4 Ways to Manage Labor Pain
There are many ways to manage your pain and discomfort once labor has begun. Some of the more common techniques will fall into the categories of mental, physical, and medicinal or pharmacological management. Once you are in active labor, it can be difficult to remember everything you have learned prenatally, and your labor team will try to help you with many of the non-pharmacological techniques available to make labor more manageable. One of the main reasons people hire a birth doula is for the in-the-moment offering of many different pain-management techniques described below allowing you to focus on the very important task of getting through each contraction.
Mental preparation for labor is time well spent. For some people, the pain or discomfort felt during labor has as much to do with your fear and anxiety as it does with the physical work your body is doing. Pain in labor is different than pain in life; Typically pain signals us that something is wrong with our body, whereas, in labor, pain is often a signal of progress. Spend some time watching births similar to the kind you are planning for yourself. If you see it done, it will add to your confidence that you can do it too! Practice deep breathing and meditation to bring on calming energy. Hypnosis has been shown to reduce the perception of pain in individuals who practice this technique. Hypnobirthing or hypnosis for labor are tools that have helped many feel in control of the mental aspect of their labor. Affirmations that you can read or someone can read to you while laboring may help you get through the challenges of labor and inspire you through the hard work of dilation. Language affects how we feel, so don’t be afraid to tweak the language of labor, so that it resonates with you. Try calling Some prefer to call contractions surges, expansions, or waves as the visualization that accompanies those words may make them feel more manageable. Here are some examples of birth affirmations:
These contractions are not stronger than me, they are me.
My body is capable and strong.
I am focused on breathing and love.
My body is more powerful than I know.
I can do this because I am doing it.
Each wave brings me a moment closer to meeting my baby.
I let go of fear, I am calm, confident, and excited.
Once labor has begun, you will find that some positions are more comfortable to be in than others. Moving your body during labor also helps your baby get into an optimal position for delivery. Some movements or positions to consider for the first stage of labor (dilation) are walking or pacing during contractions, hands and knees or all 4s, standing, swaying, dancing, stomping, leaning on someone, sitting on or leaning forward onto a birth ball, straddling dropping your leg over a peanut ball, and laying down on your side. Physical manipulations that your doula, partner, or family member can do known to help with labor pain are hip squeezing, counter pressure (firm pressure onto the lower back, sacrum, or hip, acupressure points, massage, applying an ice or heat pack, or fanning you. Water can provide powerful pain relief so try a shower, bath, or pool if available. Some respond better to heat therapy and others prefer cold, so don’t be afraid to experiment with both to find out which works better for you. Make yourself familiar with these positions and practices while you are still pregnant so that they are easier to recall once in labor. Take a class to learn more about movement and positions that help build your coping skills.
If you plan on having your baby in a hospital setting, you may have the option for various types of medications for pain management: Epidural, Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas), Sterile Water Injections, IV medicines such as meperidine (Demerol®), morphine, fentanyl, butorphanol (Stadol®) and nalbuphine (Nubain®). Speak with your doctor or midwife about the risks and benefits to see which of these may be best and/or available for you. In addition, you can also watch our recorded class on epidural, IV medications, and NO2.
When you hire a birth doula, you aren’t just hiring someone to hold your hand and walk you through your labor and delivery. You are hiring someone trained in non-pharmacological pain management with experience in many of the techniques mentioned above. Studies show that people who hire doulas request pain medication less often than people who don’t have doulas. Once you are in active labor, it can be very difficult to remember everything you’ve been taught, even for the most prepared among us. Having a birth doula by your side means not having to remember everything you learned in childbirth class and having an extra brain on your team to help you implement pain management ideas that might otherwise go unutilized. Having the support of a birth doula means receiving help with mental preparation while still pregnant, someone familiar with physical movement during labor as well as someone who can help educate you on medication options before labor has begun or in the moment if you decide you want medicine for your pain.
Pain-coping skills are life skills, not just labor skills. The more they are practiced, the more easily they can be accessed and used during labor. Having a birth doula means going the holistic route because they don’t put one approach above another, they just have you and your goals at the center of all they do to support you. No wonder people who have the support of a birth doula report feeling less pain and higher satisfaction with their experience.
Laura is a doula, a writer, and the mother of two incredible kids. When not supporting new families or her own, you can find her trying out new recipes in the kitchen. Laura is available on the boober platform for matches.