Some women describe labor pain as intense menstrual cramps. Others say it feels like awful constipation, or an intense tightening in the lower back. Whatever the description, it hurts. Despite our advances in medical science, childbirth is still notorious for pain and discomfort.
It’s proven that most women suffer with painful contractions during labor, and here’s why. In the first stage of labor, the baby descends the cervical canal, placing pain in your abdomen and back. The second stage pushes the baby through the vagina, putting pressure on the pelvis and around the vaginal area. As the baby is pushed into the world, the area between the vagina and the anus is stretched.
While the baby is descending into the birth canal, contractions are flaring. Labor pain is unique to each person, but typically, the abdomen hardens, a dull pain persists in your back, while there is strain on your pelvis. At first, moderately painful contractions materialize every 15 to 20 minutes. As they become more frequent, the pain intensifies. And this whole process might last for hours. Sorry.
Before you start to panic, remember that women have remarkable strength. Our bodies can stretch and bounce back after delivering a full-term baby. Yes, it will hurt, and no, it won’t be easy. But, if labor pains were completely intolerable, mothers wouldn’t do it over and over again. Have faith that you will rise to the occasion.
While you take a deep breath, consider these 7 pain relief strategies. Some of these methods use medications, while others are completely natural. No one option works for every woman, but we’ve got the pros and cons to help you weigh your options.
7 Using an Epidural Anesthesia for Pain Management
Epidurals are in demand. More than 50% of women opt for this method to reduce labor pain. It’s administered when you are in active labor, and the mouth of the cervix has opened to four to five centimeters.
To reduce the risk of infection, the lower back area is cleaned and sterilized with an antiseptic solution. The area of the mid-back is frozen using a needle injection filled with local anesthetic. Between specific segments of the spine, a guide needle is injected, through which a small tube is fed.
The needle is withdrawn, leaving the fine tube in place. The anesthetic flows through the tube directly around the nerves of the spine, temporarily reducing the sensation in the lower half of the body. Then, the tube is taped down to keep it from slipping out.
Advantages of an Epidural:
- Painful contractions can be subdued within 10-15 minutes.
- Epidurals alleviate labor pain in more than 50% of women.
- The medication is constantly administered, offering more of a sustained remedy for pain.
- This method allows women to rest in order to retain strength during childbirth.
- For labor, delivery, and recovery, women are usually alert, whether it’s a vaginal birth or a cesarean section.
- A walking epidural allows relative freedom of movement in bed.
- The effect of the anesthetic wears off within a couple of hours.
Disadvantages of an Epidural:
- Due to the numbing effect on the lower body, epidurals may weaken contractions, and slow down labor.
- With the tube in place, most women are prohibited from eating, drinking, or getting out of bed.
- You will probably need a catheter to be inserted into your bladder to urinate.
- There is a higher risk of the perineum tearing. (The perineum is the section between the vagina and the anus.) Stitches and/or an episiotomy may be necessary.
- Since the lower half of the body is numb, muscle strength is reduced. Since women have more difficulty pushing the baby out on their own strength, babies are often pulled down the birth canal with the aid of forceps or a vacuum cap.
- The mother may develop a fever. If this case, antibiotics and blood tests will be needed for the baby.
- There are other risks and side effects for both you and your baby, which should be discussed with your doctor. These risks are rare, but should still be taken into careful consideration.
If your contractions become overwhelming, an epidural can tackle major pain. Yet, this method is not necessarily better than others. It’s really just a personal choice. As with all procedures, there are benefits, along with medical risks. To prepare for your day, discuss all options with your doctor. Together, you can decide which procedure is right for you and your baby.
6 Warm Water Birth
Looking for a peaceful way to bring your child into the world? A pool of warm water will help do that. A warm water bath is well known to be a tranquilizing, and calm place to rest. Yet, the water has several more therapeutic benefits than just warmth.
A water birth is a subtle adjustment for a baby coming into the outside world. It simulates the watery atmosphere of the womb. The moment your newborn bursts into the world, he or she will start in a familiar environment in the hands of mom. A bonding moment between mother and baby can be introduced right from the start.
Advantages of a Water Birth:
- The buoyancy of the water improves circulation. This lowers blood pressure, oxygenates the muscles, taking the edge off of labor pain.
- A water birth decreases anxiety, allowing women to secrete endorphins, which diminish pain.
- Anesthesia may not be needed.
- The water allows the mother-to-be to feel buoyant. This weightless allows her to slide around easily, and feel nimble enough to make position changes on her own.
- There is less likelihood of the perineum tearing. Since warm water makes the area more flexible, an episiotomy and stitches are less likely to be needed.
- A bath is more private than a bed, allowing the mother to be less inhibited, and less nervous.
- Water birth babies are generally calmer, and cry less.
Disadvantages of a Water Birth:
- You need to drink plenty of fluids while you’re in the tub because the warm water will cause you to perspire. Overheating will cause discomfort for you and the baby.
- Some women do not find enough pain relief from warm water.
- You’ll need to have another strategy planned if you want to leave the tub.
- You may be asked to exit the pool for various reasons. If the water becomes dirty, if you develop a fever, if your baby’s heart rate suddenly changes, or to deliver the placenta.
- More severe risks are extremely rare, but they should be discussed with your medical professional.
Many women have tested the waters, praising the benefits of a water birth. Again, some choose medicine, while others prefer more natural options. Ultimately, the choice is yours.
5 Massage Therapy to Reduce Labor Pain
If you’ve ever received a professional massage, you’ll know the wonders this hands-on therapy can do for everyday tension. This is why many women choose massage to cope with labor pain.
Massage therapy works by stimulating a section of the skin and muscles below. Endorphins are then released into the bloodstream. These chemicals act as soothing agents, breaking up the pain messages that are being transmitted to your brain. This chemical reaction takes a bite out of muscle spasms, making them easier to manage.
One study showed that women experienced much more comfort when massage therapy was applied. As a bonus, the delivery process was shortened by an average of three hours. Massage offers a number of benefits in the childbearing process.
Advantages of Massage:
- Pain and anxiety are significantly reduced through the relaxation of muscles.
- Massage improves mood.
- The mother-to-be has an enhanced sense of well-being.
- No medication is needed.
Disadvantages of Massage:
- For some women, massage is not effective enough to relieve pain in later stages of labor.
A specially trained doula or midwife will know exactly which areas to massage. For instance, most women feel back pain through their contractions, so a lower back massage will be on the menu.
This doesn’t mean massage will only be effective using a trained professional. Your partner can get in on the action by acting as your masseuse. The two of you can practice at home, mastering effective techniques on your body before labor begins.
4 Using Hypnobirthing as a Means to Lower Pain
It’s natural that women would become anxious and nervous during childbirth. Methods that help you stay calm and relaxed not only help facilitate your baby’s descent down the birth canal, but also keep you tension-free.
Hypnobirthing is a popular labor pain relieving technique. It uses deep meditation to put mom-to-be in a very relaxed mood. Researchers at the University of Florida found that women who used hypnobirthing were able to manage their discomfort during labor, and had fewer complications.
Meditation is fairly effortless. This ancient practice requires you to breathe deeply while clearing your mind. Start by focusing on your breath. Inhale deeply. Imagine all of your cells filling with oxygen and energy. Exhale to rid your body and mind of stress. If you are a beginner, it is natural for your mind to drift. As internal chatter creeps into your thoughts, you’ll become distracted.
Use your mind to lower your birth pains
When your mind wanders, simply re-focus your attention on your breath. Hypnobirthing offers a pleasurable childbearing experience because the benefits are out of this world.
Advantages of Hypnobirthing:
- Breathing deeply is a natural tranquilizer.
- It can reduce a high blood pressure.
- Meditation balances hormones.
- There are no adverse effects.
Disadvantages of Hypnobirthing:
- This method works best on someone with a calm mind.
- You’ll need to have a strong self-assurance in your abilities.
Practice deep meditation at home
To complete the soothing environment, request a quiet birth. Ask the maternity team to keep their conversations low. Unnecessary chatter should be taken outside of the room. If the medical team does not object, have the room lights dimmed.
Some women enjoy meditation, while others find it uncomfortable, and awkward. If you’d like to try a self-hypnosis session, there are CDs that can help guide you. Start with 10 minutes of meditation per day, and gradually increase your sessions. With frequent pre-natal practice, staying focused will soon become second nature.
Labor can be a taxing, yet an awesome process. Self-hypnosis can provide relaxation and calm during childbirth, and greatly affect your sense of peace into motherhood. In the months preceding your due date, give quiet time a shot to see if it’s right for you.
3 Changing From the Traditional Birthing Positions
Some women prefer to stand, while others like to sit. There are those who choose to walk, while many favor remaining in bed. If you say yes to all of the above, you are among a group of women who like to change positions to cope with painful contractions.
When you’re in the throes of labor, moving your body position every 20 minutes can provide distraction from aching contractions. Not only does rhythmic motion help deal with aches, changing positions uses gravity to your advantage. The more you move and rotate, the more you help the baby descend the birth canal.
Standing and Walking
Standing upright and walking can be beneficial in stage one of labor. The IV and fetal monitor may hamper your movement, but if you’re not limited, try to walk around for a little while. When you feel tired, lean forward on a sturdy object, or rest against your partner.
To take pressure off of your back, try kneeling on all fours. Tilting your pelvic bone and arching your back will alleviate the pressure on hemorrhoids. When your arms get tired, rest your forearms on a pillow.
Advantages of Changing Positions:
- You can actively counteract pain.
- The movement encourages momentum in your delivery.
- The use of medication is decreased.
- Women who move are more satisfied with their childbirth experience.
Disadvantages of Changing Positions:
- Frequent movement may not be convenient if you are hooked up to machines.
What you thought might be a suitable position could change when you’re in labor.
When thinking of how you will maneuver your body, come up with several positions. You’ll want to keep a few moves up your hospital gown sleeve in case one or two don’t work for you. Talk with your partner and your maternity team about the positions you would like to try. As long as it is doctor-approved, the best method is the one that most benefits you and your baby. During labor, you’ll need to be flexible.
Selecting only one position to take you through labor and delivery is a tough choice. If you choose to move, you don’t have to make a choice. Whichever moves you consider, make sure they are all “gravity enhancing.”
2 Painkillers and Narcotics to Lower Labor Pain
If you want to be in a euphoric state during labor, narcotics are mood altering drugs that help to relieve labor pain. The use of narcotics during childbirth will be dependent on your doctor’s advice, and the availability of the drugs at your hospital.
Morphine, Demerol, Stadol, Fentanyl are types of narcotics that obstruct pain signals to the brain. These drugs can be used to soften contractions. While epidurals numb the lower half of your body, narcotics merely subdue the pain.
The most popular narcotic used in childbirth is Stadol. This painkiller has produced the least amount of side effects. That being said, using Stadol has its risks. Past reports claim Morphine and Demerol have caused breathing problems in the baby. The risk in the baby’s ability to breathe is lower using Fentanyl.
Advantages of Narcotics:
- These drugs offer significant pain relief.
- Painkillers take effect in as little as five minutes.
- They are easily administered by needle, injected either into the vein, muscle, or spinal column.
- Narcotics can be administered at any time.
Disadvantages of Narcotics:
- Some women have reported only minor relief.
- Opiates pass through into the placenta.
- The muddy or foggy feeling compromises the mother’s involvement in the moment.
- They are known to make a mom-to-be sleepy.
- Mom-to-be and baby can experience side effects, including depression, and nausea.
Talk to your doctor about which painkiller offers fast and effective pain relief with minimal reactions on your newborn.
1 Music to Help You Through the Labor Process
There are a handful of things in life that can put us in a happy mood, and take us back to a time of fond memories. Music has the power to lift your spirits, and calm your mind, which is why it can be used as therapy.
It’s a fact that music has healing properties. It’s an integrative therapy that diverts your attention from pain. Researchers found that women who listened to their favorite music during labor claimed it was a helpful to distract them from the pain of their contractions. When used with breathing techniques, the tempo of the music becomes a guide.
In a labor and delivery setting, there are two recommended choices: music that puts you into a calmer state, and upbeat motivational music. Some genres can pump you up, while others encourage sleep. Have both types of music available for different stages in your labor.
Music has become a popular alternative for pain relief during childbirth for many reasons.
Advantages of Music:
- Music therapy can raise your tolerance for pain.
- The rhythm in music can help women in labor keep in time with her contractions.
- Relaxation, balance, and concentration are enhanced.
- Anxiety is reduced.
- The use of music improves breathing.
- The music adds a sense of well-being and security.
- It’s a non-pharmacological approach to relieving labor pain.
Disadvantages of Music:
- As labor progresses, this method may become less effective.
- Music listened at loud volumes could damage hearing.
There are no known side effects to using music as therapy during childbirth.
There are many forms of audioanalgesia besides music. You can also listen to white noise, and environmental sounds, such as ocean waves.
There is a direct parallel between music and feeling good. So, turn on your favorite tunes, and allow the merriment of music help you through your labor experience.