For the expectant mother nearing the end of her pregnancy, labor is a daunting task. It isn’t impossible, however, and with the right techniques, it can be very doable!
Perhaps the number one strategy to keep in mind with labor is the need to relax. Many women find themselves entrapped in a viscous cycle. They feel their muscles tensing through a contraction and become scared. This fear further tenses their muscles, causing even more painful contractions. It just keeps escalating! So the goal is to do everything possible to keep the fear at a minimum and your body at a restful state.
Here are just ten ways to help relax during labor:
- Positive Language: Many people refer to “labor pains.” This emphasis on pain immediately sends off negative connotations. Refer to them instead as “contractions.” Your body is doing exactly what it needs (muscles contracting) to move your baby. One nurse positively referred to them as “baby hugs.” With each contraction, your muscles are hugging your baby to birth!
- Mental Imagery: Put a beautiful picture in your mind. Think about a day on the beach, relaxing on the sand. Some women like to escape to their happy place; others may find it helpful to picture what is happening in the present. With each contraction, I mentally pictured the muscles of my uterus moving up, pushing our baby down.
- Setting: Try to labor at home for awhile, where you are more relaxed and comfortable. Once you arrive to the birth facility, create a peaceful setting. Dim the lights and put on some relaxing music. Bring some familiar objects with you that calm or inspire you, such as an ultrasound picture of your baby. See if you can wear your own clothes instead of a hospital gown.
- Educate Yourself: It’s natural to fear the unknown. Take birthing classes, talk with other women, and read some books before labor begins so you can mentally prepare and know what to expect. It’s very important for your spouse to be educated, too, so he can best support you during labor. It’s also helpful to create a birth plan.
- Team Support: Bring your personal cheerleader to help you through labor. This is usually your spouse, but may include a parent and/or doula. A doula is a trained professional woman who gives you emotional, physical, and informational support during and after labor.
- Breathe: Sometimes it’s tempting to tense during a contraction and hold your breath. This makes it much harder and more painful. Take slow, deep breaths to make sure you (and your baby!) are receiving enough oxygen and to help relax your muscles.
- Massage: Ask your support person (spouse, doula) to massage your muscles. This will reduce tension! A warm shower is helpful, as is laboring in a birth pool. The counter pressure of water is wonderful for relieving sore muscles!
- Trust: Your body knows what it needs to do, so just surrender to the process. Also trust your nurses and doctor/midwife. Make sure, long before labor arrives, that you feel confident and comfortable with your physician/midwife and his or her philosophy, as well as the birthing facility you have chosen.
- Keep Moving: Help your body move that baby! Walking hastens the labor process and movement may also assist you through contractions. Keep changing positions until you find something comfortable. A birth ball is a great idea, too!
- Stay Goal-Oriented: Think about the beautiful baby that awaits you! Each contraction is one step closer to holding your bundle of joy!