Whether you’re planning a natural childbirth or opting for an epidural, it’s so important to know your labor pain relief options before you head to the maternity ward. Pain is, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of giving birth, but there are ways to decrease the intensity.
There’s a reason many nurses refer to pain and “the 5th vital sign.” It can wreak havoc on your body and affect your other major vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and temperature). Think about it. When you’re in pain, your blood pressure rises, your heart beats faster, and you breathe harder. While labor pain isn’t typically dangerous for most women, saying that it’s unpleasant would be a drastic understatement. So, what can you do to ease it a bit without resorting to medications (or while you’re waiting for the anesthesiologist to arrive with the meds)? Read on for a few methods that you can try.
Labor Pain Relief Options
Remember, the best time to come up with your labor pain management plan is before it begins. It’s also important to have a few options in mind, in case one (or more) of them fail. Make sure you discuss your options and plan with your delivery team.
1- Breathing techniques
Even if you skipped Lamaze classes, you can still use breathing techniques to help relieve your labor pain. In fact, there are many other ways to learn patterned breathing. Yoga classes, meditation videos, or even just practicing different types of breathing on your own will help you figure out what works best for you. For some women, that’s deep breathing. Other women prefer shallow breaths. The key is to find a rhythm that relaxes you, distracts you from your pain, and helps you feel more in control of your body.
2- Relaxation exercises
Relaxation exercises can be done on their own or used along with your breathing techniques. These exercises work by distracting your mind from the pain. Pretty much anything goes here (within reason, of course). You could try listening to music, watching TV, or even using aromatherapy (probably not candles, though, if you’re in a hospital!). The key is to find something that takes your mind off of the pain, so it really has to be something you enjoy. Don’t box yourself into a specific relaxation technique just because others say it worked for them. For example, if you just plain don’t like meditating, the middle of your labor is not the time to try to force yourself to enjoy it!
3- Changing positions
It may sound silly, but sometimes just getting up and walking (if your doc okays it) can do wonders for labor pain. If the idea of walking the floor makes you cringe, try changing positions. Sit up, lay down, rock back and forth on your hands and knees. I know it seems like it doesn’t compare, but I used to get menstrual cramps so bad that I felt like climbing the walls and ripping my hair out. Changing positions frequently (as often as every minute during the worst of it) is one of the few things that helped while I waited for medication to kick in. This video shows a few positions that you can try out:
4-Massage & acupressure
Massage, acupressure, and even acupuncture are all incredibly powerful labor pain relief options. While the “acus” really should be done by a trained pro (especially acupuncture), just about anyone can learn how to give a massage. Your birthing partner can watch how-to videos or even take a short class at a local spa. You can start with this video:
5- Water therapy
Ever notice how your aches and pains just sort of melt away the moment you slip into a pool? I have chronic pain and water therapy works wonders for me! The same benefits apply to labor pain, which is probably why so many women love water births. You don’t have to immerse yourself in a huge pool to feel the benefits. Just soaking in a tub of warm water is often enough to help relax your muscles and uterus. Many newer hospitals have tubs available for moms in labor, so if you want to use this pain relief method, call around and find out which ones in your area offer it.
If these labor pain relief options don’t really appeal to you, talk to your doctor or midwife for other ideas. They may be able to recommend natural remedies like herbs or supplements that can help. I don’t feel comfortable giving you herbal remedies to try because many herbs aren’t safe to use during pregnancy. Even the “safe” herbs can be dangerous if you have certain preexisting medical conditions or are already taking other medications. If you do come across a site offering advice on which herbs to take, please, please, please talk to your doctor first. Herbs may be considered supplements now, but for thousands of years they were used as medications.
One last thing before I let you go off and practice your pain relief techniques: your environment will play a large role in helping you manage labor pain. Having a positive attitude when you’re in the worst pain of your life is definitely a challenge, but trying to stay somewhat cheery and upbeat will help you relax more. If you don’t think you can manage that (I know myself, and I get cranky when I’m in pain), make sure your birth partner keeps a positive attitude for both of you! If you’re giving birth in a hospital, it’s hard to make the room feel like your own, but little things can go a long way towards helping. At the very least, bring your favorite pillow and blanket so the bed doesn’t feel so clinical. Keep reminding yourself that when it’s all over, you’ll have a beautiful little baby! The pain is totally worth it if you remember that!