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How to Manage Labour Pain

Updated: May 6, 2022

I know that a big fear for most first time mums is how they are going to cope with their contractions or surges.

And I am not saying that your labour is going to be pain free but knowing this information about your surges can make it easier to manage.

ESPECIALLY when you are in the middle of one.

It's a different pain

Firstly, it's a different kind of pain. It's not the same as breaking a bone or spraining your ankle. I sprained my ankle on my first pregnancy and trust me I would go through labour again no problem rather than go through the horror of that sprain. So your pain tolerance for that kind of pain bears no relation to how you will cope with labour. If you've been telling yourself (or other people have been telling you) that you have a low pain threshold or "you'll be screaming for the epidural" then let go of that thought right now. Because that is all it is, a thought NOT a fact. Research shows that the more pain you expect the more pain you feel. So walk away from anyone or anything (like TV programs ) that tells your brain that you should expect a lot of pain in labour.

It's not continuous

The sensations that you feel during a surge build up gradually and are not continuous. It comes in a wave that builds, peeks and then declines. The wave lasts about a minute with the peak lasting about 10 seconds. If you can in labour, visualise it as wave with a peak. Know the peak is going to be short lived usually around 10 seconds. By the time you have told yourself , "this is the peak now, this is the worst part" , its over. And then you are going back down the other side of the wave, so the feeling is less intense by the second. The entire surge will last 1 minute and you can do ANYTHING for 1 minute. This can be really powerful to do in labour.

Your body is designed for this

Women's bodies are really amazing. Your uterus and vagina are designed for birth. Did you know that as your uterus gets larger during pregnancy the number of pain nerves gets less and less? So there are actually very few left by the time you get to labour.

Another thing to know is your vagina is designed to stretch. As Ina May Gaskins says, no one questions that a man's sex organs can stretch all the time but for some reason we have no confidence that a vagina can do this, but believe me it can. You perineum is also uniquely designed to stretch and heal quickly from any minor tears. It's one of the fastest healing tissues in the body. (Major tears are of course take a bit longer but see my blog post on how to prevent these)

Your hormones are amazing

Your body produces it's own natural painkilling hormones, oxytocin and endorphins, which are actually 200X more powerful than morphine! However, too much fear and stress can release adrenaline which will put the brakes on this helpful hormone production. Practice fear release techniques (hypnobirthing, breathing, mindfulness) to keep your mind and body calm and allow the painkilling hormones to flow. These techniques will also move your attention away from your surges and research shows that the less attention you pay to pain, the less pain you actually feel.

There's lots you can do

Of course as well as the above there are lots of physical tools you can use in labour to help manage pain.

As well as the pharmaceutical options in hospital ( gas& air, pethidine, epidural) there are so many comfort tools you and your partner can learn to help release those pain killing hormones and relieve pain. These include

  • Breathing

  • Acupressure

  • Water

  • Counterpressure

  • Rebozo

  • Aromatherapy

  • Massage

  • Positions/Biomechanics

  • Dancing/Music

  • TENs Machine

  • Heat pads

and are all tools I teach in my group or private workshops. I would recommend learning more than one as you just don't know which one will work for you on the day. Plus different tools do different things. Acupressure relieves pain but can solve different problems in labour also such as stalled labour, delayed 2nd stage and nausea/vomiting. All of which can cause you considerable discomfort in labour. Getting into a bath will help decrease the surge sensation, make labour shorter and also prevent tearing. Rebozo and Biomechanics positions can help if the pain is due to the baby being in a suboptimal position. Any comfort tool that involves touch such as acupressure or massage will also release oxytocin, that fantastic pain killing hormone.

For me it was a combination of breathing, acupressure and gas & air that go me through labor but for you it may be completely different. And even if you plan on having an epidural these tools can really help you in early labour at home and for the car journey to the hospital. I always say put as many mental and physical tools in your labour tool box as you can to help you through your surges.

But whatever tools you choose the biggest thing you can do for yourself is believe. Believe you have the power, the strength and the wisdom to do this. Because believe me, you have x

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