Many pregnant women hope to achieve a natural, unmedicated labor. While others prefer to leave their options open in regards to pain medications, but prefer to try natural pain relief methods before resorting to drugs. Whatever the case may be, it is good for a pregnant woman to be aware of the various natural pain relief methods available to her prior to labor and delivery. This allows her the chance to educate herself about them, as well as try them out and practice them to see which ones she believe will be more effective for her than others.
Breathing techniques are often one of the more commonly recognized and known natural pain relief methods in labor. You may recall hearing laboring women being told to “remember to breathe” in both real life and television. It’s not that the women are not breathing, but rather, are being reminded to remember their breathing patterns to help alleviate stress and pain. Breathing, and the focus it requires can be relaxing and effective for the mother, helping reduce the intensity of her pain or her awareness of it.
“Sleep Breathing” is commonly used in labor. When a woman “sleep breathes” she inhales to the count of four, and exhales to the count of eight, focusing on making the stomach rise and fall, rather than the chest. “Sleep breathing” mimics how the woman breathes while sleeping, thus accounting for it’s name.
Deep breathing is usually encouraged in the early stages of labor, when it begins to get more painful as the mother transitions from early stage labor to active labor.
Focusing on the out breath may help women relax more effectively without causing them to hyperventilate. By extending the out breath, it delays the interval between inhalations, giving the body time to relax, and calm and prevent over-oxygenation caused by hyperventilation (taking in and releasing breaths too quickly). If a woman hyperventilates, she may pass out. Panting is often used in labor, but the woman should ensure she is not breathing too shallowly, or too quickly, in order to prevent herself from passing out.
When a woman reaches transition, she may feel more comfortable if she takes incredibly light, shallow breaths, as if she were trying to make a candle flicker.
Many times, a woman must experiment, prior to or during labor, with different breathing patterns and rhythms. By experimenting earlier on in the beginning of the active phase of labor, she may be able to pinpoint the one that works best for her and continue using it throughout labor. Conversely, she may find that one pattern works during one part of labor, but not during another.
Breathing techniques in labor can be quite effective in helping to calm and relax the mother, however, the effectiveness of breathing techniques depend greatly on the woman’s willingness to use them, and her belief that she can help control her pain by using these methods. Sometimes breathing patterns alone are not enough to cope through all of the pain in labor. Using breathing patterns during labor not only helps provide the mother with calmness and relaxation, but it also ensures that both the mother and baby are receiving adequate oxygen supplies. Breathing techniques often provide a greater sense of control over labor, leaving the woman feeling more empowered and in touch with her own situation. She remains clear, level headed and able to communicate.
Breathing patterns can be used at any stage or point in labor. Although many childbirth methods advocate for a specific breathing pattern, it is important that the woman listens to her body, and focuses on breathing in the way that best relaxes her, and provides adequate oxygenation to her and her baby.
Relaxation & Massage
Relaxation and massage are very effective tools when it comes to coping with and relaxing during labor pains. Some methods of relaxation can be done by the woman alone, but other methods of relaxation are best done with another person, such as the woman’s partner or doula, such as massage.
Many women are able to relax themselves by focusing on the baby, or using visualization techniques. The woman’s partner can help aid this method of relaxation by talking about the baby, and imagining what the baby will be like with the mother as she labors.
The mother may also be able to help herself relax during labor by meditating, or working with the contractions, viewing them as bringing her one step closer to meeting her baby, rather than focusing on the pain they bring.
Relaxation goes hand in hand with effective breathing. A woman who is truly relaxed, is most likely breathing effectively, providing herself and her baby with adequate oxygen. Relaxation promotes the natural release of endorphins which act as the body’s own natural pain relievers. Using relaxation may help increase the effectiveness of contractions, and shorten the length of labor.
Even if the mother is having an epidural or cesarean section, she can still benefit from relaxation and deep breathing.
Progressive relaxation involves the slow relaxation of certain muscle groups, one at a time. Progressive relaxation can be done by the woman alone, however, she may find it easier to do if her partner or doula helps coach her on what muscles to relax and when.
Massage (Touch Relaxation)
Many laboring women benefit from touch relaxation or massage. She may enjoy having her back, legs, thigh, feet, arms, stomach or neck rubbed gently, or she may prefer a deeper more intense massage. Massage can be effective immediately, helping the mother better cope with the pain of labor, especially if done during contractions.
Massage can be used at any point during labor, and is best varied throughout the labor using different strokes and intensities according to what the mother seems to prefer at the time. The mother may especially benefit from massaging the thighs during transition, as her legs may begin to get shaky at this point.
Massage may not be enough to cope with the pain, and some women prefer not to be touched while laboring.
Using warm or cold compresses during labor may be effective in addressing pain that is central to a specific location during labor, such as the lower back or the neck and shoulders. Many women use ice packs, or what are known as “labor packs” which may contain rice, flax seeds, or other materials that hold heat well and for longer periods of time. These packs may be placed wherever the woman feels she needs them most.
Many women are turning to the use of water when it comes to natural pain relief in labor. Taking warm, or hot showers during labor can be incredibly relaxing to a laboring woman. If there is a detachable showerhead, the woman may move it around herself, directing the water stream to target specific areas of discomfort and provide relief.
Birthing tubs and labor tubs are becoming more and more common in hospitals and birthing centers. Many women enjoy using these tubs and whirlpools while laboring. Water has been known to reduce the intensity of pain, as well as make the woman’s body more buoyant, lessening the pressure on the woman’s body, allowing her to progress in labor more comfortably. Warm labor tubs may help facilitate easier relaxation in the mother.
Some facilities may even allow the mother to give birth in the tub, however, many do not.
More and more women are opting to use a TENS machine during labor. Short for transcutanous electro-nerve stimiluation, a TENS machine is an electronic device four wires attached to it. Four pads connect the wires to various places on the back, secured with tape or adhesive. The TENS unite sends out a constant electrical pulse, blocking the brain from receiving pain signals and increasing the woman’s naturally occurring endorphin levels. The strength of the current can be controlled by the mother and often gives the woman a greater sense of control over her labor.
TENS machines are safe and will not harm the baby, however, it may take twenty minutes or more for the TENS machine to begin effectively addressing labor pain and may not be very effective in the much later stages of labor. The TENS machine cannot be used in water, and may be difficult to utilize massage around.
Many women benefit from using vocalization during labor. The woman may moan, grunt, groan, sing, hum, chant or holler through her contractions. This may help the woman relieve tension and promote better relaxation. One benefit of vocalization is that if the woman is creating vocal noises, it is often a sign she is breathing well and adequately, providing her and her baby with adequate oxygen. Many people may be uncomfortable with the noises the laboring woman might make, however, these noises should not be discouraged.
Visualization can be very effective in helping the woman cope through labor, by imagining herself and her reactions at the various stages of labor. She may find it helpful for her partner or doula to guide her visualization, providing her descriptive details at what her body is accomplishing at each stage and with each contraction, such as the opening of the cervix and the descent of the baby into the birth canal. By visualizing stages of labor yet to come, it may help provide the mother by preparing her for what’s to come, as well as prevent a fear of the unknown.
Hypnosis is gaining popularity as an effective and structured method to help manage pain. Many women use a method known as “Hypnobirthing,” a form of self-hypnosis used to manage pain by focusing on the elimination of fear and thus, the elimination of pain.
Distracting a laboring woman with conversation and light hearted humor may help her to relax, and promotes better oxygenation to herself and her baby. Using laughter and distraction to cope with labor pain can be particularly effective in early labor and the beginning of active labor, however, may lose it’s effectiveness as labor progresses further and the pain becomes more intense.
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“Natural Relief for Labor Pain – March of Dimes.” Pregnancy, Babies, Prematurity – March of Dimes Foundation. Jan. 2010. Web. 19 Sept. 2010.