Ways to Manage Labor Painby Dianna Graveman | July 22, 2012
Preparing for labor can be a little scary. You've read the books, you've attended childbirth classes, you've talked with your health care professional, and you're prepared. Possibly, you've made a birth plan. But it's important to remember that your birth plan isn't a foolproof contract. Be flexible in your expectations. Most importantly, if you plan a natural childbirth and find out during labor that it's not right for you, be patient with yourself. You have no reason to feel guilty if you choose a different route when the time comes.
Most doulas, midwives, and doctors will tell you the best thing you can do is try to relax. Fear makes you tense, and tension can make the pain worse.
While most will agree that breathing is key, recognized natural childbirth methods call for different breathing patterns to help manage pain. All, however, stress not holding your breath during contractions. Lamaze, The Bradley Method, and The Alexander Technique are all recognized forms of natural childbirth that include different approaches to managing your labor. While Lamaze involves the use of distraction during contractions, The Bradley Method encourages the laboring mother to tune in to her body and focus on the contractions. Still another method, hypnobirthing, encourages women to relax and trust that nature will allow their bodies to do what is needed to give birth. Some women find it helpful to distract themselves with images of the beach or another peaceful setting, while others find it beneficial to focus on a mental image of their cervix gently opening to deliver their child. Explore the teachings of the various methods well in advance of labor to determine if one might be right for you and to find out if classes are available in your area.
Whether you choose natural childbirth or plan to have an epidural in early labor, walking, changing positions, and moving around on a birthing ball can ease pain and tension. Try leaning against a wall or the back of a sturdy chair. Staying upright as long as possible will help you take advantage of gravity to keep your labor progressing. Once you are in the hospital and have an IV and/or fetal monitor, you can still change positions by standing or squatting by the side of the bed or leaning on your hands and knees in bed.
Many new moms swear by a warm bath or shower in early labor, saying it relieves pain as much as pain medicine. Once you are at the hospital, many birthing rooms or birthing centers will still allow you to have a bath or shower. Lower back pain responds particularly well to a pulsating warm shower.
A firm lower back massage can provide counter-pressure to relieve pain, but some women find that a hand or foot massage also helps by providing a distraction and a reassuring touch from a partner. You may wish to try having your partner roll a tennis ball along your spine and lower back.
Use of aromatherapy is often recommended by doulas and midwives. Experiment to find out which aromas you enjoy most before you go into labor, but keep in mind that something you find relaxing during pregnancy could have a totally different affect on you when senses are heightened during labor. Visit a store that sells quality aroma oils and has a knowledgeable sales staff to help you. Remember, however, to check with your health care professional before using any type of aroma oils, as some can be harmful during pregnancy.
According to the Mayo Clinic's "Pregnancy and You" blog, it may be helpful to repeat a phrase or mantra over and over during labor: "Ideally, your mantra will be something positive, such as your baby's name....but go with whatever works," writes Mary M. Murry, R.N., C.N.M.
Ms. Murry also reminds women to pay attention to their bodies and do what feels right at the moment, since that might change as labor progresses. What felt good at 4 centimeters might irritate you when you've moved to 8 centimeters.
Music can also work as a distraction, if you prefer, or as soothing background sounds to help you focus through your contractions. Either way, consider burning a few playlists or a CD in preparation for labor. You may not know what kind of music you'll want to listen to -- or if you'll want to listen to any music at all -- until after you're already in active labor, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared.
In the end, even if you've planned a natural childbirth, remember that your goal is to birth a healthy child. If, during labor, you find natural childbirth isn't working for you, several options exist for pain relief. Discuss pain relief options and preferences with your healthcare professional ahead of time so that you can take advantage of one of those options if necessary.
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