Are you hoping for an easy labor? My experience as a birth doula and childbirth educator has shown me time and again that nearly all pregnant mothers truly think that their labor will be one of the easy labors, or one of the short labors, or one of the painless labors.
I hope that's you!
But in case it's not, I have some simple and effective tips for you to help you cope with labor's intensity. Don't be stingy now, share them with your girlfriends, your sisters and any pregnant mothers you know! Isn't it time we change our birth culture and instead of sharing birth horror stories and fears, we share tips and help each other (and our babies) out?
I actually have a great story of one near-painless birth I attended a number of years ago. I had a doula prenatal appointment with my doula clients at 37 weeks, as usual. We talked about a number of scenarios that included how labor might start, and made some loose plans as a team. The mother had decided that if her labor started with her water breaking first, that she would come home from wherever she was and labor at home for awhile, to avoid being at the hospital for too long and as a way to increase her odds of having the non-medicated birth she desired. The father was on board. The thing that stands out in my mind is that he didn't want to get messy; he felt uneasy about the birth messy "stuff" (blood, amniotic fluid, vernix, and, oh heavens what about poop!), and was willing to wait to hold his baby until baby and mama were cleaned off, bundled up, dry and warm.
Low and behold, as only 10% of labors begin, her labor began with her bag of waters breaking. Ironically, she worked in a hospital but came home, as was the plan, to avoid being in labor at the hospital for too long. As we talked on the phone, she described what I can look back on as a mostly pain-free labor. She could feel pressure every so often but no pain in any way. With a smirk I told her, "Oh sweetie. This is early labor. You'll feel the intensity increase as time passes. Let's check in again in an hour." Fast forward to my next phone call, just 45 minutes later, from her frantic and excited husband. "Chris!" he said. "What should I do? The head is out! She's having the baby on our living room floor!"
What a trip! They were already on another phone with 911 and paramedics were already en route to their house and talking dad through how to catch the baby. I was on another phone with the birthing mother, helping her through her pushing contractions. I hopped in my car to meet them, still talking to her on my phone. Baby was born without incident right into daddy's arms just a few short minutes later! So much for him avoiding the mess of birth! The birthing mother had what many would describe a painless labor. (Let's remember that every birth is processed differently by every mother and father; a painless, quick labor can still be scary or anxiety producing, when we imagine birthing without our provider NOR doula in a place other than the anticipated birth place. Remember compassion for every birth story we hear, without judgment). And in births like this, there was nothing the mother did or didn't do to make her labor painless. It's just what she got.
The point is, the pain of some labors are way easier to cope with than others, without much preparation needed (even if there are other parts to cope with that may not be so easy). Here's hoping yours is one of the easy labors! It's pretty rare though. The overwhelming majority of births require the mother to dig down deeper than she ever imagined she could, draw on coping skills she is glad she has prepared for, and utilize every bit of support, pain management tips, and more to bring her baby here. For what it's worth, in the story above, pushing was NOT what she would describe as pain-free. I've said it once and I'll say it again...There are NO shortcuts in labor!
In the case you'd like to prepare ahead of time for ways to cope with labor's intensity, and I suggest you do, I have 10 simple tips for you that you really can do to help ease the pain of labor.
10 Simple Tips for an Easier Labor
1. Breathe. Learn ahead of time how to notice your breath, recognize your breath, focus on your breath. There are some awesome pain-coping practices that utilize Breath Awareness in Birthing From Within®, and you can take a class locally from yours truly. (*TIP*: If a group class isn't for you, consider a private class for just you and your partner, in addition to reading the Birthing From Within book, which you can find here.)
2. Move around. Stay active. As you learn the stages of labor, remember they don't call it active labor for nothing! I like to suggest a balance between resting and moving. You can try leaning over a birth ball for a few contractions, then perhaps sway with your partner for a few contractions, followed by alternating lunges to each side for a few contractions, and maybe squatting down low for a few contractions. It's ok to lay down and rest for a while now, too, before you get up and active again. This will encourage baby to move down and dilate your cervix, and also helps you to find what positions you can cope with easier than others.
3. Double-Hip-Squeeze. Oh this one is my favorite! It's my absolute favorite skill to bring to every birth I attend. It's best shown in-person, and I teach it during my childbirth classes. In a birth I attended this year in January, the birthing mother said she could not tell when a contraction stopped because the double-hip-squeeze took nearly all of the pain away. Seriously! It's that amazing. (*TIP*: I've learned over the years that if the DHS isn't your jam, then try straight up counterpressure on your low back, at your sacrum. You can thank me later.)
4. Water. Drink it. Loads of it. Consider something with a boost like Vitamin Water, Smart Water, or coconut water for the electrolytes. Another option is to bring something like Emergen-C packets to add to your water. Stay hydrated! (*TIP* : put a bendy-straw in your beverage so you can take small sips without having to use much effort or thought.) Remember to empty your bladder often, as a full bladder can cause contractions to feel more intense than an empty one.
5. Water, Take II. Soak in the tub. This is the one I refer to as Nature's Epidural. Oftentimes labor's intensity decreases significantly by submerging your belly and back into a deep, warm bath. Consider adding a couple of drops of a pregnancy safe essential oil, like lavender or vanilla, or a lavender-vanilla mix. (*TIP*: put a towel in the bottom of the bath for you to sit on or kneel on, depending on what position you are in, to save your knees or sacrum. Another towel can go behind your neck as a neckrest. Make sure your drinking water is nearby to stay hydrated in the warmth of the water!)
6. Water, Take III. Take a hot shower. Hot water on an aching back is heavenly. This one is great because you can be upright in the shower, or squatting, or lunging, all while having the hot water massage your back. (*TIP*: if your water has already broken and you are leaking amniotic fluid, this is especially a great place to be so you aren't distracted by pads or cleanup or the sensation of leaking fluid.)
7. Invest in or make your own rice sock heating pad. The benefit of a rice heating pad is that it's wireless, unlike traditional heating pads. Just throw it in the microwave and let your doula or partner hold it on your back or hips. (*TIP*: place a towel or blanket between the heating pad and your skin, so you don't burn yourself.) Check out how to make one here on Wellness Mama!
8. Visualizations. If there's one thing that will really help you to work with your body it is staying out of your mind's way. Find and learn some visualizations that put you in the subconscious zone so your body can do its work. You can find some awesome birth visualizations in the amazing book by Carl Jones called Mind Over Labor. It's an oldie but a goodie. (*TIP*: It's really important to practice often during late pregnancy. Have your partner read your favorite two or three visualizations to you while you focus on your breath. There's a little bit of a "tee-hee-hee" factor here, so you'll have to give it a few tries to get over that. But once you do, this is a very powerful tip that can completely change how your labor unfolds).
9. Massage. Foot massage, hand massage, shoulder massage, back massage, hip massage. I carry one of these Omni Massage Rollers in my doula bag to make the job easier on my hands. (*TIP*: Couple this with reminders to relax your forehead, to relax your throat, to relax your shoulders. Keep your body loose and relaxed and open.) Some women find that once they're in labor, they don't want to be touched, even if they imagined they would. One of labor's unyielding lessons is to surrender into the moment. Another is to *use your voice*. It's ok to tell your partner or doula what you like and what you don't, what's working or what is not. If massage isn't working for you, speak up. I guarantee you that your support person will not get their feelings hurt.
10. Doula. Your doula will remind you of all of the above plus more. She'll remind you of your birth preferences when you want to give up. She'll help your birth partner understand how to help you, and she'll show him how to help you. She'll bring you water, food, honey sticks and chap stick. She'll squeeze your hips in just the right way to ease the pain. She'll massage you. She'll talk you through your contractions and she'll remind you that you're not alone. She'll reheat your rice sock heating pad in the microwave. She'll give you tips, in the moment, to help you through, even if (or especially if) your birth plans change. Doulas vary in experience, cost and education level. You'll usually now right away if the doula you meet is the right doula for you, and many offer a complimentary initial consultation.
Best to you in your upcoming birth! You've got this! I'm a phone call away if you'd like to talk before your birth (and I think it's wise if you did!). Find me on Facebook or leave me a comment right here. I'm happy to consult with you via phone, email or in person.