Before my first child was born, I studied Hypnobabies. It helped a lot during the early stages of labor, but I didn’t have the same amount of success as many other people who study this technique. I would highly recommend it, but I did still really, really want an epidural once things got really intense. There were a lot of things I learned from Hypnobabies that helped me during my baby’s birthing, but the most helpful was this:
1. Breathe deeply and calmly. Inhale deeply, then let it out in a slow, controlled manner–in a low moan, or blowing softly.
At the beginning of labor, when contractions aren’t as intense, I found myself softly blowing out air. As they got harder, I heard myself moaning through each one. I’m pretty sure I sounded like a cow toward the end of labor (moooo!). Also, at one point I found myself shushing myself aloud: just the same way I might calm my child at bedtime: “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Shh, Shh, Shh, Shh, Shh…” This worked for me by doing two things: offering me a way to let out my breath in a slow, controlled way; and also by using my inner dialogue to calm and comfort myself. It may sound strange to people around you, but it can be very comforting. And if it works, then who cares?? Also, you can even think of it as shushing your new baby, offering comfort to him or her as they go through this experience that may be as traumatic for them as it is for you.
2. Get yourself into a deeply relaxed, calm mental state BEFORE each contraction begins. Then, ride that wave of relaxation through the entire contraction.
I found that as long as I was prepared BEFORE a contraction, I could manage my breathing well and tolerate the pain–even work with it. But if a contraction caught me off guard, I felt like a trapped animal–wide-eyed, panicked, and in extreme pain.
Use your inner dialogue to calm and comfort yourself. Tell yourself things like, “It’s okay. There, there. Shhh. There you go, that’s it. Its alright.” Hypnobabies really teaches you what to do to get yourself to that deeply relaxed place.
Before my second child was born, I studied the Bradley Method. This method is meant to be studied as a couple, which I liked. One of the most helpful things I learned from this method was the “Gate Control Theory of Pain.” You can read more details about this theory through an internet search. In a nutshell, I’ll sum it up like this:
3. Gate Control Theory of Pain: Pain signals are carried to the “nerve gates” of the spinal cord and then to the brain. Non-painful input (like a foot massage) can essentially close the nerve gates to the pain input. This allows the brain to process the non-painful stimulation (like a foot massage) INSTEAD of the painful stimulation (like a contraction).
The idea is that your partner can help you through each painful contraction by offering non-painful input. For me, foot massages worked best. For others, it may be a hand massage, back rub, stroking the forehead, soaking in a warm tub or shower, etc.
I love foot massages, so I asked my husband to massage my feet during contractions. This was, by far, the best thing that helped besides the epidural. My only regret was that I didn’t ask him to do it right from the very start of labor. I sure could have used it. Using good breathing techniques and some other things I learned from Hypnobabies and the Bradley Method, along with the foot massages, I was able to (mostly) block out the pain of each contraction and feel the good sensations of the foot massage instead. Of course, when things went into active labor, it was more or less impossible for my husband to continue rubbing my feet. But it was great while it lasted.
What one thing helped YOU manage pain during labor, besides an epidural? Please leave your answer in the comments!