If there’s one thing every pregnant lady wants to know it’s how to cope with labor pain.
Cute maternity dresses are great and so are those giant pregnancy pillows that take up more room in bed than your husband – but sooner or later every pregnant mom starts thinking about the pain.
We see TV moms puffing and yelling through (surprisingly quick) births and hear stories of our friends’ and relatives’ experiences – often when it’s really NOT what we needed.
But we don’t hear a whole lot about HOW to handle labor or about labor pain relief techniques.
Let me help you with that.
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Plan to handle labor pain before it starts
I’m not a medical professional and this isn’t medical advice. Go see your doctor for that. This is more like a chat with a friend who’s been where you’re going.
So what WILL help you deal with whatever labor throws at you? Well, first of all, think about the people around you.
#1 Effective partner support in labor
You have to cope with labor and delivery. You shouldn’t have to deal with anything else.
If my water breaks or I need meds or anything needs to be communicated, I want my birth partner to do that.
It’s his or her job to take away all other stresses and speak for you while you labor.
They need to know your wishes and your birth plan and understand what matters most to you.
It’s so important to discuss this in advance because your partner probably doesn’t know what you need – even if it’s not your first birth together.
There are always details to add to the picture so it’s a conversation worth having whether it’s your first or fourth baby.
Then you can focus on coping with your labor pain.
#2 Have a birth plan & talk to your provider
We don’t often get to decide exactly which medical professional will be with us (well, maybe you got to pick your doctor) so have a birth plan ready to show your nurse or midwife to help them understand your wishes.
It can be pretty hard to explain yourself when you’re already in labor – and we already decided that questions aren’t really welcome when you’re trying to cope with contractions – so a detailed birth plan can really help to speak for you.
Include how you’d like to cope with labor pain, together with any techniques you’ve practised and any props you’d like, such as a birth ball or birthing pool.
And don’t forget to include who you do and DON’T want in the room with you! Don’t want the MIL at the business end? Better let them know.
#3 Have a fit and healthy pregnancy
Or as fit and healthy as it’s possible to be when you are nine months pregnant, achy and exhausted!
But childbirth is TOUGH on your body – it has to work hard for many hours to birth that baby!
No one is suggesting that you take up ultra marathon running but even staying moderately fit and active will pay off when you need that stamina to keep going through labor.
Going for a walk most days is the perfect exercise for a pregnant mom – even if they get shorter as your bump gets bigger.
And of course, some exercise will help you not to put on too much weight, which can can cause gestational diabetes, inaccurate ultrasound results and a host of other issues that could impact your natural birth plans. (Source)
Eating a healthy diet and not going crazy ‘eating for two’ will help too.
#4 Control your laboring environment – privacy
Imagine the scene. You’re in hospital, contractions are coming thick and fast and you’re in a large, brightly lit area.
Nurses keep asking you questions and strangers keep looking at you. So relaxing…
No – obviously that’s the exact opposite of what you want.
Being able to keep calm relax during labor matters a LOT – we’ll talk about why in a minute – so a relaxing environment matters too.
Firstly, privacy – you want that ASAP. The sooner you can get into a room where you can grunt, rock on all fours or howl at the moon, the better it’ll be for your well-being.
Labor is not a spectator sport so have your birth partner primed to ask for privacy quickly.
#5 Dim the lighting
Next, turn the lights down. You’re not at the dentist.
Think about how you feel when you are at the dentist versus when you’re out at a nice restaurant.
There’s reasons why bright lights might be needed, and that’s fine, but if you can recreate the relaxed mood of a restaurant in labor, I think you should.
Maybe that’s a little too much to hope for but you’ll feel more at ease with dimmer lights, that’s for sure.
#6 Calming music
Playing calming music will also help you relax. It’s best to create a playlist of music in advance so you know you’ll be hearing stuff you like.
You can get even more benefit if you listen to it in the weeks before you give birth like Dela from Brown Skin Mama:
When I was in my last trimester of pregnancy I used to listen to a lot of music that made me relaxed. I used the same music when I was in labor and I found that it helped me to relax more.
#7 Coping with labor pain at home
Being in your own house won’t ease the pain of labor by itself – but there’s a lot of comfort in familiarity.
If you labor at home for as long as you can, in your space that you control, surrounded by familiar and trusted faces, it will be a more relaxed experience.
You also have your belonging and facilities when you’re at home.
Last time I gave birth, I wanted to take a bath during early labour but another mama was in there already. No need to waddle to the tub the fastest at home.
Exactly when you should go to hospital is something to discuss with your doctor.
Physical labor pain relief techniques
Okay, let’s take a look at things you can actually DO – or have others do for you – that help your body cope with labor pain better.
#8 Take a bath or shower
When you’re still at home warm water can really help with your pain.
Relaxing in the tub can help ease contractions and back ache and a shower will allow you to direct the soothing water straight to where you need relief.
Warm water will help you relax and the more you can relax, the more bearable your labor will be.
#9 Positions for labor
Unless you’re dying for a ‘sunny-side up’ birth, test drive a few different laboring positions before the big day arrives.
It’s a great idea to stay upright if you can (take your medical team’s advice here) to let gravity give you a little hand bringing your baby down and encouraging your cervix to open.
But you’re not going to stand through your entire labor, so what else can you do?
This is very personal and depends on your fitness, how your baby’s lying, how tired you are but squatting, sitting, all fours or leaning are all worth trying.
You could sit backwards on a chair, lean against a doorway or on your partner for support.
Any position will become hard to sustain, especially as time passes and you get tired – and you’ll hate how some of them feel but love others.
I liked all fours but my knees couldn’t handle it so my midwife raised the bed so I could lean on that while standing.
That was perfect – I could lean forward and support myself but still use gravity to my advantage.
Check out the graphic below for a few more ideas and test them out before the big day so you know what you like and what makes you miserable.
Switching between positions and moving around as much as possible also helps to keep labor moving along.
#10 Relax as much as you can
I know – it doesn’t sound easy when labor is happening – but it’s so important that you do this.
Pain tends to make us tense up – but the tension just makes the pain worse – which means you feel more tense because of how much it’s hurting!
It’s a cycle – and I didn’t really understand what I big deal it was until something happened to me during pregnancy #2.
Basically, I had such terrible back pain that my partner had to help me out of bed and even dress me for a while.
I still had a month to go and was terrified that I would be immobile by the end so we went to the doctor.
Luckily, he immediately realised what was going on and gently explained what I was doing to myself (tensing up because I knew pain was coming – and causing worse pain!)
After that visit I made myself relax and the pain got so much better. (It didn’t go away entirely until the baby was born.)
I recommend checking out YouTube for guided meditations and relaxation videos for birth so you can practise beforehand. Or you can try my favourite relaxation strategy:
When a contraction would hit, I would close my eyes, breathe out and focus on relaxing my entire body.
Wiggling my fingers and toes helped to relax my limbs and to relax my abdomen, I imagined breathing out through every part of my body.
This feels silly but I promise it helps – and no one will know.
Next – one of the most basic but effective things that help with contraction pain is controlled breathing.
#11 Breathe through contractions
For my last birth, because I was keen to go natural, I spent a lot of time practising hypnobirthing breathing techniques, which I found amazingly helpful.
Hypnobirthing works by helping you to relax very deeply and the breathing is just one aspect of it – but a quick and easy one to learn.
Although I never made it to a class, I did watch YouTube videos and practised literally daily in the weeks before my delivery. It really did help – way more than you’d think something as simple as breathing could ever help. Whenever I felt a contraction coming, I focused on my breathing techniques and that got me through for hours.
Unless you absolutely HATE massage, it should definitely be on your list when you plan your labor pain relief techniques.
Obviously, a massage is relaxing – warm, gentle hands seeking out the tension in your body and working it out – and the feel of your partner’s touch can be very comforting by itself.
#13 Birth ball
Also a great coping tool for a laboring mama is a birth ball.
Have your own one at home, and use it daily in the weeks leading up to the birth – because it takes a little practise to get used to balancing your very pregnant self on a giant ball!
If you can get comfortable with the motion, bouncing, rocking and circling on your ball are great ways to keep mobile during late pregnancy – and may help your baby to move into a better position for birth.
I used to sit on mine and watch TV in the evenings, hoping that the bouncing would encourage labor to start.
Just have something close by to hang on to in case you lose your balance.
Take yours along to the hospital with you so you have one more familiar item.
Once you’re in established labour, you can rock on the ball through contractions or lean over it and rock to and fro.
Have it close to the bed or your partner so you have something to hold on to and don’t need to worry about falling off!
Leaning over the ball while on hands and knees can also be helpful because it supports your weight and encourages you to rock, which is soothing for you and also helpful for keeping baby moving in the right direction. (Source)
#14 Birth pool
Much like taking a bath in early labour, a birth pool can be very comforting. If you’re finding your contractions hard to cope with, the warm water of the birth pool can make the pain easier to bear and help you stay calm and focused.
This is more important as labor progresses and the contractions become harder to handle – anything that keeps you calm and stops you from hitting panic mode is a good thing.
Check with your hospital if you’d like to use the birth pool to see if there’s any additional procedure to follow because it’s probably something you need to plan for in advance.
Now, let’s think about medical pain relief.
Entonox – also called laughing gas or ‘gas and air’ is a 50-50 mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen.
Laughing gas is very popular for labour pain because it gives effective pain relief that you control yourself.
Hospital delivery suites have it ready to go but you can also get portable canisters if you’d like to use it during your home birth.
It will probably be all set up ready for you in the delivery room and when you want some relief, you simply breathe in the gas and air through the mouthpiece.
In between contractions, you can put it down and breathe normally.
You’ll find that gas and air doesn’t take away your labor pain, but it does take the edge off it and make your contractions easier to bear – though as your labor progresses, you might need additional pain relief also.
#16 Pethidine / diamorphine injection
If you need more pain relief than gas and air, your provider may offer you Diamorphine or Pethidine as an injection into your leg or buttock.
When I had baby #2, I reached a point where the pain was too much for gas to be much help but I didn’t want an epidural. My midwife knew this and she suggested a diamorphine injection to ease the pain.
The pain was definitely less but there can be side effects, including longer labors. In my case, I became very drowsy and started to snooze between contractions – so my progress slowed right down and I probably did experience more pain overall.
You can read about the pros and cons here.
If you just want rid of the pain, consider getting the epidural.
For many women an epidural will take away all of the pain of labor and transform the experience – and you can get ‘walking epidurals’ that allow you to remain active.
Well, active up to a point – you should be able to change positions but you won’t be going anywhere.
After it’s placed in your spine, you’ll feel a certain amount of numbness in your bottom half (how much varies) and your contractions should be much less painful, though you may still feel the pressure of your baby’s head.
But there are drawbacks – if you really want to be active, it might not be your best option. Many women (including me) end up giving birth lying down because they are numb and can’t move.
My partner had to lift my legs back onto the bed more than once because I couldn’t feel a thing and slipped off – which I thought was hilarious in my drugged up state.
If you’re thinking of going the epidural route, have a conversation with your provider about the pros and cons before deciding.
#18 Next steps for coping with labor better – prenatal class
You made it all the way to the end – so you’re obviously serious about preparing yourself to handle labor like a boss!
Now get yourself to a prenatal class!
Hearing a professional birth educator explain how childbirth works and all your options will make all the difference to your confidence going in. Your hospital probably runs one.
Online prenatal classes
But what if there was someone who could explain everything you need to know to cope with the pain of labor and have the empowered, happy birth experience you really want? Liesel from Mommy Labor Nurse can do that – right from your phone.
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