Your body's natural reaction to the pain caused by contractions in labor may not allow you to cope effectively. When it comes to labor and birth, there are "better ways" to deal with pain. When you learn how to spot typical pain responses, you can also learn how and what to do instead for better coping. This information is equally important for your birth support person(s), including your partner or family member or friend(s) who will be supporting you in labor.
The pain of labor is what many expectant parents fear most about birth. It's this fear and anxiety that drives us to respond in ways that actually intensify the pain. Different than how we respond to pain that occurs as a result of something sudden and unexpected (like stubbing your toe or a paper cut), the lead up and expectation of the pain in labor can cause people to respond by tensing up or "freezing." However, the fact that labor pain is expected can also allow you time to use strategies that help you cope. Unlike stubbing your toe, pain in labor is purposeful, intermittent (you get breaks!), and there are many ways to intervene.
Tips for Coping with Contractions
Don't do this: Tense up/clench
Do this instead: Relax your muscles
The most common things I have seen as a doula during contractions is the laboring person bringing their shoulders up to their ears; making a fist or otherwise grabbing something and clenching down hard with their hands; tightening their jaw; and furrowing their brow. Their body is saying "I'm trying to fight this pain!" The reality is that the increase in tension in the body (which is also a source of pain) causes increased overall pain. Instead, relax all parts of your body as much as is possible -- lower your shoulders, let your jaw hang, unclench your hands, and relax the muscles in your face. Instead of clenching a bed sheet or something that's hard, reach for something you can squeeze like a stress ball (throw one in your labor bag) or keep your hands open. Squeezing and releasing a stress ball can actually help relieve stress and tension.
Don't do this: Make high-pitch sounds
Do this instead: Make low-pitch sounds
Making noises during contractions can be very helpful to relieve pain, but if you're making high-pitched sounds during a contraction, you're also tensing up your face and jaw (try it right now and you'll see!). Instead, try producing lower, more gutteral sounds (think "ooohs" and "uhhs" instead of "eees" and "ows"). This will help keep your face and jaw relaxed.
Don't do this: Lay flat on your back
Do this instead: Sit up, get up, or lay on your side
Not only is lying flat on your back bad for blood flow, but it is also one of the most uncomfortable positions to experience a contraction. Of course, if the opposite is true for you, keep doing what works! Even if you have to be hooked up to an IV or monitored, lying on your back is rarely necessary. Tell your nurse and/or partner or doula that you need to find a more upright or comfortable position.
Don't do this: Breathe too much or too little
Do this instead: Use your breath intentionally
There is no right way to breathe but there are "wrong" ways. Breathing too quickly (which looks a lot like hyperventilating) and holding your breath can increase your pain, not to mention also make you feel lightheaded. Sometimes, long, slow, deep belly breaths are helpful, and other times (when labor is more intense), patterned or faster breathing (like you would do while running/doing cardio) helps. As you move through labor, you'll likely find the kind of breathing that helps you most. It is helpful for someone on your birth team to encourage you to breathe, to breathe slowly, or to focus your breathing as it can be easy to lose track of your breath during the hard work of labor. You support team can even "breathe with you" to help you get back on track.
What tips will you use to cope with the pain of labor?
TagsBirth Coping with pain Contraction Breathing Pain Relief Natural Pain Relief Techniques Labor Tension during labor