Labour is expected to be intensely uncomfortable and painful, for understandable physical, mechanical and psychological reasons. But there is so much that can be done to make it a lot more comfortable and manageable without necessarily resorting to drugs.
In this ancient Chinese healing practice, fine needles are applied to certain points in your body to unblock life forces or chi, which flow along energy lines or meridians. Research has shown acupuncture to be effective in stimulating the release of endorphins, nature’s natural painkillers. Acupressure does the same thing; but instead of needles, firm pressure is placed on pressure points.
Highly concentrated oils distilled from plants can be used for massage, in the bath and in a burner. A recent large scale study involving more than 8 000 women showed that more than half found aromatherapy to be effective in reducing fear and anxiety, and in promoting relaxation.
Proper breathing is a wonderful pain reliever if used with awareness. Slow controlled breathing encourages relaxation and works very well with meditation. It enhances relaxation and oxygenates the working uterus, easing pain.
Research has shown that women who have a birth companion or doula have shorter labours with fewer complications and more immediate bonding with their babies afterwards. A mother who births with the assistance of a birthing companion often feels she herself has managed her birth, instead of having her labour medically managed.
Homeopathy works by making labour more efficient and helping you to cope better emotionally. The ideal way to use homeopathy in labour is to have a qualified homeopath make up a birth kit for you. The remedies are usually placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve and be absorbed.
Hypnotherapy temporarily alters your state of consciousness so you have increased ability to relax and a lowered perception of pain. This is especially beneficial for women who are very apprehensive about labour. Hypnotherapy involves getting into a deep state of relaxation and opening your mind to positive suggestions and affirmations.
To be massaged, touched or held in labour can be very therapeutic. Studies show that appropriate touch and massage decrease the need for many interventions and medicated forms of pain relief. Touch is of great value particularly if a woman feels free to say when it is not helping.
You attitudes and beliefs about your impending birth experience have a great influence on your ability to relax into it when the time comes. When your mind is on your side, it’s an amazingly powerful and effective ally. Self-help techniques such as relaxation and visualisation, breathing for labour and self-hypnosis can all help make sure your mind works for you and not against you.
Movement can be used throughout labour to facilitate the descent and rotation of your baby’s head as well as to help relieve pain. Movement alters your perception of pain by the sensory activity at the joint and muscle receptor site and works off excess adrenaline.
Auditory stimuli directly suppress pain neurologically. Combined with imagery and visualisation, music enhances the mental component involved in birthing. Music accesses both the right and the left brain and is helpful in shutting out disturbing sounds.
Water has been used for many centuries as a pain reliever. We all know the comfort and relaxing effect water has when you climb into a warm bath at the end of the day. Water helps you produce endorphins and reduces the pressure on your abdominal muscles. Many women also swear by a warm shower during labour.
Reflexology involves gently manipulating and pressing certain areas of the feet and hands that are directly linked to each organ and structure within the body. There is evidence to suggest that reflexology stimulates the body’s production of hormones including oxytocin and endorphins.
The more relaxed and calm you can be, the less your labour and birth are likely to hurt. When you relax, you allow your uterus to work unimpeded by tense skeletal muscles. When your body senses fear and tenses, the flight-fight-freeze effect takes over.