Natural pain relief in labour
A cloth bag filled with wheat husks which you heat up for a few minutes in the microwave and then drape over your back really helps ease contractions. The wheat-bag will stay warm for an hour or more. You may have to order one from online pregnancy stores.
Alternatively, hot - water bottle filled with hot (but not boiling) water, carefully wrapped in a towel can be placed on your back. Don't forget that massage provides warmth as well. Having someone rub your back will warm your skin as well as stimulating your body to release natural pain-killing substances.
When your baby's head is being born, a soft warm flannel placed over your perineum (the tissue between the back of the vagina and the back passage) helps ease the stretching sensation. Although this is not a common practice here, discuss it with your doctor and include it in your birth plan.
Focusing on your breathing is a wonderful way of getting through each contraction. Take a deep breath at the beginning of the contraction and, as you breathe out, R-E-L-A-X. Then breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth, keeping your mouth and cheeks very, very soft. Don't worry too much about how deeply you're breathing; just keeps a good rhythm going. Breathe in through your nose, and out through a soft mouth. And again. And again. Concentrate as hard as you can on your breathing as the contraction builds up, and as it fades away. When the contraction's over, R-E-L-A-X.
In early labour, the very best thing you can do to prepare yourself to cope with pain is to conserve your energy by resting. Make yourself as comfortable as possible in bed or on a chair. Tuck pillows all around yourself. Play some favourite music or put the TV on, and REST! Have a hot drink if you are at home (many hospitals don't allow women in labour to eat or drink). Later on, you'll find it much easier to cope with painful contractions if you're not exhausted because you were rushing around in early labour.
Unless you are really tired, try to avoid getting on the bed once your contractions are regular and painful. Your labour will be slower if you lie down and, the longer your labour lasts, the more tired you'll become. Remain upright - but choose whatever position feels most comfortable. Stand up and lean on the bed or on your husband. Kneel down and lean on the seat of a chair. Kneel with one leg raised to make lots of room in your pelvis for your baby to come out. Get down on all fours to help ease backache. Sit for a while in a chair; then get up and walk around for a bit. Rock your hips as much as you can - that really gets your baby moving!
Tell your husband or birth companion where you'd like to be massaged. You might like massage at the very base of your back during contractions. Or you might like your shoulders massaged in between contractions to help you relax. Tell him to massage you slowly. If he starts rubbing frantically, you'll feel panicky rather than relaxed! He should use firm pressure in order to stimulate your body to release endorphins, the `feel-good' hormones which make massage such a positive experience.
Research has shown conclusively that, when a woman has someone special with her during labour, to comfort and stay with her, she gives birth more quickly and easily than if she doesn't have that continuous loving support. So choose your birth companion carefully. Someone who won't panic; who believes you can do it, and who is confident to talk to health professionals on your behalf. This person may be your husband, or it may be someone else - your sister, your Mum or your best friend. Or you might like to choose two birth companions. It's up to you.
Be aware, though, that some hospitals are reluctant to have two birth partners in the delivery room at the same time, due to lack of space. They may, however, agree to have one birth partner in the room at a time. This should be discussed with your doctor and your decision put in your notes well before your due date.
Your obstetrician will not stay in the labour and delivery suite with you throughout your labour. She will check on you periodically, help you make decisions about pain relief, and will of course be on hand to deliver your baby. Most likely you will be attended to by the hospital's nurse midwives who will keep you informed all the time about what is happening. If you want to use natural pain relief to cope with contractions, she'll help you, and if you choose an epidural, she'll support you. If you don't seem able to establish a good relationship with the midwife allocated to you, ask for someone else. You won't cause offence. It might well be that the midwife you can't get on with is finding you pretty difficult as well! You'd both be happier if you had someone different.
A-Z of natural pain relief
Here's an A to Z of ideas to help you cope with pain and feel in control of your labour:
A: ask for information: the more you know, the more relaxed you'll feel;
B: breathe rhythmically, and relax as you breathe out;
C: cuddle your husband or birth companion;
D: drink sips of water in between contractions;
E: eat carbohydrate-rich foods when you feel hungry;
F: fan yourself with a small electric fan;
G: groan and moan: this is the one time you can throw modesty aside as making a noise is a great form of pain relief;
H: hold your husband's hand;
I: imagine your baby moving down through your pelvis with every contraction;
J: joke with your husband; keep things in perspective;
K: kisses (from your husband, Mum, sister, friend);
L: listen to music to help you relax;
M: move around to make yourself as comfortable as possible;
N: nestle down in a large pile of pillows or a huge bean bag (you may have to ask the hospital to provide extra pillows or bring your own);
O: open your pelvis as wide as possible to help your baby be born, eg: kneel on one leg with the other out to the side;
P: think positively: 'Each contraction brings me closer to the birth of my baby';
Q: question what you don't understand; being frightened will make the pain worse;
R: rock your pelvis round and round and back and forwards with each contraction;
S: sigh out gently with every breath;
T: trust your body: you do know how to give birth!;
U: understand the treatment being offered; if you understand, you can cooperate and make things easier;
V: visit the toilet regularly; a full bladder will slow your labour;
W: walk around to ease aches and pains and bring on contractions;
X: more kisses!;
Y: yell, loud and long, and then try to get back into a good breathing pattern;
Z: zzzzzzz: doze off in between contractions.