by Dr. Sarah Winward, ND IBCLC
Labour is intense, to say the least. But does it have to be painful? It can be helpful to reframe the sensations you are feeling. In the words of Ina May Gaskin “labour is an interesting sensation that requires all of your attention”. Many people prefer to refer to surges or rushes as opposed to contraction, HypnoBirthing follows this tenant as well.
Labour is an interesting sensation that requires all of your attention.Ina May Gaskin
The Pain-Tension-Fear Cycle
It’s very common to have fears surrounding birth. When we experience fear it releases adrenaline which in turn can cause ineffective muscle contractions around the uterus. As a result the production of oxytocin and endorphins decrease and the muscles in the uterus start working against each other. All of this restricts blood flow to your uterus and is a trigger for pain. It also lowers your pain threshold. In dangerous situations, this fear-pain-tension cycle allows for response and survival, in birth it can become a complication. Often, as the pain increases the fear increases and then the tension increases resulting in a repeating, and counter-productive, cycle. So, reducing pain really comes down to reducing tension in your body.
Breaking the Cycle
In her book “The Birth Partner” Patty Simkin discusses the 3 R’s of labour. These are Relaxation, Rhythm and Ritual. Engaging in all 3 of these brings you into the present moment and allows you to move through each contraction without being overwhelmed by them. Often rituals will arise spontaneously during the course or your labour and they can change as your labour progresses. The best rituals involve rhythm and repetition, which lead to relaxation. Things to incorporate in your rituals include: focusing on the breath, staring into someone’s eyes, “slow dancing” with your birth partner, dancing to music, or anything else that feels good to you in the moment.
Helpful hints for your birth partner
Penny Simkin’s book The Birth Partner also outlines a great tool for partners. It is called the Take-Charge routine and is outlined in detail in her book. It is great to use when the birthing person is having difficulty maintaining their ritual or is appearing to be overwhelmed or distressed.
1) Remain calm, others pick up on your energy
2) Stay close, bring your face close to theirs
3) Anchor them by calmly holding their shoulders or hands
4) Get them to look at you, eye contact itself can help to bring them back to the moment
5) Talk to them in between contractions, make suggestions of rituals to try, such as concentrating on the breath
6) Help them regain their rhythm, move your body with theirs
It may also help to remind birthing persons that they are about to meet their baby!
Tips to use in the moment
Any of the following can be helpful during labour, but remember that the right thing for you to do is whatever makes you fell calm, safe and relaxed:
- Discuss any fears that you are experiencing with your doula, partner or care provider
- Progressive relaxation, guided meditation or visualizations
- Make noise and breath with sound
- Change positions: hands and knees, on a birth ball, walking around, slow dancing
- Use water such as a shower or birthing pool
- Ask for assistance and allow your partner and doula to support you with hip squeezes, low back pressure, massage, etc
- Hot or cold applications to your face, back or neck