Whether you’re aiming for an unmedicated birth or you’re planning to accept every form of relief that your hospital can offer you, it’s helpful to have some methods of relieving your own pain. This will make you feel more confident in your birthing process, armed with the knowledge that you can help yourself in some ways.
Many expectant mothers who plan to get medicinal pain relief don’t give much thought to other methods of pain relief. Keep in mind that an epidural (the most commonly used pain relief in labour) is administered when you’re dilated to about 4 or 5 cm, so it’s helpful to have some techniques to help you get to that stage.
Contrary to what we see in TV and films, it’s not ideal to stay in bed during labour. Not only does staying in one spot make your pain more pronounced, but it slows your baby’s descent through the birth canal. Walking, dancing and bouncing on a birthing ball are all popular ways to stay active during labour and distract the brain from the contractions. As an added bonus, gravity will cause your baby to put pressure on your cervix and speed up your labour.
There are so many variations of controlled breathing for relaxation, experiment with a few techniques during your pregnancy to see what works best for you. The most important thing is your breathing is slow and deep. This sends messages to your brain to say everything is going well and stops the production of unhelpful hormones like cortisol (the stress hormone).
Reframe your views about birth
By the time we come to our day to give birth, we’ve likely been told countless stories of how awful labour is (why do people do this to pregnant women??) and we’ve built a picture of a horrible ordeal which we have the misfortune to endure. However, other women’s experiences are not our own. We have control over how we see our own birthing journey. Taking part in a Hypnobirthing course can be incredibly helpful in achieving a more positive mindset around labour and birth.
Have a laugh
You may not anticipate laughing very much throughout labour. However, laughter has so many benefits for labour, including producing endorphins (which act as natural pain killers), easing tension and lowering your blood pressure. So, watch funny videos, listen to a podcast that makes you laugh or share funny stories with your birthing partner. After all, the day you give birth is one of the most special days of your life, why not enjoy it whenever possible?
Keep noise and light low
Your brain is being bombarded with sensory information from your contracting uterus, so it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed by sensations. Keeping noise and light low can help you to remain relaxed and keep irritation to a minimum.
Get your birth partner involved
Women who have constant support from a birthing partner throughout their labour are shown to experience less pain and stress. Talk to your birthing partner before the big day and let them know what you think will be helpful. This can include encouraging words, massage, communicating your wishes to healthcare staff, setting up your ideal birthing space, or anything you want! The ideal birthing partner is someone who is patient, calm and encouraging. If your planned birthing partner doesn’t believe in your wishes, or you think they will bring added stress to the experience, then they may not be the ideal birthing partner.
Things that make labour pains worse
Lying on your back
Lying on your back is not recommended after 20 weeks of pregnancy as your heavy uterus puts weight on major arteries carrying blood to your baby and your lower body. During labour, you want to maximise blood flow and oxygen to your baby to give them energy and prevent distress. As your uterus contracts forward, it’s best for you to stay upright in forward-leaning positions to ensure you’re working with gravity and not against it.
Hospitals can be stressful environments full of beeping machines and busy people. Do whatever you can to eliminate stressors. If the sound of a machine is bothering you, ask if it can be silenced or wear earplugs. If your midwife is upsetting you in some way, ask for a different midwife (not all personalities work well together, don’t feel guilty about asking for a swap).
During a contraction, your first instinct may be to scrunch yourself up, grit your teeth, furrow your brow and clench your fists. Instead, focus on letting your body be as limp as possible. This preserves your energy and avoids sending stress signals to your brain.