Labor for the most part has many stages and transitions and at some point the sensations get stronger and some describe them in terms of pain. Note, that pain exists in the body to drive us to an action. It’s a protection mechanism. How much pain we feel depends on our emotional state, the amount of or potential for, danger/damage and then how we respond to it. Here’s what to do to alleviate that pain:
First, Assess the Body to see what you can be doing to assist with the physiological aspects of labor. What is the action you are being driven to? Maybe, it’s as simple as changing your position or adding more movement to help baby move deeper into the birth canal. Simply getting on your hands and knees can reduce the pressure felt in the low back. Do you need massage or a heat pack to release tension? How about some acupressure or even direct counter pressure in the area that is bothering you? Also check in with what you know about baby’s position because the sensations of labor can increase if the uterus is working extra hard to turn that babe into a great position. (And yes babies are born in all positions.)
After you have assessed the body and taken action it’s time for number two:
Change Your Focus! All the sensations of the body are experienced in the mind and if the signal does not reach the brain we don’t feel it! So by using techniques such as mindfulness, affirmations, listening to music, breathing, vocalization, rhythm and ritual, hypnosis etc we shift our focus and perspective so that we don’t experience the sensations as pain; or significantly decrease them. If we focus on the pain it usually increases. Partners it’s noteworthy to say that in labor it is not always clear what is needed in the moment; so keep trying different things until something sticks.
The elements of assessing the body and finding your focus will be set on repeat through out the many stages and transitions of the labor process. Learning and practicing the comfort measures and focus techniques during pregnancy should make the labor and birth easier.
We all want to know how fare we are dilated…but this does NOT tell us when we will go into labor or how fast the labor will progress. So, when considering a cervical check ask yourself:
Why do I need this information?
How will this number make me feel–discouraged or encouraged?
Is the information vital to making a decision about my labor experience?
Will this check increase my risk of infection do to my waters having released?
Reducing fear reduces pain:
Our brain interprets how much danger we think we are in a raises our pain level accordingly. Women report their pain level to the sensations of labor on a varying scale. Before your labor begins you can train your brain to respond to those contractions sensations differently than is portrayed in the movies. You can shift your focus by using massage, movement, music, and mindfulness…just to name a few.
Women need to feel safe:
Your laboring environment need to be one that promotes the production of labor hormones. When we feel stressed or not safe we produce adrenaline which can slow or stop labor. One of the reason so many women go into labor at night is that is the “safe time”. We are mammals too and at night the “predators” are sleeping so it is safe to have a baby. If you have ever seen kittens or puppies being born it’s usually in some dark secluded corner. When we detect danger our body produces adrenaline to protect us and drive us into action. Our modern stressors do the same thing so providing a laboring environment with little or no stress help the process along. Laboring at home for a long a possible provides the comfort of your surroundings. When you get to your birthing place try to mimic your home comforts by turning off the harsh hospital lights, bring your own pillow and blanket, wear your own clothes, add mood lighting, play your favorite music, and have your partner speak to you more than anyone else.
Move those hips:
Your baby needs to make its way through your pelvis and you can assist by changing the shape of your pelvis with a variety of positions and movements. Our body produces a hormone called relaxin during pregnancy. Relaxin helps the ligaments in the pelvis loosen. So, during labor your pelvis is designed to adjust to your baby moving down; but if we stay in one position we are not taking advantage of all the ways our pelvis can move. Walking, dancing, swaying and crawling are all ways to help your pelvis make room for your baby.
Wait for the urge to push:
So often women start pushing when they are 10cm. If you wait till the urge to push is overwelhming your pushes will be more effective–usually resulting in a shorted pushing phase. Again, cervix dilation is just a number. More factors are going on here. If we wait for the uterus to move baby lower before actively pushing we will expel less energy to birth our baby. The uterus sometimes takes a little break once reaching 10 cm. to build up its power (this can look like contractions spacing out). We call this the rest and be thankful phase. It is also called laboring down and this is vitally important if you have an epidural. Epidurals usually let you still feel the increased pressure (like you have to poop) that comes with pushing. So, by waiting, our body initiates the fetal ejection reflex (yes, it’s a thing) and your baby starts coming down. Most women explain that their body was pushing whether they wanted it to or not.
Change pushing positions:
Many women labor in various positions but then we start pushing and we don’t change. The sensations of pushing can be very intense and it’s difficult for women to even think about moving. We get “locked” into a position (very often on our backs) and we just stay no matter how much progress baby is making. Just the simple act of shifting positions can open the pelvis and drastically change how effective our pushing is. I have seen many women go from feeling like they are making no progress to a baby being born in minutes with a simple position change. It’s because we have to wiggle around usually to move into the next position and baby can take advantage of the new room created. It’s not any one specific position that does the trick–it’s the act of changing that makes the difference!!
(Doula tip for partners: Try suggesting verses asking what positions she wants to change to. Just suggest by saying, “Let’s try squatting for a few contractions.” )
Download or print my shortened version of Childbirth Secrets from a Doula here:
So, you’re at or near your due date, filling your time with projects while you wait for baby to come. How about practicing a few labor positions? Working on these in the weeks before your labor starts (and during early labor) can help you progress through active labor when the time finally comes. Remember: movement and gravity are your friends during the birth process!
The pelvis is the major passageway that your baby has to navigate to be born. So you want to practice positions that help the pelvis open up and create the best possible pathway for baby to get through the pelvis, and into the birth canal. Here are three positions to try:
1. The squat.
Squats open that part of the pelvis where baby engages and puts pressure on the cervix before and during contractions.
As you lower your butt toward the ground keep your knees wide and feet flat. Only go as far down in the squat without your heels coming up. For some, maintaining a squat for a length of time is not easy. As your baby grows, your belly adds balance challenges and gets in the way. So, I also recommend a supported squat (see photo) with your partner sitting on a chair or couch with you squatting between their legs. Rest your arms on their legs and lean back into them.
You can also put a rolled up blanket or yoga block under your butt for extra support. You don’t want to feel pressure in your knees. You can practice your squats while watching your favorite TV program. For even more details on the perfect squat visit …https://nutritiousmovement.com/you- dont-know-squat/
2. The walking squat.
This movement may look very primal. But since birth has been around for–well, forever–this is great! Once you’ve practiced your squat a bit, now add motion. Place your hands on the floor and start “crawling” in a squat position. Some also call this a “duck walk”. Why is this good you might ask? Well, every pelvis is shaped differently and so is
every baby’s head. Therefore by walking every baby’s head. Therefore by walking/crawling in a squat we change the shape of
in a squat we change the shape of your your pelvis, ever so slightly, back and forth allowing baby to find space and maneuver
3. The birth nest.
This is a position to rest in before or during early labor. It promotes a wider superior opening of the pelvis. Start with two pillows on the floor in a “V”. Then place your birth ball at the opening–like an ice cream cone. Now, kneel on the two pillows, leaning over the ball. Have your partner place another pillow across the back of the legs. The next pillow supports under the belly and one more goes on the ball to be under your head and arms. Adjust the pillows however feels more comfortable. This position also gives the birth partner or doula an opportunity to massage the back and hips or apply some counter pressure if desired.
(This position was taught to me by Kyndal May, trainer for DONA International.
All of these positions optimize the opening of the pelvis to facilitate baby’s progression into the birth canal. As your labor starts and progresses further you will want to change up your movement to open the lower pelvis. Your doula can help you with that!