Whether you’re preparing for an unmedicated childbirth, have plans to get an epidural, or you’re simply winging it and waiting to see how you feel the day of, there are a few simple tools that all expectant parents can plan to utilize once labor begins.
Simple Comfort Measures for Labor
Put into the most basic of terms, when a contraction happens, the body’s nerves send a message to the brain—usually one indicating a great intensity of sensation. That message can be interrupted through touch. Having someone stroke or massage you during a contraction causes the nerves to send another message to the brain (“You’re being touched!” or “Mmm, feels good!”) which detracts from the intensity of the contraction’s “message.” In between contractions, a gentle rub can help your body relax and makes the restful moments in between more enjoyable.
In addition to the touch-element, receiving hip squeezes during a contraction helps return the pelvis to a more relaxed position, lessening some of the contraction’s intensity. Hip squeezes are particularly helpful when one is experiencing back labor. I will say, though, providing the squeezing is one heck of a workout (my arms are usually sore after births!), so partners, start bulking up now!
The shower and the tub can be powerful tools during birth. In the same way that touch interrupts the intensity message to the brain, water produces a relaxing effect. The warmth can also soothe muscles and provide an additional layer of comfort. Streams from a shower acts as a massage and deep tubs can provide a calming feeling a weightlessness. It is generally recommended that the tub be reserved until active labor has set in as the water can be so comforting that, when used too early, there is a possibility that labor will slow down.
If you’re one who tends to enjoy relaxing scents, you may find them useful in labor. I don’t personally use a lot of essential oils in my everyday life but I do carry a couple with me to births. The first is lavender, which is widely known for its pleasant aroma and relaxing properties. The second is peppermint, which can brighten or bring a sense of renewal and can help with nausea (which, unfortunately, is a normal part of labor). HOWEVER, because you cannot accurately predict how you will feel about a smell during labor, I caution diffusing or applying oils to the skin. I have seen people who usually love lavender be repulsed by the smell during childbirth. What I do when my clients want to try aromatherapy is place a drop or two of the oil on a cotton pad and place the pad near the laboring person. If there is an adverse reaction to the scent, I can easily toss the pad and remove the smell.
Once known as exercise or yoga balls, birth professionals such as myself have renamed this tool as a birth ball. Birth balls are excellent because they can be used in multiple positions (give it a Google: “birth ball positions”). A position that has been a favorite of my clients is to sit on top and either bounce gently or rock back and forth. The position allows for a fairly open pelvis and a straight, supported spine. The movement produces a calming affect on the laboring person as they focus on their rhythm and may help baby shift into an optimal position for birth.
Less well known than it’s cousin the birth ball, peanut balls have been gaining favor during labor. Peanut balls are simply birth balls in the shape of a peanut. Their indented middle make them wonderful to use while lying down. When side-lying, a peanut ball can be placed between the knees which helps keep the pelvis wide while allowing the body to rest. Peanut balls are great to use in both unmedicated and epidural births.
Practicing a form of mindfulness or meditation can benefit just about anyone, regardless of if they’re going through birth or not. If you’re planning for an unmedicated birth in particular, I encourage you to start practicing with some short guided meditations (YouTube is a gold mine of these—you can even find birth specific ones!). Being able to focus on breath and turn inward (entering Laborland, so to speak) may get you through the peak of contractions. Regardless of birthing plan, as you prepare to become a new parent, mindfulness may help lower stress and anxiety before and after Baby arrives.
and lastly… SUPPORT
Have a birth partner. If you have a significant other, try to have them attend the birth with you. A loved one—friend or family—who is completely supportive and reassuring can also be a great choice. Regardless of your chosen birth partner, I always encourage folks to have a trained doula support them during birth because all parties benefit from the extra knowledge, energy, and calm presence.
The comfort measures recommended above are not completely magical. Their purpose is not to relieve all discomfort or intensity of labor, but they can help you focus and relax. Having a loved one support you in utilizing these methods may increase connection and their participation in the birth, which generally makes everyone feel more content when recalling the birth story. Practice now and reap the benefits of these simple comfort measures throughout the rest of your pregnancy and into labor.
May your birthing experience be filled with love and light!