Let’s face it, there are many words that you can use to describe giving birth and ‘uncomfortable’ is by far one of the politest.
But as a HypnoBirthing antenatal teacher and birth doula, I’ve learnt that there are some things you can do to help reduce stress during labour - and yes - make you feel a little bit more comfortable.
These are 9 things that I've learnt have made a difference to many mums...
1 Keep rating your comfort on a scale of 1-10
Pain is often a word associated with labour, however there are a few lucky women who do not experience pain at all whilst giving birth (yes, really).
For most of us, pain is part of the deal. But focusing on your pain, or trying to avoid it, will increase muscle tension and stress hormones. Both of which can make labour more uncomfortable, more stressful and longer.
So instead of thinking whether you're either in pain or not, try instead to think in terms of comfort - on a scale of 1 to 10 how comfortable or uncomfortable are you at this moment? That way you can give yourself more options and can make changes, which may help you feel more in control.
On our forum, Loopylass gave her view of labour pain, "Giving birth hurts but I felt that with gas and air it took the edge off just enough for me to cope with."
Karyn added, "The good thing about contraction pains is they aren't constant, it comes in waves and some are worse than others. I would say if you have very bad period pains like I had, you will cope fine with labour."
Oh yes, and it’s worth remembering that the body has it’s own natural pain killers - endorphins. These are said to have twice the strength of morphine.
2 Count to 3 and to 6
Focusing on your breathing is one of the simplest but most effective ways to find a sense of comfort.
Try counting to 3 when you breathe in and 6 when you breathe out.
When you breathe out, let go of any tension in your muscles. You'll find that while you're focusing on this simple act, you'll be less likely to worry about what you're experiencing.
"Best thing to remember is to breathe!" says MummyX5. "We all do it at some point, that little sharp intake of breath which we hold when we cut ourselves etc - DON'T DO IT! Concentrating on your breathing helps in 2 ways - the oxygen is good for you and your baby, plus in the early stages it gives you something to focus on."
By breathing in this way, you'll also ensure that your heart rate adopts a good resting rate. But perhaps, most importantly, you'll make sure that all of your hard working muscles and organs are well oxygenated and functioning as well as possible during the birthing process. This in turn will have a positive effect on your baby.
3 Relax your face first!
After a while you can start to relax. We hold most of our tension in our face so focus on feeling the muscles around your forehead temples and eyes becoming loose and limp.
After you have relaxed this area, you can allow this feeling to drift down over your cheeks and jaw. Did you know, your jaw is aligned to the pelvic floor muscles. A relaxed pelvic floor is essential for an easy, smooth birth. So unclench your jaw and your pelvic floor muscles will follow!
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HypnoBirthing antenatal classes and downloads can help you to master these relaxation techniques so that they become second nature to you and will be easy to use during the birth.
Mum of 1 Cprice2 says, "I had my first baby at home using the hypnobirthing method. I had a 3 hours labour and I didn't actually need pain relief. I also found the book, HypnoBirthing - The Mongan Method, very useful in explaining why people expected labour to be painful and what aggravates pain."
4 Find a comfortable labour position
It's a little known fact that babies move and turn during labour into the most optimum position for birth. To enable this natural process, the best way is to find a forward and open position. This means adopting a position where your hips are higher than your knees - sitting, standing, squatting, or on all fours. Just make sure you're leaning forward and your legs are open.
This creates the most amount of space in the pelvis for your baby to turn and move down and consequently these are the most comfortable positions to choose.
Despite what we see in the movies, laying down on your back (prone) or reclining backwards are the most uncomfortable.
The good news is that you can help prepare your baby for birth by practising some of these positions while you're still pregnant. Avoid deep and low seats or positions where your knees are higher than your hips. Birth balls are perfect for adopting a good position in both pregnancy and birth.
Mum Karen says, The birthing ball was great. It helped me dilate quickly and it was quite relaxing."
5 Have a water birth if possible
Is a water birth as good as they say? Yes, because in water you become weightless and the sensation of labour is often that of pressure as the baby pushes down and then out. Also, getting into water is incredibly relaxing and soothing.
Em82 had a water birth and says, "The warm water really helped soothe my cramping muscles and helped me to manoeuvre into a good birthing position. I was pretty big and lumbered about a bit on land! Seeing my son swim up was incredible. I'm due my 2nd in 2 weeks and hoping to do it again :)"
EastEnders actress, Jacqueline Jossa, has talked about how positive water birth experience. "Having a water birth was amazing. I can’t imagine not having it. I don’t know how people can have a baby on a bed. I don’t see how that works, gravity-wise!"
6 Join an antenatal class
Studies have found that taking antenatal classes can shorten your labour and also increase your sense of confidence in your ability to give birth.
There are lots of different types of antenatal classes available - including groups run by the NCT (which are good for connecting with other mums in your area but often booked up early in advance and not cheap), birth hypnotherapy classes, which teach practical relaxation skills for birth and groups organised by the maternity ward of your hospital.
If you feel that you would like to attend a class but don’t have the money, most organisations will offer a discount or access fund so don't be hesitate to ask.
7 Choose where your want to give birth
Were you aware that where you have your baby can have an impact on how comfortable you feel during the whole experience.
So how much choice do you have? In theory, you can choose where you give birth. However, in practice your choice can be limited, depending on resources. Your health authority does have a legal duty of care to provide a midwife to attend your birth.
If you want to avoid intervention then a home birth might appeal. If you feel more comfortable in a hospital but still want a natural experience then think about a birth centre.
Whatever you choose, try to keep the surroundings as comfortable and relaxing as possible, by:
- Remain at home for as long as possible - even if you intend to give birth at a hospital or birth centre. You'll be more comfortable in your own home and your labour will progress more easily as a result
- If you're having a hospital birth, you can take personal items with you such as music, a pillow, a birth ball and anything else that will make you feel more comfortable
Second time mum teenytiny has changed her mind after her first experience in hospital. "Avoid hospital as I feel they are too quick to intervene when it may not always be necessary. And I know I will feel more comfortable and relaxed at home."
8 Think about using a doula
A doula is an independent birth support person who will be on call to attend your birth and help support you through your labour.
Dr Marshall Klaus famously said, "If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it." Research shows that having a doula present at the birth can lead to a 50% reduction in caesarean sections, a 60% reduction in epidural requests and a 30% reduction in use of pain relief. Having the dedicated support and encouragement of another woman makes a real difference to how women fair through labour.
Interested? Then check out a list of recognised doulas at Doula UK.
9 Read some positive birth stories
TV programmes such as One Born Every Minute might feel like required viewing as your due date nears. But beware! The births that make it into the programme are picked because they make good television, which means they're going to be full of drama.
These births can be more than a bit frightening to watch, especially if this is your first birth. They can increase stress hormones and tension, which slow labour down and make it unnecessarily uncomfortable.
So, make sure you balance out some of the dramatic stories with good birth stories.
Birth should really be a time for celebration, as it was in ancient times. After all you've spent 9 months growing, nurturing and bonding with your baby and this is the moment that you will finally meet your newborn.
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