I recently wrote about the effects of pain relief drugs on mum and baby. Many women say to me that they would like to try giving birth without them if possible, but they worry about how they will cope with the pain. This is exactly how I felt when I was pregnant for the first time. I had no idea if I could do it on my own.
Now, I'm not going to lie and tell you that childbirth is easy or painfree. Because that, my friend, would be a lie! (athough some women do experience an easy, painfree birth but that isn't the experience of most women) It is one of the hardest things a woman will ever do. It is worth remembering though, what is causing the pain so you can keep it in perspective throughout your labour. The pain is mainly from the muscles in your uterus working really hard, and just like when any other muscle in your body works extremely hard, you experience some discomfort and pain. And don't forget, you get a rest in between each contraction :)
So accepting that you will probably experience some pain, here are my top 10 alternative forms of pain relief that will get you through your labour.
Obviously this has to be top of my list, mainly for the reason that it is so effective, but also because, on my hypnobirthing course, we discuss all the other options on this list so you will have lots of different tips and tricks up your sleeve that you can bust out on the day.
Hypnobirthing teaches you how to get your body into deep relaxation so that you can work with your body and not fight against it (which causes your muscles to tense up and increase pain sensations).
The 'hypno' in hypnobirthing and the bit that scares some people off....hypnosis is becoming more and more widely used for pain relief in many different settings, and "hypnosis not only has analgesic effects in acute pain, but it also serves to relieve chronic pain such as fibromyalgia, cancer pains, and headaches" [Patterson DR, Jensen MP. Hypnosis and clinical pain. Psychol Bull. 2003;129:495–521.] There are many proven benefits of the use of hypnotherapy for childbirth and one of the main ones is less need for medication. There are no negative side effects, and anyone can learn. Some may take more practice than others but everyone can find it useful. So what's not to love about it?! It is more effective when practiced regularly throughout pregnancy so the earlier you start, the better.
There is a LOT more to my course than this, all of which will help you avoid unnecessary interventions and help your birth go more smoothly.
The best way to avoid heightened pain sensations during birth, is to keep your muscles relaxed. This is much easier said than done as for most women, relaxing is pretty difficult at the best of times, let alone when you're trying to birth a baby! But when you are tense, your muscles all tense up (including the muscles of your uterus) and this makes contractions less effective and more painful. So I teach couples some simple relaxation techniques and the more mums practice relaxation in the lead up to the birth, the easier and quicker she will find it to become calm and relaxed in labour.
Ok so we all know how to breathe, but we don't always breathe as effectively as we could, especially during labour. Deep breathing can have a powerful relaxing effect on the body and again this is something mums should practice as much as possible throughout pregnancy. Deep breathing also helps with my next point......
4. Your natural birthing hormones
Us humans are pretty well evolved! Our bodies are designed to produce a complex cocktail of hormones, some of which help with pain relief. Deep and effective breathing increases the levels of these important hormones so that your sensations of pain become smaller, and you are able to manage the pain more easily. Clever huh?! There are many other things you can do to maximise production of these hormones, all of which you will learn on my course.
Practicing yoga throughout your pregnancy has many big benefits. With a good pregnancy yoga teacher, you can learn the importance of pelvic alignment for getting your baby into a good position for birth. You will learn simple ways to keep alignment in your day to day movements, which can also reduce your chances of suffering from Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP), or Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) in pregnancy. Having baby in a good position for birth will minimise your pain sensations and reduce the chance of having a longer labour. Yoga will also help you practice the deep breathing as discussed above which has so many benefits throughout pregnancy and in labour. Each of my yoga session ends with a lovely relaxation session to help you practice relaxing each muscle group, and to train your body into relaxing quicker and easier each time.
6. Acupressure and acupuncture
There are a few different acupressure points that can be used during labour, and studies have shown that using acupuncture or acupressure during labour can help relieve labour pain. Acupressure is very accessible to everyone and I teach birth partners which points may be beneficial for you in labour. Again, there are no negative side effects and anyone can learn.
There are many reasons why massage is beneficial during labour. It can stimulate release of some of those powerful hormones we discussed above. The rhythm of a massage can help with your deep breathing, and can relax your muscles. Massage can also bring you closer to the person massaging you, giving you an increased sense of security and connection, also helping with hormone production. It's great for your birth partner to practice on you during pregnancy too, I mean, who doesn't love a massage ;)
8. TENS machine
An often overlooked option, TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. A TENS machine is a small handheld device with electrode pads that you attach to certain points on your back. The pads emit a small, safe electric current and this reduces the pain signals sent from the spinal cord up to the brain. Many women find TENS very effective, particularly in the early stages of labour. You can hire the units, or buy your own. You, Me & Baby have a unit for clients to borrow, you just need to buy replacement pads. There are no known side effects for either mum or baby, so it's another no brainer to have in your toolbox of tricks to help during labour.
9. Heat and cold
Heat applied to lower abdomen, back, groin or perineum is very soothing and can provide relief from pain. You can use an electric heated pad, hot water bottle or a simple hot compress (a flannel soaked in hot water and wrung out).
Cold can also provide pain relief, particularly on the lower back, or on the perineum immediately after birth to reduce pain and swelling. You can use a simple ice bag or a frozen wet flannel, a bag of frozen peas or buy special cold gel packs.
It is important to keep yourself comfortably warm throughout labour, as if you get cold, your body will produce adrenaline (that's what makes you shiver), and this will interfere with the other birthing hormones and can therefore increase your pain sensations.
Aromatherapy uses the healing power of plants with the essential oils to enhance physical and mental wellbeing. The oils may be massaged into the skin, in a bath or inhaled using a steam infusion or burner. Some women use aromatherapy to relax their body which reduces their sensations of pain. Others use the oils as part of their massage routine (as above). One study carried out in Oxford, showed that women in labour consistently rated aromatherapy as helpful by aiding relaxation and reducing stress and anxiety. The study also showed that women using aromatherapy were less likely to request diamorphine or an epidural for pain relief. Many midwives are undertaking training in this area so they can use it on women in labour.
So there you have it. An extensive list of alternatives to artificial pain medication. If you would like to learn more about how you can use some or all of these things in your labour, and how they can reduce unnecessary interventions, I run monthly group hypnobirthing courses for you and your birth partner, and weekly pregnancy yoga classes for women. All held in a central Cardiff location. Private sessions can also be arranged. Please contact me for more details.