Anybody who has spent time with me (or spent time reading my blog/facebook status updates) will know that I am somewhat of a natural birth activist. I strongly believe that birth is not just a normal, natural bodily function, but that it is a rite of passage; an experience that will change you completely, each time you do it.
I also believe that it isn’t supposed to hurt.
This is something that divides the ‘birthies’, I think. There are some, like me, who believe that deeply ingrained fear and conditioning is to blame for the discomfort of labour and birth, and that if we were truly free of fear, we would experience pain-free birthing. However, there are many others that reckon that birth is supposed to be uncomfortable and sometimes painful, but that it’s perfectly manageable without drugs.
My own natural birth experience could have been described as painful, but it was more intense than anything else. I know I was still harbouring some apprehension and fear about the birth and life with a newborn, and I believe that affected the level of discomfort I felt.
Whatever you believe, I think we can all agree that labour is intense. It is physically and emotionally demanding, and requires preparation, strong will and courage to get through. Following is a list of coping techniques that women (including myself) have found useful in coping with the intensity of labour and birth – without drugs.
1. Deep Relaxation. Dr Grantly Dick-Read taught us that fear causes tension in the muscles of the body. The uterus is made up of complex muscles that can’t work to their full potential if they are tense. So therefore, fear causes tension – which then causes pain. Ever tried lifting something heavy when you have a stiff shoulder? It’s not easy, and it hurts. It makes logical sense that being relaxed will improve your comfort level during birthing. But how are you supposed to relax? For a start, you have to release your fear. Work out what it is about labour and birth that is frightening you. Are you scared that your body won’t be able to cope with it? Is the thought of being a parent terrifying you? Have you been told repeatedly by family and friends that “you’ll want that epidural”? Work out where your fear is coming from and confront it. Fear is not your friend when it comes to childbirth.
Secondly, you need to ensure that your environment where you plan to labour and birth is conducive to relaxation. If you haven’t already, consider a home birth. Not only will you have all of your home comforts around you, you will be in total control over who enters your home and who attends to you during labour – no random doctors or nurses swanning into your room whilst you are busy birthing your child.
Thirdly, practice deep relaxation techniques to use whilst in labour. The HypnoBirthing and HypnoBabies study courses have been proven incredibly effective at helping women have births that aren’t just comfortable and pain-free, but orgasmic and ecstatic.
2. Choose Your Position. What positions you assume during labour can have a big impact on the outcome. Your midwife or doula may suggest positions that will help your baby move into an optimum position – this is handy if your baby is posterior (or ‘back to back’) – and positions that will help move labour along. At the end of the day, you have to do what feels right. We all know that being flat on your back during labour is pretty much never good, but you do sometimes hear of women who felt most comfortable in a supine position. If it feels good, do it! I planned to have an active labour with my natural baby, but ended up in the same position throughout – on my knees, leaning on the birthing ball (and later, my husband). My midwives suggested I get up and walk around – their suggestion was met with a resounding NO. I was quite happy there and wasn’t about to move for anybody. Sometimes changing positions can change what emotional state you are in – this can be helpful, or not. Only you can decide.
3. Water Is Awesome. Most women who labour in water say that it’s amazing pain relief. With my first (medicated hospital) birth, I would have committed bloody murder to have been able to get in a tub. My belly felt so damn heavy, being able to sink into a warm pool would have been bliss. Alas, it was not to be. So, second time around, we bought a pool. I was so friggin’ excited to use it, and as it was we didn’t manage to get it filled in time! If you can’t use a pool for whatever reason, you can try sitting in a bath or standing/sitting under a hot shower. Even a well-timed cold flannel to the forehead or nape of the neck can be the most fantastic sensation during transition.
4. Affirmations. You may feel like a bit of a numpty, repeating positive statements to yourself, but during labour IT WORKS! Choose a few empowering phrases that you can repeat in your head (or at full volume…) to help you get through.
5. Surrender. Don’t fight with your body. Allow each contraction to wash over you and mentally allow your body to open. It’s a frightening feeling, but surrendering to the process is vital to having an empowering experience. Years of misogyny and fear-mongering have taught women to be scared of their own bodies; of their own power. Cheesy as it sounds, you have the power. Don’t be afraid to use it.
6. Support. Having a fab support team is vital to getting the birth you want. Consider hiring a doula. Doulas can be expensive, but some will offer their services at a very reduced rate or free if they are looking to gain experience. A doula will be a support for you and your partner, as well as an advocate who can help you liase with medical staff. A doula is a must at a hospital birth, where you are more likely to be subjected to the infamous cascade of interventions, but they can also be indispensable at a home birth. Think about it – your partner can’t make tea for midwives, fill the pool, fend off well-meaning phone calls and support you at the same time. You need a lot of hands on deck. If a doula isn’t an option, get a trusted friend on board.
I would love to hear what specific techniques helped you cope during your labour. Please comment and share!