Relaxation Techniques for Labor
Every woman handles stress and pain differently. Do you yell? Curse? Cry? Sleep? Need a hug? Want to be alone?Just as every woman is different, every labor is different. I have been teaching Bradley Method Childbirth Education classes for over 5 years now, and no two couples share the same experience. I actually love listening to just how different everyone’s story is. There is this huge divide in our society between those who plan and achieve a natural, unmedicated birth and those who choose a medicated birth or elective c-section. There is no shame in how you labor, BUT I urge you to actually learn and educate yourself on the process of labor so that you know your rights and understand what you truly want for yourself and your baby. Remember that pregnancy is not an illness, and it should not be treated as such. No matter what you decide for your birth plan, you need to know have a file bank full of options to try throughout your labor until you have either birthed your baby or received your medications. There’s a chance medicine won’t work for you, will wear off before the end of labor, will cause major side effects, or doesn’t get to you in time. If you are planning an unmedicated birth, I will tell you from my 5 experiences, you need to learn yourself, your body, and how labor typically works. Having these understandings allows you to embrace the process and give in to the pain easier.Before you start laughing at some of the following techniques, remember just how different everyone is. My husband and I laughed at many (SO MANY) of these when we were pregnant with baby #1. By baby #4, we realized to accept each labor as it is, and not judge anyone for how they get through it. I have never experienced a 15-30 hour long labor before. Maybe If that was given to me, I would enjoy watching a movie, having poetry read to me, or having my hair brushed while someone went through the colors of the rainbow. Although, Baby #4 came faster than a freight train, so if that’s the card you are dealt, my advice is simply: Hang on for the ride. There isn’t time to make it to another room, let alone to another place where medication is offered. There wasn’t a relaxation technique in the world that could have helped the “waves” that washed over me. A 90 minute labor from 1st contraction to baby is not a labor I’d recommend – but I survived, as will you with your labor!
Why You Need To Practice RelaxingLabor can be compared to a marathon. You wouldn’t show up and attempt to run (and finish) a marathon on the day of the race, right? So don’t show up unprepared for your labor! Your body works better when it is relaxed. Practicing different relaxation techniques throughout your pregnancy will allow them to occur more naturally during labor. The hormones that aid in progressing labor will be released easier if you are relaxed. And letting the body give in to the labor by relaxing allows the body to store energy and possibly aids baby in coping and adapting to the birth experience. Oxytocin is a hormone released when you are in love, labor, or are breastfeeding – it is what makes you feel loopy and not quite present. Relaxing will allow your body to soak up this oxytocin better during labor – some women even claim they can orgasm during this time! The average contraction is 60 seconds in length, so practicing your techniques for 60 seconds at a time should be your goal. A great relaxation practice can include the following: (From Yogajanda.com)
- Centering breath: inhale to a count of 4. Exhale to a count of 8. Create your own pace. Just make sure your exhale is twice as long as your inhale. To do this for one minute, you’ll need to repeat this breath cycle seven breaths. Then just sit and notice how you feel for a moment. Exhaling twice as long as your inhale stimulates your relaxation response in your body.
- Sit, stand or lie down. Without changing your facial expression, begin to imagine the emotional feeling you get when you smile. You might need to think about someone or something that has made you smile in the past.
- Head to toe. Stand and rest your hands either on a desk, table, or counter, or let them dangle heavily at your side. Relying on your own concentration begin to release tension from the top of the head, cheeks, jaw, neck shoulders etc. It’s up to you to bring your focus to these parts of your body one at a time and deliberately picture the muscle letting go of tension while you breathe in and out.
- Listen to some music that you plan to use in labor. You can listen to this music while you are doing all of your different relaxation exercises.
- Standing with your feet a little bit wider than hip distance apart, begin to slow dance in place to some music or without music. This swaying motion is very relaxing. You can do it on your own, or you can embrace your partner. You will find this to be very calming and is an ideal rhythmic movement to use in labor.
Relaxation TechniquesRelaxing Environment: Stay at home in your comfortable environment for as long as possible before moving to a sterile hospital. If you need to be there in early labor, then bring things that will allow the environment to be as relaxing as possible for you. (Flameless candles, music, pillows, essential oils, etc) Abdominal Breathing: You want to make sure that your breaths come from your belly and not your chest. Shallow breaths will trigger stress and anxiety, creating the cycle of fear, and can lead to hyper-ventilating. Massage: A back rub, foot rub, or hand massage may help you release the tension. Learn specific techniques HERE ‘Zoning Out’ – Reaching a hypnotic state may count as the most relaxing of all techniques. Rhythmic/Ocean Breathing: Breathing in rhythm to the ocean is my personal favorite way to handle contractions. Inhale as if you are the wave returning to the ocean and exhale as it crashes to the sand. ‘Duh’ Face: closing the eyes, relaxing the entire body, and allowing the mouth to be so relaxed that it falls partially open is the goal for Bradley birthing women. Guided Imagery: Repeating, and seeing, the colors of the rainbow, mentally visiting a special place, listening to a story read aloud, these are all methods of visually creating relaxation
- Floating – You’ve had the warm water feeling flow through you. Now imagine as if you’re floating on water. If you’re a swimmer you know that the best way to float on water is by relaxing your muscles and letting the natural buoyancy of water tension hold you afloat. It’s swaying back and forth and rocking you to sleep as if you were a baby in your own mother’s arms.
- Sleeping – You know that feeling of great comfortableness when you’ve just woken up after a wonderful night’s sleep? When we’re asleep we’re completely relaxed for the most part and just barely waking up from it without increased stimuli is a very powerful relaxation feeling.
Try following these visualization steps:
- Think of an experience you’ve had that was entirely stress-free, an enjoyable moment of calm.
- Think of where this event happened and picture it in your mind as if you’ve gone back there in a dream.
- What did you hear?
- What were you doing?
- How did you feel?
- Now stay in that moment as if time no longer matters, you’ve become one with that place of tranquility.
- Picture yourself as you currently are, pregnant and beautiful, full of life and love, glowing with your state of being.
- You don’t want to leave because you know this moment is impeccably relaxing.
- Acknowledge that you’re in labor in this glorious place. But you’re happy with that because you would never want to be anywhere else.
- Our baby's birth will occur at just the right time and just the right way.
- I trust my body to grow my baby, and I trust my body to birth my baby.
- My body is strong enough to birth this baby.
- I enjoy experiencing the power of my body as my birthing muscles bring my baby to me.
- With each amazing wave, I am letting go more easily.
- I am releasing to these sensations.
- I let these waves wash through me as I go deeper into relaxation.
- I am connected to myself. I am connected to my partner. We are connected to our baby.
- I welcome strong waves that are bringing my baby closer.
- Every contraction brings me closer to our baby.
- The stronger my contractions become, the sooner I meet my baby.
- I breathe slowly and easily, and it helps my body to let go.
- I breathe to my baby, and let my breath flow down and out my baby's birth path to show my baby the way.
- My body is so open that my baby just slides right out and into my arms.
- I am calm, I am safe, I am relaxed.