As a labour doula and previous mental health worker, my job has been to keep people calm in often stressful and painful situations. I say this in my prenatal classes often: labour is a giant mind game! I've seen women endure and work through some seriously intense contractions through nothing more than a shift in their mindset. Sounds easy right? Well no, there is of course a little more to it which I'm going to break down in more detail below. Did you know that when we are calm our body is actually capable of producing endorphins which can BLOCK pain receptors? Furthermore, a calm body (specifically focusing on our jaw), is more likely to dilate. Think relaxed jaw, relaxed cervix. So, how do stay both calm and relaxed during, the most intense hours of your life? I once heard some really amazing advice from The Midwives of East Erie. They suggested that to work through an unmedicated labour (although I think this is true for all labours), you should invest in a really great prenatal class (CLICK HERE), a solid doula (that's me!), and a birth pool. Here are some coping techniques that I teach all of my birth clients and help facilitate during labour:
Positive Prenatal Self Talk: It's really hard to feel positive about your birth when all you hear are negative birth stories from friends, family and sometimes awful Facebook groups. The key is to surround yourself with people that truly believe in your plan (whatever that is!). VBAC, planned c-section, home birth, early epidural, no epidural, want to cut the umbilical cord yourself? AWESOME, read as much you can, listen to podcasts, find a care provider that is on board and focus on similar stories with positive outcomes
Positive Affirmations: The way people speak to you in labour is SO important. Your doula, partner and medical team should be there to keep you motivated and tell you how strong you are. They should also coach you when you start to get hard on yourself. Things like "I can't do this anymore," and "I quit," are normal things that birthing people say in the transitional stage of labour. BUT! Something as simple as "You ARE doing it!," or "I'm so proud of you, let's get through this next one together," can be all it takes to get you back on track. Be aware of how your body and mind are responding to particular people, phrases or behaviours that are going on in the room and don't be afraid to let them know it isn't working for you.
Breathing Exercises: Breathing is by far your MOST important tool in labour. As a doula, I am practicing different breathing techniques with my clients from active labour, through transitional labour and even during the pushing stage. Focusing on your breathing has the ability to slow it down, decrease pain and refocus. The act of practicing a technique such as "pursed lip breathing," or 4-7-8 can trick your mind into paying less attention to the pain caused by contractions. Please click HERE to read about breathing exercises used in labour.
Less Interruptions: In an ideal world, a birthing person will be left alone. They would be comforted physically and emotionally by their doula and/or partner and baby's heart rate would be monitored when necessary. The room would be dim, the mother would be offered sips of water and everyone would be quiet. Unfortunately, in some settings, mothers are being asked questions during contractions, their fetal monitoring straps are being readjusted every 5 mins and bright lights are being turned off and on for cervical checks. In my experience, when we are able to let birthing people labour uninterrupted, they often perceive their experience as more positive. That being said, there are sometimes circumstances where interruptions MUST take place for the safety of mom and baby, in which case they cannot be avoided.
Freedom to Move Around: If you've taken a prenatal class, you might have learned the importance of movement in labour. Upright, sitting on a birth ball, swaying, rocking, lunging etc. These are helpful in getting baby not only engaged on the cervix, but into the most optimal position for the pushing stage! When women feel constricted to a bed or one position for the sake of monitoring, epidurals, use of Pitocin or IV pain medication, it can really hinder their ability to focus and follow the cues their body is naturally giving them. Knowing what your hospital and care provider will allow when circumstances like the ones mentioned above are used in labour may in helpful in understanding which option is best for you and which options you may want to prevent if possible.
Using Your Voice: Instinctively, birthing people will moan, hum, repeat affirmations, even sing in labour. This is often something that comes without help and if you reminded the person of it later, they may not have known they were doing it at all. I mentioned above, that our jaw and our pelvis are actually connected (so cool right!?). Using our voice in labour encourages our jaw to be relaxed and loose which will be mimicked in our pelvis. Women that are tense, yelling at a higher pitch or holding in their sounds may have a longer time dilating as their cervix will also be tight. As a support person, when your partner is yelling at a higher pitch, encourage them to still use their voice, but to bring the note down to a lower register.
Attention Focusing Technique: This one might be my favourite and often most effective tool when labour becomes intense. Bring an item of significance with you to your birth. I have had clients bring a blanket they had made for their baby, a family necklace, a picture of the ultrasound or a bracelet they can fiddle with during contractions. Your partner will bring this item out to you when you feel like you want to throw in the towel. Sometimes, we forget WHY we are in labour believe it or not. And something as simple as your baby's going home outfit can completely switch our mindset.
You can ALWAYS hit the reset button in labour. Secure an amazing team around you, believe in yourself and prepare both physically and mentally ahead of time. You got this!