One question that I get asked frequently is "How do I cope with Labor?" I wanted to address that here, and because I'm nerdy like that, I made an acronym for Labor to help us explore this topic in an easy to remember way! I hope these techniques will help you as you Labor and Birth your baby! Let's dive in!
LISTEN to your body. As your body begins Labor, it’s important to listen to what it needs. If you feel thirsty, drink. If you feel hungry, eat. If you are tired, sleep. If you need to move and change positions to find more comfort, move. If you need to rest, sit or lie down to give your body what it needs. Also, pay attention to what you are listening to with your ears. Music, birth affirmations, and nature sounds can all have their place in your Labor space. Create a playlist of songs that make you feel relaxed, songs that can pump you up, or songs that create a spa-like feel. Find birth affirmations on iTunes or Spotify that build up your confidence and bring positivity to your mind. Be mindful of what you listen to because they play an important roll in labor and can have a major impact on your experience. When you hear a song or watch a show that you listened to during labor, it will trigger memories of the event. For me, I happened to have Sixteen Candles playing on the TV while I was laboring with my 4th baby. Every time I see an ad for the movie or I catch it on TV, I immediately flash back to that night.
Another important thing to consider is the people in the room with you while you are laboring. The words they say will also have a major impact. If you have people in your life that feel negatively about your Labor choices, excluding them from your Labor can protect your thoughts and mind from that negativity. Conversely, surrounding yourself with people that will champion your choices will be a major encouragement throughout Labor.
Be ACTIVE. As you’re listening to your body, when you have the energy and ability to move, then changing positions frequently during labor helps your body and your baby work together to help labor progress and to help move baby into the birth canal. Changing positions can do a couple of amazing things – it can help you cope and find comfort during contractions and it can keep your pelvis open and flexible so that baby has lots of room to maneuver down the birth canal. As you’re changing positions, exaggerate your movement into the position. For example, if getting into a tub to labor, take giant steps to get there, lift your leg extra high to step into the tub, and then settle into a comfortable place. When I was a kid, I used to play a game called Simon Says. Sometimes, we would be told to take giant steps and other times we would be told to take baby steps. Taking giant steps is what we are aiming for in Labor.
The natural response to the discomfort of Labor is to move our bodies like we are 90-year-old grannies, and I believe it’s because we think that big movements may increase the discomfort. But the reality is, that big and exaggerated movements actually help our bodies remain flexible and open, which in turn helps our baby with their mission of being born! I encourage my clients to change positions every 30 minutes, and to empty their bladder at least once an hour, which is also a position change. Some basic positions you can rotate through are sitting, standing, squatting, lunging, hands and knees, and side-lying.
BREATHE during Labor. While this may seem like a no-brainer, the method of breathing you choose will have a major impact on how you feel. Our natural inclination when we are experiencing pain and discomfort is to breathe rapidly. By taking control of and focusing on breathing during contractions, we calm our mind, decrease stress hormones, relax our muscles, reduce our blood pressure, and even increase our sense of well-being and peace. This deep breathing technique does require some practice in order to effectively use it during labor.
By taking some time each day to put this simple method into practice, we will be able to call on what we have learned during those contractions, and make a big impact on our pain relief. This focus on breath encourages the mind and body to enter into a relaxed state, letting our uterus contract as it needs to during labor. Fast and panicked breathing does quite the opposite. It increases our stress hormones, limits the amount of oxygen our body receives, and leaves the body and mind feeling anxious and afraid. Take a few moments each day to slow the breath down and notice the changes that occur in your body.
Here are a few tips for breathing to maximize your relaxation and pain relief:
Get in a comfy position and give yourself a few minutes free from distractions.
Take a moment to relax all of your muscles. If you notice a place in your body where you are holding tension, take notice and release it.
Inhale for 4-5 seconds and exhale for 4-5 seconds. As you exhale, completely empty your lungs. As you inhale, do so through your nose and focus on belly breathing so that your belly inflates as you inhale. As you exhale, do so through your mouth, going slowly as you count to 5.
Focus on your breath and notice how it feels as the air is going in and out of your lungs. Does this cause other parts of your body to respond? If distractions begin to creep into your mind, acknowledge them, and then turn your focus back to your breath.
For a more structured approach to breathing you could try a 4-square approach. Breath in slowly through your nose as you count to 4. Hold your breath for a count of 4. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 4.
ORIENT your mind. There is a saying of “Whatever you focus on will grow”, and this couldn’t be more true in Labor. As a doula, I often advise my clients to ignore labor for as long as possible. Once we move into active Labor, we use tools to distract the mind from the discomfort of contractions. You may wonder why. The fact is that if our minds are only focused on the discomfort and pain, the pain will grow. If we can keep the mind focused on other things – like changing positions, massage, a shower or bath, meditation, breathing, music, aroma, and so much more – then the mind has less of a capacity to focus on the pain and discomfort in the uterus. During pregnancy, decide on what distraction techniques will work best for you. Create a mental toolbox and share it with your partner and your doula.
One fun and hands on tool you can use is called The Birth Deck. It is a deck of cards that have positions, affirmations, and ideas for your partner as they support you. Look through the deck before labor so that you’re familiar with all of the options. During Labor, have the deck out and ready to use. We have these decks available for our labor clients, and our clients really love them!
Another place to get great information on positions you can try and other coping techniques is through a Childbirth Education Class. Tennessee Family Doulas teaches a class that covers all of the options, and leaves couples feeling calm and confident about Labor and Birth. The bottom line is preparation is the key to a calm and confident mind during labor. Surround yourself with education, physical support, and emotional support to help you utilize the tools in your mental toolbox. If you feel yourself losing control during a contraction, take a moment to orient your mind once the contraction subsides. Take it one contraction at a time. Each one is a new opportunity to use your tools.
RELEASE your mind and body to labor. As humans, it is in our nature to maintain a sense of control over our body and emotions. During labor, it may feel like you’re losing control, as your body takes over, and in truth, you are. Labor begins slowly, and builds in intensity and discomfort as your cervix dilates from 1-10. You can’t control the speed with which your contractions occur or the intensity. Your emotions may fluctuate as you mentally cope with contractions and your body will seem to take over. By releasing control over your body, your uterus is free to do what it must do for labor and birth, and labor can progress more easily.
In order to feel confident enough to release control you must face any fears you may have surrounding labor. Fears can have a major impact on labor. Fear can lead to increased pain, muscle tension, increased blood pressure and breathing rate. Fear activates adrenaline, which is a fight or flight response. Adrenaline neutralizes the effects of oxytocin, which is the hormone that stimulates labor and dilates the cervix. If fear is blocking oxytocin, then labor may fail to progress.
A simple exercise that you can do during pregnancy to address your fears is as follows:
Write down all of the things that you hope won’t happen during labor.
Look at the list and explore the worst case scenario for each one.
Ask yourself what will make your birth feel safe to you.
Incorporate those things into your birth planning.
Speak with a specialist in Prenatal Therapy if there are fears you feel you can’t overcome with this exercise. In Nashville, reach out to Ready Nest Counseling! They are amazing and will help you come up with a plan to feel safe during Labor!
Finally, create an image in your mind of your birth that involves feeling safe and strong. In this image, your body is relaxed, your heart rate is strong and steady, your breathing is controlled, and you are having strong and effective contractions. Bring this image to mind frequently in the weeks before birth.
If you find that the fears you listed or others come up for you during labor, share them with your support team and talk them through. Your support team can help you work through the fear and back to a sense of security and strength so that labor can effectively continue. With your fears assuaged and your confidence level high, you can release control to your body.
By utilizing these 5 techniques in your labor, you'll be ready for whatever comes your way. Carefully build your birth team, with a supportive OB or midwife, your partner, and an amazing doula. With this team in place, you can feel safe, supported, and cared for. You can feel confident that whatever path your birth goes down, you have a strong team around you to help you through. Tennessee Family Doulas is eager to assist you on your pregnancy and labor journey. Our teams of doulas are kind, compassionate, and professional. Reach out today to schedule an online consultation to meet us!