Coping Techniques to Aid in a Natural Labor
As a doula who has witnessed many women give birth, I can tell you that the most valuable tools for coping with labor contractions are not stuff you could pack in a bag (although I will get to those!). Your biggest assets by far are your head and heart, and the heads and hearts of the people you surround yourself with. Your best tools are:
Soft, steady slow breathing that takes you from that first uncomfortable cramp all the way through to the fundal massage after baby is born.
Shifting with the tides of your contractions, rotating your hips, leaning over the back of the couch, rocking back and forth on your hands and knees.
Your partner’s hands on your lower back, your doula’s double hip squeeze, your midwife’s hand with her permission to squeeze as hard as you need to.
Believing in your body and in birth
Your mantra repeated to yourself under your breath with each contraction, your partner telling you how strong and brave you are, your nurse encouraging your pushing efforts, your banner of affirmations made by your sisters and friends and hung with care in your laboring space.
Relaxing into a rhythm
Releasing the tension in your muscles between pushes, sinking into the bed and dozing off between contractions. (No really! By far the most important thing you can do to cope with labor is to find a way to rest in between contractions, especially in the early phase. If you don’t do this, you will be worn out by the time you get to active labor, much less pushing the baby out.)
All of these intangible things are really the most important and useful tools. At some births they are all that is needed. At other births, there are some physical tools that can come in handy.
Here’s my list of items to have on hand to aid in a natural labor/birth
- A birth ball: Every laboring woman needs a ball! Lean over it on hands and knees or standing next to the bed, sit on it and do hip circles, throw it in the shower so you can rest your legs while letting the hot water run down your back.
- Water: access to a deep tub in labor is amazing, but a hot shower can also work wonders.
- LED candles or twinkle lights: it is so important to feel safe and relaxed, and bright overhead fluorescent lighting is no one’s idea of cozy.
- Unscented massage oil: a woman’s sense of smell is heightened in labor. Your favorite scented lotion may suddenly be unbearable, so have an unscented oil on hand to help your partner give you a back or foot rub.
- A tennis ball or two, or your favorite massage tool: tennis or lacrosse balls (a little more give than a tennis ball) are great for counter pressure on your low back, especially for moms experiencing back labor.
- A rice sock or heating pad: some moms have a hard time releasing the tension in their lower backs, and a little heat can do the trick.
- Rebozo (or twin sheet): there are lots of ways to use a long strip of sturdy cloth in labor, but you will likely need a doula or midwife in the know to show you how.
- A fan: every mom gets hot during pushing. A cool cloth (freeze wet washcloths ahead of time) to the forehead and a patient labor support person fanning her face can make this intense stage of labor much more bearable.
- Snacks (toddler food, honey sticks, smoothies, broth): labor is hard work, and there is no medical reason to deny a woman fuel for her journey. Just a few bites here and there are likely all you will want, I recommend hitting the toddler food section in the grocery store and picking up some of those nifty pouches. They are just the right size and consistency for a quick labor snack.
- Elastic hair band or clips: labor is sweaty. Your long bangs will get in your way, and your hair on your neck will be hot.
- Lip balm: all that deep breathing takes a toll on your lips. I like this one for a long lasting and scent free option.
- Your own pillow (with a pillow case that is not white or beige): when you need a spell of rest, it is so much nicer to have your own pillow beneath your head. Hospital pillows are flat, have scratchy cases, and are in short supply. Be sure to bring a colored pillowcase so your pillow doesn’t get mixed up with the hospital ones.
- Shower shoes: because who knows who used the hospital shower before you?
- Depends: believe me, when your water breaks, and keeps leaking for the duration of labor, you will be glad to have something comfortable to wear that will keep you dry.
- Playlists + speakers (and maybe headphones): have at least two playlists: a quiet calm one for periods of rest, and one that gets you moving when it is time to push. Listening to birth affirmations and guided relaxation tracks are also a great way to keep your head in the right space.
It is unlikely you will use every tool in your bag, but you never know what you will find invaluable on your big day. But remember that surrounding yourself with people you trust who can help keep you calm and will cheer you on is what will make the biggest difference in your ability to cope with contractions. You got this, mama! I believe in you.
This guest post was written by Stephanie Spitzer-Hanks. Stephanie gave birth to her first child in the Netherlands, where the nurturing and encouragement she received from so many women there inspired her to become a doula. Now she strives to give unconditional support and evidence-based education to families so that they can be confident in making the choices that are right for them. She is an ICEA certified childbirth educator, an Evidence Based Birth® Instructor, a DONA certified birth and postpartum doula, a StillBirthday certified bereavement doula, and a certified lactation counselor through Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding. On the side of all of that, Stephanie is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and she serves as a chaplain at a hospital and writes and speaks about birtheology when she gets the chance. You can find out what she is up to at www.revdoula.com.