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  • Writer's pictureRosemary Scott

Approaches to Pain Relief in Labour

7 drug-free methods of pain relief

At Birth & More I respect your right to choose how to birth your baby and what help you have along the way. At the end of the day, there are no medals for women who give birth without pain relief! But many of the ideas below can be extremely beneficial and can work on their own or with other pain relief options.

1. Water

Water is a very popular form of natural pain relief in labour. As far as we can tell, there is no increased risk or harm to the baby when using water in labour. Nor is there any overall risk of a baby coming to harm through being born in water. Try a hot water bottle in early labour as you start to feel a tightening and perhaps some back pain. If you can, enjoy a long warm bath at home which will also help you into a relaxed state of mind - encouraging the Oxytocin hormone needed in labour. Even a warm shower can be useful to massage the areas where you feel uncomfortable. Many hospitals will have birthing pools available which are much bigger than standard baths so you can move easily and keep your tummy immersed in water. Portable water birth pools can also be hired for use at home. They do take time to fill up though so have your birth partner distract you as you wait!

2. TENS machines

TENS have been found to be most effective in the early stages of labour, which is when many women experience lower back pain. Electrodes are taped on to your back and connected by wires to a small battery-powered stimulator. Holding the stimulator, you can then control when to give yourself small, safe amounts of current through the electrodes and it can be stopped at any time. TENS is believed to work by stimulating the body to produce more of its own natural painkillers, called endorphins. It also reduces the number of pain signals sent to the brain by the spinal cord. You are free to move around and there are no known side-effects to mum or baby. There are many different types of TENS units available to buy and some hospitals have machines available for hire.

3. Breathing

This is probably the simplest tip I can share with you and yes your breath in labour can really make a difference. It can help you cope and encourages an efficient labour. For instance, did you know that there is a connection between your jaw and your pelvis? In labour, you want to keep your pelvis relaxed to allow your cervix room to open for baby's descent. If your jaw is tightly clenched this won't happen - often termed ‘purple pushing’ - and it can prolong labour. So one tip is to blow your breath away as you exhale, making it impossible to clench your jaw. Your breath is also important at keeping your uterus well oxygenated - all muscles need oxygen to work efficiently and your uterus is a muscle working hard in labour. Most importantly however, is that breathing is a proven coping mechanism in lots of situations including labour. Slow down your breath to inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. Focusing on your breath can be a positive distraction. Trust that you never have to do the same contraction twice, so as you breathe through each contraction you are breathing yourself closer to meeting your baby.

4. Touch

The touch of a loved one can be extremely comforting and reassuring making you feel better and relax. It will bring on lots of oxytocin - the love hormone. Some women in labour find certain touch to be a powerful distraction. Some suggestions include, gentle stroking down the inside of your arms or down your back and some women find pressure on the back of their hips can balance the tightening from contractions at the front of her tummy. Or you could try shoulder or foot massage. Talk to your birth partner about this before your birthing day so they have ideas to try.

5. Relaxation

Use some of the ideas above to try to relax. If you can find yourself in a calm, relaxed state of mind then you will be encouraging the flow of oxytocin needed in labour and managing the effects of adrenaline needed to give you energy but that also brings negative feelings. If you are anxious and scared you will feel pain more acutely so you want to try and stay as relaxed as possible.

6. Movement

You should feel free to move during your labour so tune into your instincts and do what feels right. In early labour or whilst waiting for induction you could dance along to your favourite music and get those happy hormones (endorphins) following as natural pain relief. It could be staying upright and walking or rotating your hips. You could be sitting on a birthing ball or on all fours and rotating your hips. Rotation movements are particularly good to do as they ensure contact between your baby’s head and your cervix encouraging it to open - as you move say to yourself ‘I rotate to dilate’.

7. Hypnobirthing

If the ideas above sound good to you then you will love hypnobirthing! In hypnobirthing you will learn how to relax in labour and how to use powerful visualisation techniques to feel positive about your birth. Your birth partner will also learn techniques to support you. Practicing hypnobirthing ahead of your labour will allow you to release negative thoughts about childbirth - as we mentioned above, you will feel pain more acutely if you’re feeling anxious. So why not enter labour feeling empowered and confident. This is why all my courses incorporate hypnobirthing techniques.

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