As your due date draws nearer, it’s good to know that pain-relieving drugs aren’t your only option to ease your way through labour. There are great tried and tested tips to try – from before your contractions begin to when you’re in labour.
BEFORE LABOUR BEGINS
1. Get your baby ready
During the later stages of your pregnancy, encourage your baby to get into the best position for labour. From 34 weeks, kneel on the floor over a birthing ball or chair.
“My midwife told me to keep my knees lower than my bottom to help turn my baby into a good position for birth,” says Nicola, 37, mum to Freddie, 15 weeks.” I also swam twice a week. I had no problems in labour, so it was certainly worth doing.”
2. Keep fit
Research shows that women who are fit and healthy tend to have a more straightforward labour. So try to go for a walk each day, or ask your midwife about local yoga or aquanatal classes.
3. Drink raspberry leaf tea
This can help to prepare your womb for labour when taken four times a day after 36 weeks of pregnancy. There’s scientific evidence that women who drink raspberry leaf tea will have shorter labours and need less pain relief.
4. Consider a home birth
The facts are that women who have had a straightforward pregnancy and opt for a home birth have far fewer interventions and are more likely to have a normal delivery.
5. Know your stuff
In my experience, I’ve found that mums-to-be who have found out lots of information beforehand feel much more able to make decisions about their care. This helps them to feel in control of their labour.
6. Think about hiring a doula
Doulas (experienced mothers who offer emotional and practical support during pregnancy and labour) may be a great help. Research shows that benefits can include a shorter labour and fewer painkillers.
7. Massage your perineum
From 34 weeks, start massaging your perineum (the area between the opening of your vagina and your anus) using wheatgerm oil or sweet almond oil, to help prevent tears.
“Weeks of massage made me more aware of that area when it came to giving birth,” says Chrissie, 29, mum to Ollie, 4 weeks. “I was able to focus on relaxing as I pushed my baby out – it still wasn’t easy, but I didn’t tear!”
8. Try birth hypnotherapy
Take some birth hypnotherapy classes where you’ll learn about relaxation, breathing and visualisation techniques, which can reduce your fears and tension and so lessen any pain in labour. You can also buy hypnotherapy CDs to listen to.
9. Boost your energy levels
A lot of energy is used during labour – you need to build up your stamina and feed your muscles. Snacking regularly and drinking plenty can make a huge difference.
“I felt like a hamster turning up to the labour ward with my pockets stuffed with cereal bars,” says Kathryn, 31, mum to Jake, 8 months.
10. Monitor the monitoring
Continual monitoring isn’t recommended in a ‘low-risk’ labour, as it means you’re not able to move around. This can cause anxiety, slow your labour down and make it more difficult to cope with contractions.
“My partner kept my pain down!”
“My partner, Pete, kept telling me how brilliant I was during labour and encouraged me right through. Now, when people ask me what pain relief I had, I just say, ‘My husband!’”
Jessie, 27, mum to Otto, 4 weeks
11. Keep moving
I’ve found that mums-to-be who walk around in labour tend to need less pain relief and are more likely to have a shorter labour.
“The midwife told me they’d run out of bedpans, so I had to keep walking up the corridor to the loo,” says Susie, 22, mum to Ellie, 6 weeks. “I’m sure it was her way of making me walk around!”
12. Get support
Women with good support often cope much better in labour and this can help them to feel their experience of birth was a positive one.
13. Focus on coping
The best support comes from helping you to ‘cope’.
“My partner kept going out of the room to try and find a doctor, which stressed me out far more than the contractions,” says Cheryl, 26, mum to Ali, 9 weeks. “When I insisted that he stayed in the room with me instead of pacing the corridor, I found I was much more able to cope.”
14. Get your breathing right
Breathing slowly and deeply really does help you relax, causing less tension in your muscles and allowing your cervix to dilate.
“With every contraction I took a breath in and a long breath out – the gas and air helped with this, too,” says Alicia, 30, mum to Benji, 3 months.
15. UFO – a great birth position
It stands for upright, forward and over – a great position for labour. At home, stand and lean forward over the kitchen worktop or, in hospital, pile up the pillows on the bed and stand and lean forwards over them. The baby’s head puts pressure on the cervix, which can make labour shorter and easier.
“I stood for most of my labour, but when I got tired I knelt on the bed, turned round and buried my head in the pillows,” says Sarah, 25, mum to Finn, 5 weeks. “As Finn was born, I was still kneeling and the midwife passed him to me through my legs. It felt so natural and secure, as I wasn’t facing anyone but my baby.”
16. Climb the stairs
Going up and down stairs can help your baby to move through the pelvis.
“Every time the contractions started, the midwife got me to march up and down the stairs,” says Katie, 22, mum to Freya, 2 months. “I could feel the baby’s head getting lower, until I gave birth in my hallway. It was amazing!”
17. Have a snooze
Often when you’re fully dilated the contractions stop. If your baby’s quite happy, don’t be persuaded to ‘hurry things along’ with a hormone drip. Ask to dim the lights and have a doze, and before you know it you’ll get a surge of energy ready for the final furlong!
“When the contractions stopped, the midwife turned off the lights and left us for 20 minutes. Suddenly I got an overwhelming urge to bear down and 10 minutes later Harry was born,” recalls Michelle, 28, mum to Harry, 7 weeks.
18. Consider a water birth
There’s evidence that women who use a birthing pool for labour often experience an easier, more relaxed labour.
“Most of the pain was in my back, but as soon as I got in the pool it just disappeared,” says Bridie, 28, mum to Ceri, 4 months. “It was like being enveloped by warm, soothing arms!”
19. Go at your own pace
Labour can go on for hours so don’t feel that you have to leap out of bed at 3am to make sure you’re ‘upright and mobile’; otherwise you’ll be exhausted by the time things really start hotting up!
“Every time I lay down, the contractions stopped, and when I stood up, they started again. It was great because it meant I could pace myself,” says Jackie, 30, mum to Ben, 4 weeks.
20. Don’t push!
If everyone acts like cheerleaders, encouraging you to hold your breath and ‘puuushhh!!’ you’ll only go purple in the face and get exhausted. Instead, many mums-to-be like to think of ‘breathing’ their baby out. My advice is, go with your body.
“My midwife told me to smile!”
“I kept frowning every time I had a contraction. Each time, my midwife reminded me to relax my face. I asked her why, and she explained it helped to make me relax all over. The thing is, it’s actually quite difficult to tense your muscles when your face is relaxed – try it!”
Sonja, 29, mum to Rasi, 6 weeks