As your pregnancy progresses and labor seems to be around the corner, it is natural to experience a certain amount of fear and anxiety in anticipation of giving birth. Delivery is referred to as “labor” because it is hard, grueling, painful work, but it is not work that you have to fear. Because no two women interpret pain in the same way, now is the time to think about how you might react to your labor pains. Preparation, including researching relaxation techniques to help ease your contraction pains my contribute to your positive birth experience.
Relaxation Techniques to Help Ease Contractions
The following relaxation techniques, which incorporate all the senses, will help you and your partner focus your energy to manage pain in order to have as positive and productive a labor as possible.
What we see impacts our emotions and our behaviors. If what you see during labor is a relaxing environment with soft lighting, lamps, or candles (if allowed), you will experience feelings of safety, tranquility, and warmth.
The right environment will also minimize distractions. You can bring some pictures that remind you of a relaxing vacation spot. In addition, you can consider hanging up your baby’s first outfit where you can see it in order to have a motivational focal point.
Music has the ability to make you want to dance or it can lull you to sleep. Music therapy can be an effective aid in helping you relax and work through your contractions. You may find sounds like ocean waves, birds chirping or bubbling brooks can help you focus on the waves of your contractions.
Many stores have a CD section where you can listen to music and find just the right kind to help you relax. Many women have enjoyed the music of Yanni or Enya in their birth environment. After you have found music and sounds that you find relaxing, play the music throughout your pregnancy.
By doing so, you will program yourself to automatically relax when the time for birth arrives. To learn more about music therapy: https://www.musictherapy.org/
Certain smells can have a calming and comforting effect. If you are planning to give birth in a hospital or birth center, you can choose to bring a few things that smell like your home, such as a favorite blanket or t-shirt.
Other aromatherapy ideas to explore include purchasing an electric diffuser, incense, or essential oils such as lavender, sage, rose, or jasmine. Use lavender, bergamot or geranium oils to keep the air fresh and create a tranquil, relaxing atmosphere.
Jasmine and clary sage have traditionally been used during labor to help contractions and ease muscular pain. In addition, lavender is an antiseptic and analgesic and frankincense calms anxiety.
To learn more about essential oils during labor: click here
Most health care professionals agree that eating foods rich in complex carbohydrates and Vitamin B is beneficial in the first stage of labor. However, opinions vary about eating during active labor. Most women are not interested in food at this point; however, you might want to have some nutritious snacks available that help provides energy and reduce anxiety and fatigue.
Women vary on the types of touch that they enjoy during labor. While one woman might find gentle pressure irritating, it might be ideal for someone else. You will want to take the time to try out different types of massage, acupressure, hydrotherapy, and reflexology to find what works for you. The following types of massage are recommended to help the mother relax tense muscles.
Gentle Pressure: As contractions increase in intensity you may notice tightening of the brow, eyes, jaw or hands. Gentle counter pressure, with or without movement, can help the mother identify and release that tension. For overall tension—give her a strong bear hug and let her release into you.
Kneading: Slow rhythmic kneading is helpful for reducing tension in the shoulders, thighs or buttocks. Grasp the muscle between the heel of your hand and your closed fingers. Squeeze in with gentle pressure, hold, then release and repeat, moving across the muscle. The thumbs may be used with the heel of the hand, but avoid pinching with thumb and fingers.
Stroking: Use firm pressure with the palm of the hand to stroke from shoulder to hip, or thigh to the knee. Before one hand leaves the body, the other hand begins a second stroke. Alternate hands, maintaining constant contact with the mother as you slowly move across her back or thigh. Hand over hand movement across the lower abdomen may be done by the mother during a contraction as it is a natural response to rub where it hurts.
Counter pressure: Applying heavy pressure on painful areas of the lower back is effective. Fold your fingers flat against the palm of your hand. Keeping your wrist straight, use the knuckles to press into her pain. Position yourself so your body will lean into your arm to increase the pressure from your fist. The heel of the hand may be used for counter pressure, but it is more uncomfortable on the wrist for long periods.
Hydrotherapy: Hydrotherapy is becoming an increasingly popular method of easing labor pains. The pressure, pulse, and warmth of a shower during the first stage of labor and the buoyant, weightless freedom of a birth tub during the second stage are both helpful in moving through labor. Learn more about the positive effects of water birth.
Reflexology: Reflexology is the process of applying pressure or strokes to certain areas of the feet to relieve pain or problems in other parts of the body. The theory suggests that the feet are a map to the body. Stimulation of nerve endings sends messages to the affected areas and releases endorphins and monoamines, which control pain.
Here are a few common relaxation techniques you and your partner can try:
For a slow progressing labor
In a semi-reclining position on your back, or sitting in a chair with your feet up, have your partner take hold of toes 2 and 3 on both feet. (# 1 toe is your big toe, # 5 is your pinkie toe). Firmly squeeze and release, repeatedly at the same time.
After a few minutes, you may feel a warmth running up your legs and to the pelvic area. This sensation may speed up labor. Once you feel this, have your partner continue until you feel that you are in active labor again.
Relaxation techniques during active labor
In the same position, have your partner press firmly with a thumb at the center of each arch. Just to the left and down slightly from the arch of your right foot, and just to the right and down slightly from the arch of your left foot is the diaphragm.
Press and hold at the same time, alternating with small circles or strumming across the areas. This reflexology point will help you breathe. Increased breathing enables you to take fuller and longer breaths allowing relaxation, especially during contractions.
Click here to learn more about reflexology: https://www.reflexology-usa.org/
You’ve heard the phrase “mind over matter.” The birth process certainly proves that the mind is one of the most effective pain-fighting tools available. The more a woman focuses on the pain, the more pain she will feel. Hypnotism, visualization and imagery are all methods that pregnant women have used for pain relief.
The following are some ways you can use your mental energy to focus on bringing your baby into the world:
Quick body scan: Scan your body from head to toe to notice any tension and then release the tension with exercises like head rotations, shoulder rolls, shaking arms and hands, ankle rolls, and pelvic tilts.
Progressive relaxation techniques: Begin by relaxing the muscles of your head and face. Release down the back or your neck, across your shoulders and arm, down your chest, abdomen, and back, all the way down your legs to your toes. Breathe slowly, releasing more and more with each exhalation.
Each time you release a muscle, concentrate on the positioning of that muscle and on the feeling of complete relaxation. It may help to think of a comforting touch smoothing gently from your brow, up into your hair, over the top of your head and down your body.
Visual Imagery: Imagine a relaxing place—a sunny beach, a fireside, a bubbling brook, or a pristine lake surrounded by mountains. Use some pictures from favorite vacation spots to help you.
Hypnosis: With a little practice throughout pregnancy, women learn the process of becoming deeply relaxed and free of fear so the uterine muscles can work with minimal pain. Classes, videos, and tapes help women learn a conditioned reflex in which they are able to create their own state of profound mental relaxation, physical relaxation and concentration all by themselves.
For a referral, call the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association at (248) 549-5594 or (800) 257-5467. Click here for classes and curriculum. https://www.hypnobabies.com/
Want to Know More?
Compiled using information from the following sources:
Mayo Clinic Guide To A Healthy Pregnancy. Harms, Roger W., M.D., et al, Part 2.
Prepared Childbirth. Amis, Debby, and Jeanne Green, Childbirth Section.