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> Dealing with Labor Pain

Althea’s labor started when she noticed leakage of a clear liquid (amniotic fluid) trickling down her legs. As it was her first pregnancy, she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. “It felt like my usual menstrual cramps, only that the intensity and frequency of the cramps were relatively higher.” Her delivery turned out to be a smooth one, without any complications or major discomfort. She shares: “There was definitely some level of pain, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d read or heard about. Once the epidural kicked in, things were pretty smooth sailing from there on.”


However, the labor experience can vary greatly between women. Evelyn describes her experience as “having your insides pulled, squeezed, and twisted, with the pain coming in waves of different intensity.” Another mom, Farah, describes it as “the toughest thing that I’ve ever done in my life.” However, they both agree that the entire process was worth it, after seeing their child for the first time.  


Labor pain is one of the most hyped, dreaded, and talked about part of delivery, for many reasons. Each woman will have a different experience during labor, based on their genetics, pain threshold, anxiety and nervousness level, and social support, among other factors. Labor pain is caused by powerful contractions in the uterus, which is the body’s mechanism by which the baby is pushed out into the world. There is also an increased amount of pressure in the pelvic, lower back, and perineum areas, which can increase the level of discomfort experienced.


Dr. Ronald Melzack, a Professor of Psychology at McGill University, points out that whether or not a woman has had a baby before will contribute significantly to the levels of pain experienced. In an early study, Melzack queried 141 women, 87 of them first-time mothers, and the rest having had a previous child. 25% of the first-time mothers rated labor as an excruciating, horrible experience; contrast this with only 9% of experienced mothers who felt the same way.


Some women opt not to receive labor-pain medication, such as epidurals and pain-relief drugs, as they’re concerned about putting their babies at risk. In reality, these pain-relieving treatments are very safe for the vast majority of patients. Nevertheless, it’s also possible to prepare yourself for the labor process through non-medicinal methods, which can be especially helpful for first-time mothers.


1. Find A Labor Helper

A labor helper, also known as a doula, is someone who will be by your side during labor, to offer non-medical assistance such as breathing control, massage, and body positioning. The word “Doula”, pronounced as ‘doo-la’, comes from the ancient Greek meaning of “a woman servant”, and is used to describe a woman who helps out during the birth process. Notice the difference between a doula and midwife; the former provides childbirth coaching services, whereas the latter is more of a healthcare provider. In fact, a midwife can be considered to be a “postpartum doula”.


Doulas have a deep understanding on the labor process, which makes them ideal for informational support. They are familiar with the physiology of birth, and the emotional needs of a woman in labor, and are able to provide both emotional support and physical comfort. She also facilitates the interaction between the woman and her partner, because, let’s be honest, most men are clueless as to what to do when their wives are in labor! Though certification isn’t necessary, there are certified birth doulas which gives them respected credentials. Studies report than women who engage a doula require less use of pain medication, and experience a smoother birth with greater satisfaction than women who don’t.


2. Relaxation Can Be A Great Pain Reliever

Being relaxed during labor will aid in releasing hormones that help the labor to progress. It’s natural to feel some anxiety, especially if this is your first pregnancy and you’re not sure what to expect. However, excessive stress can cause your muscles to be tense, slowing down your labor progress and making you more tired.


Labor is a challenging processor some, but there are some techniques which can help you to relax during labor. With a good doula or supportive partner around, these techniques can be easy to apply. Try to create a relaxing environment, with plenty of space to move around. This may involve dimming the lights, playing your favorite soothing tune, aromatherapy, or resting on your favorite pillow. Your doula can help by demonstrating techniques such as rhythmic breathing, or have your spouse massage your neck, legs, arms, shoulders and scalp, which feels good and is effective for some women. It’s also a great way for your spouse to show their support for you, without saying it out loud.


3. Changing Positions During Labor

Contrary to what you may understand from mainstream media, there are many positions that a woman can assume during labor, and not just the one where she lies on her back and pushes. In fact, women who walked or assumed an upright position during early labor experienced a shorter delivery time, and were less likely to require pain medication. Upright or forward leaning positions are ideal, as when your uterus contracts, it contracts forward, and leaning forward with the surges of contractions is going to help the labor process, resulting in less pain.


Some of the positions recommended during childbirth classes are standing and walking, rocking back and forth, and sitting backwards. As your labor progresses, you may choose a variety of positions to manage the discomfort or pain, and naturally, a good doula will be a gem in these situations.


4. Exercise During Pregnancy

An American study recently published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reported that women who continued to remain physically active during pregnancy experienced labors that were 30% shorter than women who stopped exercising. They also required less labor stimulation, fewer epidurals, episiotomies, and caesarean deliveries.


One simple yet powerful exercise is known as Kegels, which focus on contracting the pelvic floor muscles that support your urethra, bladder, rectum and uterus. Strengthening these muscles will improve blood circulation in this area, and can help during the pushing stage of labor. To perform kegel exercises, tighten the muscles around the vagina in the same way that you interrupt the flow of urine, hold for a count of three to four, and then release. One set of kegels can be ten repetitions, and aim for three or four sets per session, with three sessions per day.


Pre-natal exercises will also benefit your mood during pregnancy, and help you fight fatigue, lower blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, improve your sleep quality, and ease back or pelvis pain from the strain of carrying a baby. With so many reasons to get active during pregnancy.

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