Dealing With Labor Naturally

Women have been giving birth since the dawn of time, and therefore it's to be expected that methods for labor pain alleviation abound. Some women try to have "natural births," while others opt for drugs in case of severe pain. Most women will want some form of pain alleviation during the transitional stage of labor. This stage takes place before the pushing stage of labor and the contractions can be quite painful.

Natural Methods
The fact is that women have been giving birth forever, and without the use of pharmaceuticals. How did they manage? They either bore the pain sans treatment or relied on local herbs. The women of South Africa, for example, would smoke wild dagga plant or its cousin, the lion's ear plant, to "alleviate" their labor pains (in fact, the plant helped them lose consciousness). In the Middle Ages, women took herbal tinctures made of poppy, henbane, mandragora and hemp.

A look into the history of childbirth brings out some whacky information. Did you know that in the ancient civilizations of Babylon, Egypt and China, they have found records of exorcisms performed on women in childbirth? Instead of herbs, they used magical charms and amulets to ease the "crazy" woman. Primitive efforts of pain alleviation included distraction and suggestion; pain would be inflicted on the birthing mother to detract from her labor pain.

While the occasional husband may still think his laboring wife to be overtaken by demonic forces, natural childbirth practices toward the mother have changed. Natural childbirth resurfaced in the 1940s, when Dr. Grantly Dick Read wrote his Natural Childbirth book. He painted an idyllic picture of the hardy woman who was able to give birth naturally; it became all the rage.

Today, natural childbirth focuses around relaxation and comfort techniques. For example, it is believed that when a woman is nervous during labor, her body tenses and the uterus closes up. This prolongs childbirth and makes labor more painful. Engaging in relaxation techniques is sure to make your delivery more enjoyable. Here are some of the natural techniques to help reduce pain during your labor.

Hypnosis can be an excellent tool to treat physical pain as well as emotional fear and anxiety. Combined with relaxation exercises, many women have found it to be a powerful tool for getting through labor. The general method is to visualize yourself in a serene and calming place to distract your body from the pressure and pain of labor.

The theory behind relaxation is that as you focus on breathing and calm thoughts, your uterus becomes less tense and opens up. There are visualization tapes you can listen to specifically designed for each stage of labor. A common visualization technique is to imagine a flower slowly opening. This is meant to mimic the opening of your uterus. Another common image is the pull of the ocean and the waves of your contractions. If you practice visualization frequently, you can focus on these images to distract and alleviate your pain.

There are many nuances to practicing hypnosis properly such as learning proper breathing techniques; it takes a bit of practice in order for it to be effective. If you're interested in this method, there are many books and classes available. If you do manage to learn it, you can look forward to a much more enjoyable child birthing process.

Warm Water
One simple and natural pain reliever is warm water. Standing under the showerhead and letting warm water splash on your back can temporarily alleviate back pain due to labor.

Another alternative is to submerge your belly in warm water. This works wonders as the pressure underwater balances the pressure inside your uterus, providing much pain relief.

Tip: You may find it difficult to fully submerge your belly in some regular bathtubs. If that is the case, there are deep tubs, called "labor" or "birthing" tubs, available for this specific purpose. For more information on birthing tubs, see our article on water births.

Rice Socks
Applying warm compresses to your back is another great way to soothe the pain away. An item that you can make at home to do the trick is a rice sock. To make one, fill a new nylon or cotton sock with dry uncooked rice, and heat it in the microwave. You can then place and stretch the sock out in different positions on your body to relieve tension in different parts. The sock will slowly release heat and alleviate pressure as it does. Having someone roll it up and down your lower back can feel great. You can relieve some cervical pressure by placing it under your belly. Draping it over your shoulders can help to relieve neck tension.

Ice Chips
Some women find gently sucking on small ice chips to be soothing. Your partner or labor coach will be happy to ensure you have a continual supply.

Changing Positions
Changing your position will often help to relieve some pain. Leaning against a wall or walking around can help to relieve some of the pressure. If you are experiencing back labor pains, try getting on your hands and knees.

Combining a position change with a rocking movement can also help relieve pressure and tension.

Imagining the Birthing Process
Whatever the case, a woman can do most of her preparation for pain before a single contraction. Imagining the process of birth, from each contraction to your positions and emotions at birth, is crucial! Labor and delivery can be pretty stressful, so help yourself feel more "at home" in this state by visiting it in your imagination.

Have a realistic depiction in your mind of the birth. Chances are you won't just be in the supine (laying back down) position during labor-studies show you're likely to engage in many different positions until you find what's most comfortable for you. This could mean squatting, kneeling or standing on all fours. Don't forget that you'll also be moving around during your contractions-walking helps labor move faster and reduces the pain you feel.

Imagine the sensations you'll feel as each contraction surges over you, and try to keep a positive mantra in your mind as you picture each spasm. Proactive, positive meditation on birth will help ease the experience when the big day comes.

Birthing Balls
An alternative to the usual comfort positions is to use a "birthing ball." A birthing ball is the same type of large, soft, air-filled ball seen in fitness centers and gyms. To use it in lieu of the "hands and knees" position, simply go down on your knees and stretch your arms out over the ball, resting your head on top of it.

There are also many other useful positions to use with the birthing ball. Sitting on it and rocking your pelvis back and forth can help to speed labor. This position will also help strengthen back and abdominal muscles. Another relaxing position can be achieved by placing the birthing ball on a table or couch and leaning onto it with your arms draped over it.

If you do acquire a birthing ball, an added bonus is that it's a fun and effective post-pregnancy exercise prop!

A lower back massage can alleviate some suffering, however some women feel uncomfortable with massages once labor has started.

Soothing Music and Visual Imagery
Listening to soothing music and focusing on some relaxing visual imagery can be great, simple ways to relax yourself and avoid focusing on the pain. It helps to associate some sort of progressive image with overcoming the pain. For example, imagine a flower opening as the symbol for your pain melting away, and try to visualize it happening as you relax. This can assist greatly in self-hypnosis as well.

Acupuncture can be used throughout pregnancy to relieve many painful conditions. It has been known to relieve morning sickness, nausea, heartburn, hemorrhoids, stress, high blood pressure, backache and joint pain.

During the third trimester, acupuncture can also help to encourage a head down position for the baby so as to ensure a smoother birth.

During labor, acupuncture can relieve pain and increase your energy. It can also encourage contractions.

Acupuncture can also be used to provide pain and symptom relief post pregnancy.

Acupressure can be used to reduce pain and stress. It involves pressing different points on the body with either fingers, knuckles or palms. You can go to a specialist to get acupressure treatment done, or you can learn and apply it to yourself! To relieve pain in the abdomen, you can use acupressure on five points in your body:

  • the big toe, on the side near the second toe, behind the nail and slightly to the side
  • behind the knee, where there is a crease in your skin, between the two ligaments
  • one hand's width above the tip of the back anklebone, on the back of the shinbone
  • one hand's width below the kneecap, on the outside, between the leg muscle and shin bone
  • two thumb widths below the large crease of the inner wrist, between the tendons

Acupressure works by stimulating different points of the body in order to release "blocked energy." This causes the body to release endorphins, which alleviate pain.

TENS Machines
The purpose of a TENS machine (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is to trigger your body into releasing its own natural painkillers (endorphins). This is done by placing electrodes on your back and allowing the TENS machine to send an electric current through them. You control the amount of current by using a hand-held device, so you can modulate the current so as to keep it within your comfort level. TENS machines have never been found to harm either the mother or the baby.

To obtain a TENS Machine, contact your practitioner.

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