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:
For a slow progressing labor:
In a semi-reclining position on your back, or sitting in a chair with your feet up, have your partner take hold of toes 2 and 3 on both feet. (# 1 toe is your big toe, # 5 is your pinkie toe). Firmly squeeze and release, repeatedly at the same time. After a few minutes, you may feel a warmth running up your legs and to the pelvic area. This sensation may speed up labor. Once you feel this, have your partner continue until you feel that you are in active labor again.
During active labor:
In the same position, have your partner press firmly with a thumb at the center of each arch. Just to the left and down slightly from the arch of your right foot, and just to the right and down slightly from the arch of your left foot is the diaphragm. Press and hold at the same time, alternating with small circles or strumming across the areas. This reflexology point will help you breathe. Increased breathing enables you take fuller and longer breaths causing relaxation, especially during contractions. Click here to learn more about reflexology. http://www.reflexology-usa.org/index.shtml
You’ve heard the phrase “mind over matter.” The birth process certainly proves that the mind is one of the most effective pain-fighting tools available. The more a woman focuses on the pain, the more pain she will feel. Hypnotism, visualization and imagery are all methods moms have used for pain relief. The following are ways you can use your mental energy to focus on bringing your baby into the world.
- Quick body scan: Scan your body from head to toe to notice any tension and then release the tension with exercises like head rotations, shoulder rolls, shaking arms and hands, ankle rolls, and pelvic tilts.
Progressive relaxation: Begin by relaxing the muscles of your head and face. Release down the back or your neck, across your shoulders and arm, down your chest, abdomen and back, all the way down your legs to your toes. Breath slowly, releasing more and more with each exhalation. Each time you release a muscle, concentrate on the positioning of that muscle and on the feeling of complete relaxation. It may help to think of a comforting touch smoothing gently from your brow, up into your hair, over the top of your head and down your body.
Visual Imagery: Imagine a relaxing place—a sunny beach, a fireside, resting near a bubbling brook, or looking out on a pristine lake surrounded by mountains. Use some pictures from favorite vacation spots to help you.
Hypnosis: With a little practice throughout pregnancy women learn the process of becoming deeply relaxed and free of fear so the uterine muscles can work the way they are made to with minimal pain. Classes, videos and tapes help women learn a conditioned reflex in which they are able to create their own state of profound mental and physical relaxation and concentration all by themselves. For a referral call the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association at (248) 549-5594 or (800) 257-5467. Click here for classes and curriculum. http://www.hypnobabies.com/
Compiled using information from the following sources:
Mayo Clinic Guide To A Healthy Pregnancy. Harms, Roger W., M.D., et al, Part 2.
Prepared Childbirth. Amis, Debby, and Jeanne Green, Childbirth Section.
American Pregnancy Association, http://www.americanpregnancy.org