Imagine this: you’re sitting at home enjoying your favorite TV show when out of nowhere you have sudden cramping in your abdomen. You try to shift positions, take a warm bath, even call you mom for support, but the contractions are still there. Only now, they’re coming on stronger and quicker. At this point, you gather up some courage and begin to accept that this is the real deal.
Oh man, it’s really here. You’re going into labor.
You rush to the hospital, get strapped to the monitors, and have your IV started. The nurses are asking you a slew of questions. And at this point, you’re probably nervous and honestly, a bit scared. When this happens, take a second to close your eyes and take a deep breath.
Do not let the anxiety and pain surrounding labor and delivery control you. Empower yourself with knowledge. This will help you feel more prepared and confident as each contraction brings you closer to being able to hold your baby for the first time.
These helpful tips you’re about to read will help to control your pain with or without the addition of medications, but know they’re there as an option. It’s your choice whether or not you’d like to use pain medications to help you manage your labor. There may be concerns that come up during your baby’s birth that will put you on a different path than you had originally planned. Ultimately, you should follow your gut and do what’s necessary to deliver a healthy baby, while not forgetting to give yourself grace.
This is your birthing experience with your baby. You’ve got this.
10 Ways to Manage Labor Pain and Reduce Anxiety
Getting into a bathtub and being surrounded by warm water can help to reduce labor pain. The weightless feeling water provides delivers great relief from contractions and pressure. Also, you will have a much easier time changing positions in water, which helps your body relax and allows your cervix to dilate.
Being immersed in water has shown to shorten labor and decrease the use of anesthesia during the first stage of labor. This stage is from when labor begins to when the mother is fully dilated. You will also be less likely to have a cesarean section and to need your labor augmented with Pitocin. (1)
Mothers who use a birthing tub or a warm shower reap the benefits of feeling more relaxed and calm during their labor and delivery experience.
2. Massage and Counter-Pressure
The act of getting a massage releases hormones that help to calm and relax you. You may enjoy this at some points during your labor and not at others. You may also want different parts of your body massaged depending on how you’re feeling.
Counter-pressure is when your birthing partner uses their hands to put firm pressure on your lower back during contractions. This steady pressure helps to relieve some of the pain you’re feeling. This technique is particularly helpful if you’re experiencing “back labor”. Back labor is when you feel most of the pain of a contraction in your lower back. This can be caused by a baby that is “posterior” or as it’s affectionately called by your labor nurse — a baby that’s sunny side up. A baby that’s posterior is facing your abdomen, instead of your back. It’s harder to birth a baby that’s in this position, but with help, it’s definitely possible to get the baby to turn.
3. Birthing Ball
A birthing ball is a large ball that you can sit on or lean over during labor. These are great for gently bouncing or swaying on. This helps to relax your pelvic floor muscles and for your baby to further descend into your pelvis. When you lean over the ball you would be on your hands and knees with your chest and arms over the ball. This also helps to open and relax your pelvis. An added benefit is that it will help your baby get into an optimal birthing position, which will shorten your labor. It’s much harder to push out a baby that’s not in a good position.
4. Breathe and Relax
Taking the time to learn how to breathe properly is so important, but so often overlooked. Proper breathing includes deeply inhaling and exhaling during contractions. It’s important to not hold your breath during contractions, as that decreases the amount of oxygen that your baby receives. Using this breathing technique can help decrease pain and shorten the second stage of labor, which is when you will be pushing. (2)
This type of patterned, rhythmic breathing is deeply relaxing and helps you to feel in control during your labor experience. It’s important to note that you should practice these breathing methods before you go into labor. Get a feel for how to focus on your breathing before it’s showtime and you’re out of your natural element. Check out birthing classes in your area to learn about the different types of breathing you can expect.
5. Birthing Playlist
Music during labor is such a useful tool to help distract and soothe you when things are getting tough. Make a playlist of songs that empower and relax you. Your songs should make you feel like you can do anything…..because you can. There are even studies proving that music helps to reduce pain during labor and to even shorten your labor. (3) So grab a pair of headphones and prepare to get into the labor zone.
This is a big one. It’s so easy to get in your head when you’re in pain, which leads you to curling up and refusing to move. Don’t do this. Get up and walk around or put your arms up on your partner’s shoulders and dance — swaying your hips from side to side. Changing positions frequently helps get your baby into the perfect position. Because in the end, the better position your baby is in, the quicker and easier your delivery will be.
Moving and changing positions helps gravity to bring your baby down. It also aids you in your conquest for pain relief by allowing your baby to move and shifting the pressure you feel.
7. Meditation and Visualization
Picture yourself holding your sweet baby in your arms. You are happy, beaming even, and overflowing with positive emotions. This is what you need to visualize as you are in the middle of for labor. Shift your focus from the pain you are going through at that moment to why you are having pain the first place. This is what will keep you positive and help make it all worth it.
When you feel fearful and anxious your body responds by releasing stress hormones that make you feel worse. Focus on getting into a place of meditation that allows your body to do what it’s meant to do. Some women swear by the use of hypnobirthing. This is a technique that aids you in relaxation and meditation which guides you towards a drug-free delivery.
8. A Good Coach is Key
Make sure the person or persons who go with you to your birth are on the same page as you. You may choose to have your partner, a doula, a relative, or friend present for the birth of your baby. It’s particularly important that whoever is present prepares to be an excellent labor coach and is in tune with your needs.
You may want this person to give you words of affirmation, massage you, make the environment more comfortable, or attend to your needs in so many different ways. Make sure that person is ready for this role and knows what you expect. You will have a smoother labor experience when your labor coach is ready to help guide you through the process.
If you’re in a situation where you do not have a support person to come with you, rest assured you will have access to a labor nurse who will be an excellent coach. Nobody should be worried that they might have to give birth feeling alone.
9. Location, Location, Location
There are options available to you as to where you birth. You may choose to birth at the hospital with the aid of an OB-GYN physician or a midwife. Another option would be to deliver at a birthing center with a midwife. Some women prefer to deliver in their own homes with a midwife. Visit with your healthcare provider and talk about what options you have and what you want. Start this conversation early, because it will most likely be an ongoing discussion as your needs and desires can change.
You can also help to recreate your home environment by bringing familiar objects to the hospital or birthing center. Bringing a familiar pillow and blanket can help you relax and feel more comfortable. Dim the lights if you wish. Most importantly, make the environment suitable for you.
10. Enticing Incentive
Okay, so this will not decrease your pain, but it may certainly help to motivate and encourage you. Maybe you’re going to reward yourself with a big, greasy slice of pizza afterward. Maybe you promised yourself you’d buy something you’ve been eyeing for quite a while. Or maybe you’re just stubborn and don’t want your family members saying, “See, I told you so!” about every aspect of your labor. Whatever your motivation is, use it. Because girl, when you’re holding that sweet baby in your arms, know that you’ve earned that motivator — 100%.
Now, it’s go time!
You’re in the final stretch of pregnancy and now armed with information to help you experience the birth you desire. It’s time to put these techniques into action. In the words of Ina May Gaskin — one of the most well-known midwives in America, “We are the only species of mammal that doubts our ability to give birth. It’s profitable to scare women about birth. But let’s stop it. I tell women: Your body is not a lemon.” And with that, I say good luck, mama. You can do it.