Soon-to-be mothers are very lucky nowadays: there is a wide range of pain relief methods available during labour. If you were aware of the options you have, you would be able to make informed decisions. For that reason, you would feel more empowered during your labour.
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10 pain relief methods during labour
Do you plan to have the support of your partner or family member during this special moment? In this case, they could be an even better source of help if they are aware of your preferences regarding how to cope with pain in your labour. For instance, ways to improve the ‘team work’ is to have a chat or go through the birth plan together to make sure you are all in the same page before the day comes.
Below you’ll find 10 techniques and ways to help ease your pain when you give birth. The order is from less medicalised (or less intrusive) to more medicalised. In case you are preparing to have a home birth or would like to wait as much as possible before going into hospital, most of the following are things you can do at home.
- Adapt the environment
- Breathing techniques
- Positions and birthing ball
- Warm bath
- TENS machine
- Gas and air
- Pethidine injection
1. Adapt the environment
It’s recommended to set up an environment that helps you relax. For example, creating a music playlist or choosing one you have previously listened to. You can use flameless candles (Amazon link) if you don’t want to be worrying about lighting them or possible incidents, and you can take them with you to the hospital too. Certainly, deem lights could help you focus less on what/who is around you and more about feeling connected with your body, your mind and your baby.
Some people love to use smells they like, or essential oils if you know which ones can be helpful. It’s probably not a good idea to try new smells or music when you are giving birth – if these are not as you expected them to be, they could be disturbing or distracting. To avoid unpleasant surprises, you could simply try these with time to make sure you are happy with everything.
If are giving birth in a hospital, you could take all these items with you when you decide to head there. Earphones for your music, flameless candles, your favourite smells… All these things would help replicate a home environment so that you feel comfortable and relaxed.
2. Breathing techniques
Deep breathing could help you cope with contraction pain. At the same time, it reduces your heart rate, decreases your blood pressure and allows your lungs to get more oxygen with each breath.
When a contraction starts in the early stages of labour: breathe in through your nose, keep it in your lungs for a moment, then exhale through your mouth. The process should be repeated slowly and rhythmically, with each breath lasting 8 to 10 seconds. Of course, make it longer or shorter as you feel comfortable.
When labour advances and it’s more difficult to cope: try breathing quickly during the contraction, panting in and out through your mouth. When the contraction eases off, go back to the slow and rhythmic breathing until the next contraction starts again.
It’s helpful to practise these breathing techniques on the weeks previous to labour. The more practice you have focusing on your breathing and concentrating your mind, the easier it will be to repeat those sequences when contractions start.
3. Positions and birthing ball
The list of positions you could try during labour is huge. You can adapt it to your preferences and what works for you. Maybe you want to try lots of different ones. On the contrary, it might feel more comfortable to stick to one or two. You might want to move around to ease the pain or stay still if that helps you focus and connect to your body.
Some of the positions you could try are: leaning forward (while standing, kneeling or sitting on a chair), be on hands and knees on the floor, sitting backwards on a chair, squatting using furniture or holding hands with someone, or lying on your side.
You could use a birthing ball (link to Amazon) to expand the range of movements and positions you can do. For example: sitting upright while gently doing semicircles on the ball or kneeling on the floor while supporting your upper body on the ball.
If you have the support of another person during labour, a massage can be extremely helpful when coping with contractions. It might also help with feelings of uncertainty or tiredness. Because you will be physically close to someone, they can share their positive energy with you.
If you have contractions in your lower back, massaging that area could help you. In the early stages, the other person could put the hands flat on your back, apply pressure (more or less gently as you require). Then, perform long, slow movements up and down your back. As labour advances, you might find it beneficial if they use the heel of the hand to apply strong pressure exactly on the area of your lower back during the contraction.
5. Warm bath
Having a bath with warm water can help you cope with the pain of contractions, especially in early labour. It also helps you feel relaxed and more connected to your body, your mind and your baby. You can make it more relaxing by listening to music, having deem lights or smells as mentioned regarding the environment above. It is not recommended for the water to be warmer than 37.5C degrees.
Learning about hypnobirthing during your pregnancy will give you resources to cope with pain when labour comes. Hypnobirthing uses a combination of relaxation or meditation, visualisation and controlled breathing techniques. The more you practise it before birth, the more likely it is that you will be able to use the tools and have a positive experience.
You can practise hypnobirthing with a book, audio tapes or a course. A course with a specialised professional will adapt the available resources and techniques to your specific needs. Doing the course together with your birth partner could be extremely useful as he/she can help you redirect your focus and support you to feel relaxed as needed.
I deeply recommend the online hypnobirthing course from Mind the Mother. Laura at Mind the Mother is a fully trained Cognitive Hypnotherapist and Maternal Coach. She has experience working with mothers and couples to help achieve a positive birth experience. She will adapt the course to the specific needs of your family (such as release the fear of childbirth or the fear of pain).
7. TENS machine
A TENS machine is a game-changer for many of us. It’s a small machine that uses completely safe Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation to relieve and reduce pain. It’s used for many conditions such as arthritis, neck pain, period pain or knee pain. The stronger your contractions are, the better it helps.
I was skeptical about how much this little device could help me. Well, it took me ten minutes reading the amazing reviews from other mums and dads on Amazon to decide it was worth a try. I’ll be forever grateful that we gave it a go. I cannot recommend it enough. It was, by far, the pain relief method I used for longer and the most effective one.
You can read more about how a TENS machine can help you have a less painful labour.
8. Gas and air
Gas and air (Entonox) is a gas mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen. It’s also known as ‘laughing gas’. It doesn’t remove the pain but can help you cope with it. Some women say it makes them feel tingles or a bit tipsy.
You would breathe gas and air through a mouthpiece or mask when the contraction begins (it takes 15-20 seconds to work). In some cases, Entonox might make you feel lightheaded, sleepy or unable to concentrate. The good news is you can stop using it at any point. In most occasions, you could use gas and air during a water birth or a home birth too – check with your midwife.
9. Pethidine injection
If none of the listed above are enough, you could ask for a pethidine injection. Pethidine is a medicine that is injected into your thigh or buttock. It relieves the pain and helps you relax. It usually starts working 20 minutes after the injection, and the effects last between 2 to 4 hours. This is why it’s not recommended if you’re close to the pushing stage as it may affect the baby’s breathing. Your midwife might also warn you that after having a pethidine injection you won’t be able to ask for an epidural in the next 2 hours.
An epidural is a local painkiller (anaesthetic) that numbs the nerves from your waist down. It is given by an anaesthetist. For that reason it’s only available in a hospital environment. It’s an injection into your back (into the epidural space). Your midwife or anaesthetist will inform you of the possible side effects and risks before you decide whether to have it or not. Some hospitals have the option of a mobile epidural. After having a mobile epidural you might be able to move around a bit more (instead of being completely numbed from the waist down as with a regular epidural).
The most helpful tip is to try to keep an open mind and be flexible. Changes in circumstances could happen. Sometimes events don’t go as planned. That does not mean that giving birth won’t be an amazing experience in which you feel empowered as a woman and as a new mother. It might be different than expected but can be equally magical and special.