Tools and techniques to aid relaxation and relieve pain in labour
First things first, is labour PAINFUL? Well it depends! Pain is a very subjective experience and a perception of a sensation... Our experience will depend on factors like the baby's position, our individual threshold to pain and how relaxed (or not) we are... Also remember that intense sensations are only experienced DURING contractions so for around 45 seconds to 1 minute at a time, for the next few minutes you feel pretty normal! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Why do some women experience pain? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
This comes down to the birth hormones. Feeling fearful or worried activates our flight or fight response releasing the stress hormone adrenaline and directing the oxygen and blood flow to the arms and legs, ready for fighting (or running away). The uterus muscles are then deprived of oxygen and start to struggle as a result, and discomfort is felt. In addition, Adrenaline stops the production of Oxytocin, the hormone which fuels labour and which produces beta-endorphins, our very own natural painkiller. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
So the bottom line is the sensations experienced during contractions are certainly intense and powerful as the uterus muscles are hard at work. The good news is there are MANY options for comfort during labour...
WATER - A birth pool can ease the intensity of those contractions and reduce pain. In early labour, or if a birth pool isn't available in established labour, get into a warm bath with lavender oil or stand under a hot shower instead.
Applying HEAT to the lower back (or lower abdomen) using a hot water bottle or lavender wheat bag can be very soothing and comforting in labour. Some women prefer ice packs/frozen flannels applied to the abdomen, back, forehead or neck.
MOVEMENT - Staying as active as possible in labour in positions that are Upright, Forward and Open (remember UFO) can be a great way to feel more comfortable. Use props like your birth partner/the bed to lean into, a birth ball or yoga mat.
Your TOOLBOX of RELAXATION i.e. all the things that will release fear and tension to help your amazing uterus do its job. This might be through creating a calm birth environment with candles and relaxing music, listening to your hypnobirthing tracks or a hot water bottle with a soft cover!
BREATHING Techniques - One of the first tools many women reach for to help relieve tension and increase relaxation. Try the 'UP- breathing technique' - a long, slow, deep breath in through your nose, and a long, slow, deep breath out through your mouth. Practice your chosen breathing technique in pregnancy so it becomes instinctive in labour.
TENS Machine - This is a small, hand-held device that sends mild electrical impulses through small, sticky pads on your lower back. You are in control of the strength and frequency of the electrical pulses and can increase their intensity during a contraction. Many women find this comforting and a distraction from the intensity of the contractions.
MASSAGE from your birth partner can be brilliant for easing discomfort, aiding relaxation and releasing endorphins our natural pain-killers. Birth partners, check out how to do a sacral pressure massage, upper back & shoulder massage or a technique called a double hip squeeze here.
HYPNOBIRTHING - A key part of Hypnobirthing focuses on releasing FEAR in pregnancy, and learning techniques to release TENSION in labour so the uterus muscles can do their job, with plenty of Oxytocin fuelling the process. Practice your breathing and relaxation techniques in pregnancy so they become instinctive in labour. Remembering to keep the jaw and shoulders relaxed - birth partners, a kiss or massage can help with that!
ESSENTIAL OILS on a tissue, diffuser or added to plain massage oil like olive oil. Lavender, Citrus & Jasmine have all been shown to reduce pain levels in labour. Clary Sage, also known as ‘nature’s gas and air’, is another popular choice as it promotes relaxation (not to be used before 37 weeks of pregnancy)
Of course, the medical options like gas & air, epidural, pethidine are all there for the taking too! Inform yourself of all your choices, and pros & cons of each, and perhaps include in your birth preferences which options you'd like to try first and which you do not.
Essentially do whatever feels best for YOU, and most importantly know that you CAN do it. Labour is a positive pathway - one leading you to the greatest prize of all: meeting you precious baby ❤️