One of the hardest parts about finding out you are pregnant, especially for first time moms, is the anticipation of labor. Because it is one of the great unknowns, thoughts of this process can be overwhelming and even scary. Every woman’s experience differs greatly from the next and that adds to the mystery.
Here’s what we can tell you…You will experience pain and some pressure and a little discomfort and sometimes, a lot of discomfort, but there are so many options for dealing with the pain, you don’t have suffer in ways that overwhelm your body. The American Anesthesiologists Association did a study on pain during labor and reported that 46% of new mothers rated their pain much better than they anticipated. Keep in mind, an epidural is just one form of pain management available to moms.
Here are some more of their findings in regards to the myths first time mothers carried with them into childbirth…
• 74 percent thought you couldn’t have an epidural after a certain time in labor (you can have one up until the baby’s head begins emerging, known as crowning)
• 44 percent feared pain at the epidural injection site would last for a prolonged time
• 26 percent believed an epidural slows labor
• Most concerning, 20 percent believed only one pain management option could be provided during labor and 16 percent thought about it but didn’t know.
Labor pains often begin as mild to strong menstrual cramps and can often be accompanied by back pain as well. For many women, relief from this type of pain comes, when they are able to start pushing through the contractions. The cramping sensation can continue even once the baby is born, but with much less intensity and can be easily managed.
We’ve eluded to the epidural as a very effective tool for managing pain, but what are some other methods you could consider?
- Massage. Massage allows you to feel an opposing pressure which can be helpful, especially when experiencing back pain. Any massage allows you to relax between contractions. Adding in some essential oils can be very helpful in keeping you calm and focused.
- Breathing techniques. Breathing is often downplayed but it is a powerful tool in managing your pain and your mindset. If you are tense and anxious, childbirth can drag on. It seems once you can relax, it progresses much faster. Breathing is something you can easily practice in the weeks or even months leading up to delivery. It allows you to narrow your focus to something other than the pain.
- Warm bath. Many women love laboring in a warm bath or shower. The water relieves so much pressure, especially in the back. If your shower has a handheld showerhead, direct the pressure of the water to the place where the pain is the worst during each contraction. A warm bath or shower is awesome to combine with breathing or even massage.
- Nitrous Oxide or ‘Happy Gas’ can be an option to help you calm down, though not one of the popular pain control options.
- Birthing balls and Yoga Silks. Not every hospital or birthing center offers these, but moving during contractions can be very beneficial compared to laboring in a bed. Enlist the help of gravity.
- Low lighting. Lighting by itself isn’t a magical pain reliever we’ve been keeping secret about, but it does help to dim the lights as you maintain your steady breathing habits.
- Music is another good option that adds to a relaxing atmosphere. As you prepare for childbirth, look into brain music with helps to regulate the brain waves, to better manage anxiety and even pain. Your body tends to mimic the rhythm around it, so the slow, melodic rhythms from some music, will help regulate your breathing in amazing ways. It’s a fun thing to practice before the big day.
- Change your position- walking, squatting, sitting, leaning…can shift the pain in ways that help you manage it better.
These are just a few things you may want to consider before your due date. The key to managing pain and anxiety is remaining calm. When your brain is calm, your body can relax and in that relaxing, specific hormones are released that start the labor process and keeps it progressing, so, while some of these ideas may seem rather passive, you may be surprised at how the simplest thing can bring the most relief.
Above all else, visit with your doctor about other options to manage your pain. If you go into childbirth with a toolbox of techniques, you will feel more empowered to create the best possible outcome when it comes to the pain. Remember, most women find the process much easier than it felt in their head and if it doesn’t feel that way to you, there are amazing pharmaceutical options for pain relief that will not detract from the incredible experience of childbirth.