Labour Pain: Can You Really Prepare For It?
You’ve put in almost ten months of hard slog, with sleepless nights, endless trips to the bathroom, nausea that never seems to go away and yet nature has saved the best for last….
Coping with labour pain is not something you read about in most of the ‘pregnancy bibles’. There will be descriptions of the different stages of labour, positions to try out that may make you more comfortable and a vague reference to what a strong contraction feels like. But, when it comes to pain, most of the focus is on what drugs are available for you and at what point in your labour you should be asking for them.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with requesting pain relief during labour. The problem is that in most cases, women are entering the process with very little mental preparation, and this can have a big impact on your experience of labour.
No textbook can prepare you for what labour is truly like, but you should still be given the opportunity to understand the process and get some idea of how your body is likely to respond.
Where do I start?
If you’re not sure where to begin, I would highly recommend a brilliant book by Ju Ju Sundin, called ‘Birth skills: Proven management techniques for your labour and birth’. It explains in detail what happens to the body during labour, why it’s painful, what you can do to ease the pain, and there are plenty birth stories from women who tried these techniques and experienced the benefits. And these techniques are useful if you're aiming for a natural delivery or having a C-section.
Prenatal yoga, starting from about 16 weeks is also a great idea as you will learn techniques to manage your breathing patterns during labour and helpful positions to make the delivery easier for you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you’ve never given birth before then, please don’t bury your head in the sand and hope that by avoiding the idea of labour your baby will magically appear. It’s normal to feel nervous and out of your depth with such a new experience, so make sure to talk to someone about your concerns – to your GP, mid-wife, best friend or your own mother or family. Bottling up your anxiety will only increase your stress levels, which won’t make for an easy delivery.
If you’ve had a baby before and found the TENS machine brilliant for dulling the sensation of each contraction, then share that wisdom with your slightly anxious, first-timer friend. If she has questions about labour, try to answer them honestly. Some women have straight forward labours, others are more complex and knowing this can help manage her expectations so there will be no surprises on the day.
"Be bigger than the pain"
This is a direct quote from Ju Ju Sundin’s book and is something that I would always mention to any of my patients who are nearing their due date. The idea is that you fight back your pain with movement, visualisation, pleasant smells (essential oils), being vocal or a mixture of all of the above. These ideas may sound crazy but let me give you an example.
If you were to stub your toe on the leg of a table and it really hurt, what would you do?
You might swear, you would possibly hit the table back, or you might hop around on one leg while holding the injured foot, but it’s unlikely that you would have no reaction at all.
Scientific studies have proven that we have a higher pain threshold if we are vocal, and this pain tolerance also improves if we have the permission to ‘hit back’, which refers to movement.
What this means during labour, is that you should focus on making ‘ah’ sounds as you breathe out so you can control your breathing and avoid hyperventilating. The stronger the contraction, the louder the sound you make.
The same goes for movement. Some women experience great relief from the pain if they can direct their energy, by thumping a pillow during the peak of a contraction. Others find that standing and moving with a swaying motion helps with the pain. It’s really about finding what works best for you and then sticking with it.
It’s not just the pain that I’m worried about..
We’ve all heard the saying that when it comes to giving birth you ‘leave your dignity at the door’.
Yes, it’s true that labour is, by all accounts, a messy experience but I promise you won’t be thinking about any of that as you’ll be too busy focusing on the contractions and the fact that you’ll be meeting your baby in the very near future.
If your partner is present for the birth, he’s not going to think any less of you because you happen to be hot, sweaty, cranky and are making loud grunting noises. If he’s squeamish, he can focus on supporting you with words of encouragement and keeping you hydrated with sips of water while the mid-wives takes care of the ‘business’ end. Preparing your partner in advance of labour is a good idea as that way he can feel part of the process, rather than standing helpless on the side-lines.
Any of the men I have spoken to about labour have said that while it’s hard to watch someone you love dealing with pain, they were all incredibly proud of how their partners coped with the delivery and relished the amazing moment when they became Dad’s for the first time.
There is no such thing as a perfect labour, but you can prepare yourself to the best of your ability so that it can be a positive experience for you and your partner.
Jessica Bourke is a Natural Fertility Specialist, who deals with all aspects of reproductive health. Her clinical approach is based on evidence-based nutrition protocols, acupuncture treatment, and she also offers functional lab tests to support you on your journey to parenthood. She's a regular contributor to Irish media and co-author of the 'Guilt Free Gourmet' cook-book. As a Mum of two green-smoothie-loving little monsters, Jessica understands the challenges of pregnancy and parenting, so stay tuned for more articles with advice on how to get pregnant and stay pregnant or check out jessicabourke.com.