One thing everyone knows about labor is that it is intense. Some people don’t like to use the word pain – Ina May Gaskin uses the word “rush” since she did not experience it as pain. But for most women it is at least uncomfortable and I hear many describe it as pain, so I am just going to call it pain here.
Of course, in this situation the pain has a purpose – it is opening the cervix and moving the baby out of the woman’s body. Personally, I am hoping for a labor experience where I can work with my body by understanding how it works and using techniques to help me feel more comfortable through the pain/intensity. Since I hope not to use pain medication (with the caveat that I will assess during labor and of course will do what is best for me and Tiny One at the time) I know that I need to have other “tools” to help me manage contractions. Here are a few of the techniques that I may try – some of them I am preparing for now, some you can’t really prepare for but may be helpful during labor.
Breathing (and Visualization)
The key to working with the body during labor is to relax with the contractions instead of tightening up. I find breathing to be really helpful in helping me to relax – with each inhalation and exhalation I picture either part or my entire body relaxing or even melting. Deep breathing has the additional benefit of getting more oxygen to your muscles, including the uterus, and your baby so that the contractions can work more efficiently.
Visualizations work well with breathing. A common visualization recommended for birth is to visualize yourself opening up and your baby moving down. This helps your body do exactly that and also keeps you focused on the end-goal – the beautiful baby – instead of the pain of the contractions.
In general, moving during labor helps the woman progress faster, and by changing positions and moving you can react to the signals your body is giving you and help move baby into an optimal position and down. For example, doing pelvic tilts on hands and knees can help a baby who is “sunny side up” move so that his back is to the front – this is much more comfortable for the mother and is a much better position for him to come out. Just walking can also be very beneficial in progressing labor. Another great movement tool is to use the “birth ball” (an exercise ball you can sit on). You can bounce or rock on it (I am actually rocking on mine right now as it is the most comfortable way for me to sit) or you can lean forward onto it and rock.
This is a little more unusual as a pain coping tool – at least in the modern western world – but it is something I found out about early in pregnancy and am really excited about using. As I noted above, moving is really helpful during labor. Belly dance is especially great because many of the movements help the baby move into the best position and down. Hip circles are particularly useful for this. Traditionally, many tribes in Africa and the Middle East used to use belly dance as part of the labor and birth process. A laboring woman would be surrounded by the other women from her village and they would all dance through the labor – with the mother able to take breaks as needed.
Kissing (and cuddling, etc)
Labor involves the hormone oxytocin – this hormone both triggers contractions and is a “feel-good” hormone. It is the hormone released during an orgasm (sorry family!). Therefore some of the same things that made baby in the first place help get baby out! Kissing and cuddling helps make the woman feel safe and relaxed and promotes the release of oxytocin – which will help the labor progress and will help cope with the pain. Below is a video of the amazing midwife Ina May Gaskin talking about the benefits of kissing during labor.
Mr. S is definitely shy, so I am not sure if he will be up for this in the hospital – but if it works well, he may not have a choice!
Water (warm shower, tub)
I love water – taking a bath or swimming always feels good and relaxes me. Apparently, this is true of many women! I have already found that doing the cat-cow yoga pose while taking a warm shower feels really good when my lower back is tight or sore. I imagine this will be a great tool during labor as well. Laboring in a tub helps take some pressure off of the body and can make contractions less intense.
Vocalizing – Humming, Singing, Moaning
Whenever you vocalize, it is a release. This helps your body relax – exactly what we want to do during labor! A woman moaning during labor is often disturbing to people (especially those who have never seen a natural birth) and I can definitely see how it can be disconcerting; however, it actually means that the woman is coping with her contractions. Singing or moaning with an open mouth is better than humming since “loose lips means loose hips”! Since I love to sing, it may also be a great distraction if I need it.
I love the following video of a woman singing during labor – she has such a gorgeous voice (and is clearly a Joni Mitchell fan)! You will notice that she stops in the middle to breathe through a contraction, and her husband helps by putting pressure on her hips. It is also a great example of using the birth ball.
Of course, I will only know what works in the moment – and that may change moment to moment. After Tiny One is here I hope to share with you what did and did not work for me.