Some people might laugh at me when I say that labour can be comfortable and enjoyable. Maybe they think I am nuts. (I guess I am a little!) However, I can put my hand on my heart and say that the contractions, for both of my children, didn’t really cause me any real discomfort. I am by no means a warrior, nor do I have any super powers; in fact I am quite a weakling when it comes to muscle power in everyday tasks. What I did possess in the lead up to both labours was information, tools and techniques.
By information, I mean that I researched what to expect from labour and learned what my body had to go through in order to help my baby out of the womb and into this world. I did this by: reading books, attending the NHS Parent Craft classes and teaching myself hypnobirthing techniques in pregnancy that would become second nature during labour and birth.
By understanding what to expect and how to deal with birth, meant that I could go into the experience with a positive mindset. It made sense that the uterus contracts regularly to help ease baby gently into the birth canal. Nature doesn’t intend for this to be painful, but when we are scared we tense up and when we tense up the muscles don’t work efficiently because they have to work against the tension (creating the pain that people often associate with birth). If we relax and let go, these muscles can work more efficiently and without working against the resistance (therefore pain-free).
So how do you get to remain calm and confident as your labour-day approaches?
Become knowledgeable about the process of late pregnancy and birth. Understand what options may arise on the day and know, what the pros and cons are and what choices you can make. You can do this by going to classes in your area. The NHS often provides a range of free classes, or you can look up independent businesses that support women in pregnancy, such as pregnancy yoga, hypnobirthing and relaxation classes.
By understanding the biological changes within the body you learn to accept that this has to be. Working against it, only makes it harder for you. Try to figure out if there is anything that is worrying you about birth. Can you seek advice from someone who can help allay those feelings? Your midwife or an independent antenatal educator may be able to advise you.
Tools to help you relax during labour
There are a host of tools that you can use during your labour to give you comfort. Here are some examples of what you might find useful to use:
1. Rocking on a Birthing Ball / Bounding on a birth ball
Time spent gently moving back and forth on a birthing ball as you breathe deeply, can help you relax during labour. Rocking back and forth, side to side or rotating the hips, either in circles or figures of eight, can help encourage baby to descend lower into your pelvis. You can also try bouncing gently on a birthing ball. Always ensure that your hips are slightly higher than your knees, this will help tip the upper part of your body forward, which will then put the baby’s weight on the front part of your pelvis, allowing it to widen and give your baby more space to descend. Being upright in birth often speeds up labour.
2. Being in or under water
It is recommended in early labour to have a bath or shower. Who doesn’t like spending time under or in warm water? This enables relaxation. When you are calm and happy the body produces the hormone oxytocin, which is one of the major hormones that facilitate contractions. Try sitting in a shower with the spray against your back, or lying in a bath, in early labour.
If you choose to give birth in hospital, you can use the bath or shower in your room too, or if you want to use the birth pool for relaxation in labour, this is possible too.
Not all birthing centres or hospitals have a tub or shower in the room, so this is not always possible.
3. TENS machine
A TENS machine sends electrical pulses (on your back) which are believed to prevent pain signals from reaching your brain and stimulate your body to release natural, feel-good substances (endorphins).
Make sure you have your favourite, relaxing songs on your phone, tablet, or laptop. Don't forget your headphones, as maybe your taste in music isn’t the same as yours – and vice versa!
Wonderful smells help you relax and feel better, so take fragrant lotion or potpourri for your room to give yourself a lift.
Women who have attended hypnobirthing classes agree that this has helped them be focused, relaxed and it has reduced muscle tension and pain in childbirth (they don’t tend to labour like the scenes you see on TV. Hypnobirthing takes practice, so that the techniques that you learn become embedded and can be easily used during labour.
Breathing techniques help keep you relax and focus your attention. Visualising a beautiful scene in your mind, one that makes you feel safe and relaxed is also taught, so that you can focus your mind on this place when you have contractions. Read more about hypnobirthing classes.
Have your partner massage your arms, legs, or back during labour to help you relax and to decrease tension and pain.
8. Walking or Rocking
Walking, or even just pacing right by your bed, decreases discomfort while helping your contractions become stronger and more regular. Or you could try rocking back and forth with your partner while leaning on him.
9. Changing Positions
Don't stay in the same position for too long, and don't lie flat on your back. Instead, try sitting up in your bed or a chair, lying on your side, squatting and rocking on a birthing ball, or leaning forward over the back of a chair or your birthing bed. If possible being mobile during labour helps your contractions progress.
The important thing for now is to do your homework. Find out all you can about your options, talk to your health care provider, and trust yourself to make the decisions that will work best for you and your baby.
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