do it. If squatting feels more comfortable, do it.
Movement not only helps you to cope with labor pain, but it also helps your body to accelerate the labor process. With the attending nurse’s permission, and maybe your spouses’ hand for extra support, you might find it helpful to walk, sway or even dance. You can also ask if the hospital has an exercise ball to rock back and forth as rocking can be soothing or birthing chair, which can help you to squat during labor.
When used in combination with heat treatment or massage, aromatherapy and essential oils can help ease stress and have a striking effect on pain management. Some of the most common oils used for aromatherapy during labor and delivery include lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, citrus, rose or sandalwood.
To include aromatherapy in labor pain relief, essential oils can be added to distilled water and diffused in the delivery room, oils and herbs can be added to sachets and rice socks, or depending on the rules of the hospital or birth center on oils and diffusers, simply packing an orange in your hospital bag and scratching the peel and holding it to your nose can provide the aroma needed to help manage the pain.
If you are planning to have a water birth, then you have this coping mechanism covered, however if you are not, many birthing suites, hospitals and centers offer showers or tubs since warm water can help soothe sore muscles.
When immersion is not an option, or if you are not interested in getting into water but still would like some of the pain relief benefits of heat, you can still enjoy the benefits of targeted heat. Like a shower or bath and similar to massage, a heat pack, rice sock or warm water bottle can provide relief to specific areas of the body where the pain is experienced.
For some soon-to-be mothers, rice socks are a great hospital bag necessity as they can be easily made at low cost, microwaved to a heated temperature and easily fit into hollows of the back or around the hips, shoulders or neck. Rice socks can also be made to include dried herbs for the added benefit of aromatherapy at the same time.
Whether you are using an ice pack, heated blanket or pack or warm water bottle, having your partner or nurse apply a warm compress to your lower back can offer some soothing relief from contractions.
Physical Touch, Massage and Reflexology
Physical touch is a basic human need. That does not change during labor. There may be times during your labor when you don’t want to be touched, but good touch can provide amazing relief. Whether it is done by hands or with tools, massage can help relieve pain and relax tightened muscles.
Even if you are not typically a physically affectionate person, you may find touch comforting while giving birth. A gesture as simple as holding someone’s hand can help you to feel supported and anchored. If your labor is prolonged, consider asking your partner to massage your back which can be used both as a natural pain relief and as a stimulant to help birth progress.
Further techniques such as reflexology and acupressure are methods that you and your spouse or midwife can learn to massage specific reflex zones on the feet, hands, legs and back that correspond with different parts of the body to help improve circulation and relax tension caused by pain. Because many women tend to want to move around during their labor, this type of approach may be more helpful in between early contractions.
Most hospitals limit you to ice chips and will not allow you to drink water during labor. While there is no medical reason for you not to drink water during labor, this practice is typically out of an abundance of caution if general anesthesia use becomes necessary with unforeseen complications. If this is the case where you are birthing, insist on having the ice chips to your heart’s content. If you are not in the hospital, or are in one that does not restrict your intake, be sure to drink water.
Not only does staying hydrated help you control your breathing but it can also limit the intensity of cramps and contractions. Staying well-hydrated via IV fluids and orally prior to labor commencing can also make a big difference when it comes time to maintaining strength and stamina and easing pain.
The use of a TENS machine may not be available at every birthing location, however if it is, these machines use two electrodes stuck to the skin on the lower back and sends a small electric current through the body that with some women, may help reduce pain.
Many women find acupuncture helpful to treat mild pregnancy symptoms, and some women use this therapy during labor. While not all hospitals or birthing centers have a licensed acupuncturist on staff, you may be able to find a professional who is able to accommodate birthing plans and be available during labor.
Putting Labor Pain in Its Place
While some level of labor pain is inevitable during birth, work on adjusting your mindset ahead of time so that you do not go into labor with the expectation that the pain will be intolerable. Believe in yourself. Focus on the pain’s reward and purpose, and know that the pain will pass, but the reward of seeing baby for the first time will last much longer.