Relieving labour pains with movement, massage and vocalisation
When it comes to relieving pain during labour, there are many natural techniques you can use before turning to options such as pethidine and an epidural, especially in early labour.
Relaxation – mental, physical, and emotional – is the key to coping with many of the stresses of labour. Familiarising yourself with some natural pain relieving techniques can help you be as prepared for the experience as possible, and it may mean you’ll be able to make it through without the need for pharmaceutical pain relief.
Simply changing position in labour is a key coping mechanism. Walking around, staying mobile, and rocking your pelvis back and forth (remember your pelvic tilts) and from side to side with each contraction will help and is advised by the Royal College of Midwives. Staying upright and mobile may also result in a shorter labour, so why not let gravity do its part. And when you do rest you should try to lie on your side because lying on your back can intensify the pain.
Sit on a birthing ball to help with rocking motions if your legs are getting tired and lean on your partner for support as well.
A slow, firm back massage encourages your body to release endorphins – the body’s natural painkiller. Try leaning against a chair or bed while your partner massages your lower back. In fact any form of gentle contact, rubbing and stroking, even if it’s just your feet and hands, is likely to help you stay relaxed and feel slightly more comfortable.
Using gentle heat
While getting too hot is not good for you during pregnancy and labour (saunas are out) the application of warmth to a focused area is a perfect way to help soothe contraction pain. Using a wheat bag or specialist sports injury pack, you can easily apply heat to your tummy, back, or groin. There are various methods which can be used to heat them up, such as in a microwave or hot water, so, if you want to use one on the labour ward, just check that the facilities will be available.
If you don’t have a wheat bag, then a hot water bottle filled with hot, not boiling, water can be a good substitute, but make sure it has a cover on or is wrapped in a towel so it doesn’t burn your skin.
Go for a dip
In early labour a warm shower or bath can be beneficial, while a birthing pool can be used once the cervix has dilated to 5cm. A pool reduces pressure on your body by making you more buoyant. This should make it easier for you to get into comfortable birthing positions and hopefully make you feel more relaxed. There is evidence, documented in guidelines from the Royal College of Midwives, that water used as pain relief leads to lower use of epidural/spinal analgesia in labour.
Make some noise
Many women find vocalising a powerful way of combatting pain. For instance, you may wish to make a moaning sound – or a chant or grunt – to accompany your contractions. Making rhythmic noises during contractions can help you feel in control and may become a focal point for dealing with the pain. It doesn’t matter what noise you make or what you say as a chant. If it helps you cope, then do it.
However, once you start pushing, your midwife will almost certainly ask you not to scream, shout or chant even as all effort should be focused on the physical effort of pushing.
Visualisation can be a highly effective pain management technique. Try visualising yourself in each stage of labour, seeing events as you would like them to happen. By doing this, you will be mentally preparing yourself to act in that situation. Seeing yourself successfully give birth in your mind’s eye can fill you with confidence, reassuring you that you can make it through labour. Your body was built for it, after all.
It may help if you imagine your baby moving down through your pelvis with every contraction and thinking positively that each contraction brings you closer to holding your baby for the first time.
To help you create a relaxed, positive frame of mind, make sure you create a comforting environment. Bringing some familiar objects from home (assuming you’re giving birth in a hospital) such as pillows and blankets to give a much-welcomed feeling of familiarity to the maternity ward. Playing some favourite music or turning the TV on may help, but make sure the environment remains calm. If something is bothering you or making you feel uncomfortable, be sure to make it known.
Last but not least… don’t forget to breathe
Remember the importance of breathing and crucial controlled breathing is during labour. Taking deep breaths – in through the nose and out through the mouth – and keeping a steady rhythm going throughout labour is the most natural method of pain relief and helps you conserve your energy.
Hopefully, if you’ve been doing plenty of the stretches and exercises My BabyManual has focused on throughout the weeks leading up to labour, your breathing technique will be honed to perfection, so now is the time to use it.