How to deal with contractions
Contractions feel like waves rolling onto shore. You will feel your uterus cramp and a painful sensation in you lower abdomen. However, in between contractions your body will relax again and there won’t be any pain. Pain caused by contractions is also different than any other pain you have ever experienced as it’s a positive pain; your baby is finally being born!
Because it’s a positive and intermittent pain that slowly increases in intensity it’s much easier to bear than the pain caused by an accident or illness.
When you are in labour, your body immediately responds to the pain of the contractions by making endorfines. These are natural pain killers your body makes to feel less pain. Labour is an amazing process but, unfortunately, fear can affect this. Fear makes you release adrenaline, which slows down the production of oxytocin and prepares your body to fight or run away (not helpful when you’re trying to give birth). This makes your contractions less efficient and you focus on the pain and feel worse. So staying calm is the key to coping with pain. Try not to focus too much on the pain as long as possible during labour. Try to get on with what you were doing and seek some distraction by listening to music for example.
In early labour the time between contractions is sometimes long enough to even doze away. Use those moments to relax again and prepare for the next contraction, even if the break gets shorter. Try to stay physically relaxed and not to tighten your muscles in your neck, back, bum and legs too much. Breath in and out during a contraction and try to focus on your breathing so you are less focussed on the pain. This will help you endure the contractions.
Another natural pain relief method is using the TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine in labour. Knowing whether TENS can actually reduce labour pain or is just ‘worth a go’ could help you to know if you want to find a TENS machine. A TENS machine transmits mild electrical impulses to pads on your back usually used to relieve backache in early labour. These impulses block pain signals and help your body to produce endorphins. It’s a form of pain relief that you can control with a hand-held device.
A TENS machine works by sending mild electrical impulses to sticky pads on your lower back. TENS is thought to work as the electrical pulses stimulate nerves that run to the spinal cord and block the transmission of pain. It is also thought to work by providing a distraction and restoring a sense of control, both of which may lessen the anxiety that can delay the progress of labour. Most women who use TENS do so to cope with early labour at home, research has shown and many women said they would be willing to use TENS again in a future labour. It’s interesting too that women said they were coping with the pain but felt more confident doing so with the distraction of a machine.
You can buy TENS machines online (bol.com and many more websites).
Take different positions
Staying upright and gently active will help you cope as your labour progresses. There’s good evidence that staying in upright positions or walking around can help to shorten labour by over an hour. Unless you’re really tired, try not to lie on your back once you’re in active labour. Doing so can make your contractions slower and more painful. As labour progresses, lying on your side may help you to rest and keep your pelvis free and open.
Try out different positions to see what’s most comfortable. You could:
- Stand up and lean on the bed or your partner.
- Kneel down on a mat or pillow and lean on the seat of a chair or birth ball.
- Get on all fours to help ease backache. It’s likely to be less painful for you and may also help your baby get into a better position for birth.
- Sit for a while in a chair or on a birth ball, then get up and walk around.
- Rock your hips to help your baby to move down.
Distraction & breathing techniques
Try not to focus too much on the contractions as long as you can. Just keep doing what you are doing for as long as possible. Look for distraction by reading or listening to music, for example, or try to sleep / rest a bit if you can. You always have a break between contractions. Use those moments to relax and prepare for the next contraction. Be careful not to tens your muscles or hold your breath when the contraction starts again. Try to release all tension and keep breathing calmly. Then you feel the pain less. If you follow the rhythm of your breathing, you will be less focused on the pain. This helps you to relax so that you can handle the contractions better.
Massage & warmth
Warmth helps you to relax as well. Make sure the temperature of the room is pleasant and use a hot pack on your stomach or back during contractions. Most women like to take a (long) shower or bath to ease the pain of the contractions. Applying warmth is a tried-and-tested way of relaxing aching, tense muscles. So it’s no surprise that it’s an effective way to provide some relief of labour pain. Massage, particularly having someone rub your back, will warm your skin and stimulate your body to release endorfines as well. Labouring in warm water can relax you and make contractions more bearable, just as having a bath helps to ease stomach ache or backache. Using a birth pool is likely to shorten the first stage of your labour and help you cope with the pain. Research has found that women who spend some time labouring in water are less likely to need an epidural or other pain relief than women who spend their entire labour out of water.
Focusing on your breathing is a really helpful way of getting through each contraction. Follow these tips to help make the most of your breathing:
- As you breathe, think of the word “relax” in two stages. Take a deep breath at the beginning of the contraction and think “re-“, then as you breathe out, think “-lax” and let go of any tension
- Continue by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth
- Repeat this a few more times. Concentrate as hard as you can on breathing in as the contraction builds up, and out as it fades away
- Keep a good rhythm going. Don’t worry about how deeply you’re breathing, or for how long. Just try not to let the in-breath become longer than the out-breath
- When the contraction is over, try to relax as much as possible
- This rhythmic breathing will conserve your energy and help to ease your pain, too
1 to 1 care during labour
Saving energy in early labour is important, but sometimes a short, gentle walk can ease pain and speed up your contractions. That’s because it encourages your baby to move into a better position. Just try not to overdo it, as you’ll need plenty of energy later on.
During labour we give one to one care. We inform you throughout labour, focus on shared decision making and guide you through. Once the active phase commences we will provide continuous support of labour. Together with the support of your partner, you’re likely to give birth more quickly and easily and will be less likely to use pain relief than someone without continuous support. Overall, you’re more likely to be more satisfied with your birth experience.
Sometimes all natural pain relieving methods just won’t do the trick and you need medical pain relief. Because this can cause complications during birth, your heartbeat, blood pressure and breathing will be monitored closely. The fetal heartbeat also needs continuous monitoring. Therefore medical pain relief is only administered at the hospital and your care will be handed over to the hospital staff. One exception is gas & air as there is no chance of complications, no referral is needed so we will still guide you one to one.