As pregnancy progresses and labor seems to be around the corner, it’s natural to experience many fears with the anticipation of giving birth. Labor is called “labor” because it is hard, grueling, painful work, but not work you have to be afraid of. Because pain is interpreted differently by all women, now is the time to think about how you might interpret your labor pains. Relaxation, preparation, and knowledge are essential to a positive birth experience. The following relaxation techniques, which incorporate all of your senses, will help you and your partner focus your energy and work with your pain toward a positive and productive labor.
It has been said that “the eye is the window into the soul”. What we see impacts our emotions and our behaviors. Focus on creating a relaxing environment. Soft lighting, lamps, or candles (if allowed) will bring feelings of safety, tranquility, and warmth. This will also minimize distractions. Bring some pictures that might help you visualize a relaxing vacation spot. Hang your baby’s first outfit for a motivational focal point.
Music has the abililty to move you to dance, or lull you to sleep. Music therapy can be an effective aid in helping you relax and work with your contractions. You may find sounds like ocean waves help you focus on the waves of contractions, or bird sounds and bubbly brooks transport you to another world. Most stores have a CD section where you can listen to music and find just the right one to help you relax. Many women have enjoyed Yanni or Enya in their birth environment. After you have found music and sounds that help you relax, play it often for the rest of your pregnancy. This will cause an automatic response to relax when it’s time for birth.
Certain smells can also have a calming and comforting effect. If you are planning to give birth in a hospital or birth center you may want to bring a few things that smell like home; a favorite blanket or pillow, or maybe a favorite t-shirt or sweatshirt that would carry a home-like scent. Some other aromatherapy ideas to explore include purchasing an electric diffuser, incense, or essential oils such as lavender, sage, rose, & jasmine. Use lavender, bergamot or geranium oils to keep the air fresh and create a tranquil, relaxing atmosphere. Jasmine and clary sage have traditionally been used during labor to help contractions and ease muscular pain; lavender is antiseptic and analgesic; frankincense deepens breathing and calms anxiety.
Most health care professionals agree that eating foods rich in complex carbohydrates and Vitamin B is beneficial in the first stage of labor. However, opinions vary about eating during active labor. Most women are not interested in food at this point, however, you may want to have some nutritious snacks that provide energy, and keep you satisfied to avoid anxiety and fatigue. Some refreshing fruits, sports drinks, mints or gum will freshen your breath, moisten your mouth and contribute to an overall state of relaxation.
All women vary on the types of touch that feel the best to them. While one woman might find gentle pressure irritating, it may be just right for someone else. You will want to take time to try out different types of massage, acupressure, hydrotherapy and reflexology to find the right one for you. The following types of massage are recommended to help mom release tense muscles.
Gentle Pressure: As contractions increase in intensity you may notice tightening of the brow, eyes, jaw or hands. Gentle pressure, with or without movement, can help mom identify and release that tension. For overall tension—give her a strong bear hug and let her release into you.
Kneading: Slow rhythmic kneading is helpful for reducing tension in the shoulders, thighs or buttocks. Grasp the muscle between the heel of your hand and your closed fingers. Squeeze in with gentle pressure, hold, then release and repeat, moving across the muscle. The thumbs may be used with the heel of the hand, but avoid pinching with thumb and fingers.
Stroking: Use firm pressure with the palm of the hand to stroke from shoulder to hip, or thigh to knee. Before one hand leaves the body, the other hand begins a second stroke. Alternate hands, maintaining constant contact with mom as you slowly move across her back or thigh. Hand over hand across the lower abdomen may be done by mom during a contraction as it is a natural response to rub where it hurts.
Counter pressure: Applied heavy pressure is effective on painful areas of the lower back. Fold your fingers flat against the palm of your hand. Keeping wrist straight, use the knuckles to press into her pain. Position yourself so your body will lean into your arm to increase the pressure from your fist. The heel of the hand may be used for counter pressure, but it is more uncomfortable on the wrist for long periods.
Hydrotherapy is becoming an increasingly popular means of easing labor pains. The pressure, pulse and warmth of a shower during the first stage of labor to the buoyant, weightless freedom of a birth tub during the second stage are effective in moving through labor. Learn more about the positive effects of water birth.
Reflexology is the process of applying pressure or strokes to certain areas of the feet to relieve pain or problems in other parts of the body. The theory suggests that the feet are a map to the body and stimulation of nerve endings sends messages to the affected areas and releases endorphins and monoamines, which control pain.
Here are a few common techniques you and your partner can try: