Many people are afraid of the pain that comes with labour, but it can be managed.Doula Donna Bland shares some tips and techniques.
Giving birth is one of the most memorable and rewarding events a woman will ever go through. It can also be the scariest and most daunting, but it doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be. With the help of some pain management techniques, women can cope better and often feel empowered, knowing that they were in control of their birth process.
Here are some ideas of how to cope better during labour and birth:
- Breathing is an amazingly useful tool to help with relaxation and pain during labour and birth. There are a couple of good breathing exercises you can practise during pregnancy in preparation for your baby’s birth. In labour, the point of taking long, slow breaths through your nose and out through your mouth, is to not only help you to relax, but also to oxygenate your blood and in turn send this oxygenated blood to your baby via the placenta. This is immensely advantageous for your baby, ensuring a good oxygen supply.
- Active birth is one of the best ways to manage pain during labour and birth. Ask any mom who has laboured, how much worse her contractions felt during confinement to a bed, while undergoing routine examinations. Being upright and mobile is far less painful and has the advantage of using gravity to encourage baby’s head to descend further into the pelvis in preparation for the birth, often shortening the length of the labour. Some of the things you can do to remain active is walk, squat or sit on a Pilates ball. You can also lean on the bed or a chair with your hands/arms and swing your hips from side to side. This movement has the benefit of softening and opening the cervix, while providing some pain relief during contractions.
- A warm, homely environment creates a calming effect, making it easier to relax. This can be done in a variety of ways:
- Music has a soothing effect on the body and mind. Make yourself a playlist before your due date so that you have a good assortment of tunes to play during your labour and birth, so that you can play whatever you’re in the mood for on the day.
- Dimming the lights or lighting some candles can create an inviting atmosphere.
- Taking along your favourite pillow or blanket can help make the hospital room seem less clinical and more homely.
- Hot and cold compresses are very useful during the birth process. A bean bag warmer or a hot water bottle relaxes muscles and eases pain. This can be used on the lower back or neck and shoulders and be extremely soothing. A cold, wet facecloth with a drop of your favourite essential oil can revitalise and cool you down, particularly during our hot summer months.
- Massage is a wonderful way to ease pain, whether it be for lower backache or tense shoulders. Using a base oil like grapeseed or sweet almond oil can be very relaxing and soothe the pain or spasm you may be experiencing. You can even put a drop of aromatherapy oil, like Neroli, with your base oil to help calm you during your contractions.
- Water is probably one of the best pain management tools during labour and birth. Think about a time when you’ve had a long day and you want to unwind – what do you do? Many of us, particularly women, run a warm bath, perhaps light some candles and pour ourselves our favourite drink, then enjoy a soak in the tub. The same principle is true for labouring. The warm water soothes a tired, aching body and relaxes the muscles, making labour less painful.
- Relaxation is key! You may wonder how one can relax during a time of pain and the unknown, but the truth is that it is vital to ensure a less painful and more positive birth experience. Scientifically, this is because anxiety promotes the release of adrenaline, a hormone produced to initiate the fight or flight response. During highly stressful situations, our bodies produce adrenaline to help us cope, but over-exposure can be harmful. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, increases blood pressure and alters the body’s metabolism, to name a few. The biggest concern with the overproduction of adrenaline during the birth process is that it inhibits the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for uterine contractions.
Too much adrenaline can cause problems in labour by:
- Triggering distress to the baby before birth.
- Inhibiting the release of oxytocin, causing contractions to slow down or have an erratic pattern, lengthening labour. In some cases, it can even stop labour completely. This was originally so women could make their way to a place of safety if she felt threatened or danger was imminent.
- Creating a sense of panic and therefore increasing pain in the mother.
However, prevention is possible and can be achieved by:
- Staying calm, comfortable and relaxed.
- Being informed and prepared.
- Trusting your body and having confidence in your capabilities as a woman.
- Having only intermittent monitoring, providing it is safe to do so.
- Placing trust in your caregivers, especially those providing comfort measures and positive support.
- Continuous support provides moms with a feeling of safety and confidence, knowing that they are being well cared for. Having your partner or someone you’re close to nearby can prove to be invaluable. However, there are times when your partner may also feel overwhelmed and afraid. A wonderful solution to avoid this is employing a doula. Not only will you have continuous support, but you will have a professional who understands the birth process and can help you manage your pain and achieve your goals. There are statistics available to show the benefits of doula support (see The Cochrane Review at cochranelibrary.com).
Ultimately, I recommend attending childbirth education classes. Not only will you have the opportunity to meet other expectant couples, but it will give you an understanding of the birth process and what to expect on the day, giving you a feeling of empowerment and confidence.