By Sarah Masterson, Pregnancy Editor, Bellaonline.com
Top 10 Comfort Measures for Labor
Hoping to deliver your baby with little or no drug intervention? You CAN do it, and a little preparation goes a long way when you’re riding that roller-coaster we call labor.
There are a number of methods for managing pain and providing comfort during labor. Not all strategies will be helpful for all women, but “having the tools in the toolbox” before you’re laboring eases anxiety and builds confidence in your body’s innate ability to give birth. When labor begins, you’ll have in mind several options and can use what feels good.
During your third trimester, discuss comfort measures with your partner and health care provider(s), so they can do the best possible job of supporting you. Pack your bag in advance with any of the props you may want to use.
Here are 10 tips to help you prepare for comfort during labor:
1. LEARN TO GO LIMP. Before labor ever begins, practice paying conscious attention to where your body tends to hold tension. Neck? Shoulders? Lower back? Jaw? Brow? Consciously tighten that area. Then practice going limp, releasing the tightness and relaxing the area. The places you experience tension in everyday life are likely to be the same places giving you trouble during labor. So know what your tension spots are, and learn to focus your attention on loosening them. This mindfulness of your body will come in handy during labor. The more you can allow your body to go limp and relaxed during a contraction, the less pain you will feel.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BREATH. It’s something we all do, all day every day. But most of us take it for granted and pay little attention to our breathing patterns. Start to notice your breathing when you are most relaxed and at ease. It’s slow and moderately deep. Once you notice how that feels, it can help you control your breath under the stress of labor. Slowing and deepening your breath when you’re experiencing discomfort has a chain reaction in the body, and you’d be amazed how much it can help.
3. PRACTICE VISUALIZATION. What the “mind’s eye” sees can be quite powerful, especially when the body is under stress. Some women find it helpful to visualize their own breath, imagining themselves “breathing out” the pressure of a contraction. Some women visualize contractions in ways that redefine them in a less threatening way. For example, you might visualize the contraction as a wave you are riding, as a rush of energy helping the baby to come out, as a surge of air as you fly above the pain. Some women find it helpful to see images of opening up, like the energy of a flower unfolding. These tactics may sound hokey, but remember that your mind and your emotions are directly connected to what’s happening in your body. Anything that eases the mind will ease the body.
4. GET UP AND MOVE FREELY. The worst possible way to give birth may be on a table, horizontal and confined by an IV or other intervention. It defies the logic of gravity. Sometimes, in a medical emergency, it’s necessary to confine a laboring woman to a bed. But in the vast majority of labors, there’s no reason a woman in labor shouldn’t be out of the bed and moving around. Walking, standing while leaning on birth ball (or your partner or doula, the wall, a chair), even slow-dancing are great ways to help keep labor moving along while also providing you some pain relief. Some women alternate walking with rocking in a rocking chair or sitting on a toilet. Even just standing during a contraction can help the baby’s position in the pelvis and may make contractions more productive – even shorter! Do what your body naturally wants to do. If it says move, there’s a reason.
5. GET ON HANDS AND KNEES. This position has many uses. It helps with back pain and allows you to rock and do other movements that may feel soothing. You can even have a vaginal exam in this position – probably with less discomfort – and if your doctor or midwife is trying to rotate the baby, hands and knees is optimum. You can modify this position by kneeling on a birth ball, so that your head rests on the ball and your arms wrap around it.
6. SQUAT. Some laboring women feel much better when they just squat down. You may find this especially helpful if you have back pain during labor. It’s good for the labor process, too, since it uses gravity and widens the pelvis. Another option is a supported squat. Your partner or your doula stands behind you, holding you under the arms with her back to yours. You squat down together, bearing all your weight, when a contraction comes. In between contractions, you stand. As long as you’re with someone you trust, the aspect of a holding touch, combined with the benefits of a squat, can feel good.
7. USE WATER. Water is a beautiful thing to a laboring woman! A warm shower or a warm bath feels just as good today as it did two thousand years ago when this was a standard prescription for labor pain. With the combined comforts of warmth, touch/pressure, and a weightlessness you never thought you’d experience again, laboring in water aids relaxation.
8. BUY A BIRTH BALL. These big, inflated vinyl balls are used by physical therapists, fitness instructors, and doulas and midwives. There are so many ways to use one of these things! You can sit on the ball during a contraction, or put it on the bed and hug it from a standing position. You can kneel on the floor with it. You can use it any way you please. You’ll find that the buoyancy of the birth ball eases pressure and cushions you comfortably. Remember to have a partner or doula around to help. (Getting up and down – just basic movement – can get tricky when you’re big and laboring!)
9. SOOTHE YOUR SENSES. Many women use music or environmental sounds during labor, which research tells us can help the body cope with pain. Some women also like to use aromatherapy, bringing a favorite sachet for the pillow, a lightly scented candle (if the hospital or birth center allows), scented massage oil or bath beads, or a light scented spray. The most popular scents for laboring women are lavender, lemon, and mint. Appealing to your sensory self is one of the best ways to cope with pain in a safe way, with no side effects. As always, what smells good – or sounds good – or feels good is an individual thing.
10. USE TOUCH & MASSAGE. Some women have a massage therapist with them during labor. (Sign me up!) But even if you can’t afford that luxury, remember that touch can be very calming and soothing. Discuss massage techniques that might be helpful with your health care provider, your partner, and your doula, if you’re using one. Also discuss what the signal will be if a particular type of touch does not feel good during labor – It may be hard to communicate during a contraction! What feels good will vary from woman to woman, and may change in the different stages of labor. Some women like casual and gentle touch, like stroking the hair or squeezing a hand. Others prefer more of a formal massage, like kneading the back, shoulders, or legs. There are natural massage oils made especially for use during labor -- my favorite is from Earth Mama / Angel Baby. Also consider visiting a certified massage therapist experienced in prenatal massage. Not only can you get some relief from the discomforts of pregnancy, but she can also give you some tips and instruction on labor techniques.
Finally, consider taking a childbirth preparation class to learn more about these and other techniques for laboring with little or no drug intervention. I recommend BirthWorks-certified instructors and Bradley Method-certified instructors for this purpose.
May you have an empowering labor and a healthy baby!
By Sarah Masterson, Pregnancy Editor at http://www.bellaonline.com.