Childbirth isn’t often like what it looks like on TV and in the movies. On-screen, labor is kicked off with powerful, painful contractions. The mother-to-be is usually overwhelmed and unable to maintain her composure. She is rushed to the hospital screaming with pain, often lashing out at those around her.
For many pregnant women and their partners, this is their main tutorial on what to expect when the big day comes.
But in most cases, childbirth is very different. You have lots of time to relax and ease into your birthing experience. Contractions usually start small and build up over several hours as labor progresses. Even if your water breaks, you usually have hours before you meet your baby.
In order to have the most relaxing, mindful experience possible, there are a few things you should keep in mind. As a pregnancy and motherhood coach, these are the strategies I recommend to shorten and bring comfort to your labor:
1. Know that your birthing experience belongs to you and no one else.
When you start thinking about giving birth, come up with a plan that you like. Really think about what kind of birth you’ll be most comfortable having.
Don’t decide to give birth in a particular way because someone else thinks it's the best way—it’ll slow you down. Don’t invite people to be part of the experience if you really don’t want them there—it’ll slow you down. Think about who will encourage and support you the way you like. This is your time to have the birth you really want. Don’t compromise to make anyone else more comfortable—it’ll slow you down.
Think about why you want to labor and give birth in a particular way. You may change your mind during labor, but if you have a clear idea of what you want, the transition to a different plan will be smooth. Explain your plan and why you want it that way to the people attending your birth. A clear plan will bring you comfort as labor progresses.
2. Work through your fears in advance.
Many people are scared of giving birth or scared by the thought of someone they love giving birth. Most of the time they don’t even want to think about it. Some think fear is an obvious and necessary emotion so no deeper exploration is needed. They imagine that because they’ll be with a doctor or midwife they’ll be OK, so looking into the fear is unnecessary. They’re right—they will be OK. But working through fear before you go into labor makes it a whole lot easier for everyone.
When you go into labor you come head to head with unresolved fears. It often takes time to process the fear and it slows your labor. Your body will work it out even if you don’t intellectually process it. The same is true for trauma. Sexual trauma and trauma from your birth, when you were born, comes out and is processed when you give birth.
Before you go into labor, take time to think about what you need to process and how you need to heal. Healing may be as easy as facing your fears and traumas by talking to a friend. Deeper fears and traumas may need the attention of a therapist or counselor. No matter your method of healing, giving birth will be much smoother and easier without fear and unresolved trauma. You will be better prepared to simply relax and flow with the experience.
3. Get to know the labor sensations before you describe them to others.
If this is your first baby, contractions will be a totally new sensation for you. Even if you've had a baby, it's really hard to explain what it feels like. Describing the feeling of a contraction is like trying to describe the flavor of a fruit you’ve never tasted. The explanation only gets you so far, and the listener, at best, gets a vague sense of what it’s like.
So when you have your first contractions, allow yourself to get to know the sensations for a while before you tell anyone about them. Describing the feeling takes a lot of energy. Speaking takes a lot of energy. Now is the time to be quiet. Feel the feelings—don’t use your energy for describing them.
As soon as you tell people that you're having contractions, they’ll treat you like you are in labor. And even gentle checking in distracts you from relaxing and getting to know your body and the sensations. You’ll have plenty of time to describe what you were feeling after you’ve given birth. Now is the time to be present in your body.
Contractions usually build up over time. Use the early spaced out contractions to get into the groove with your body, deeply relaxing and feeling the sensations. I find that the more you relax, the less contractions hurt.
4. Try sleeping during early labor.
If possible, as soon as you feel the first contraction, stop what you're doing and climb into bed. You may feel the urge to get out your phone or stopwatch to check how long your contractions are lasting or do all the chores you wanted to get done before the baby arrives. But resist the urge. You are preparing for a huge output of energy, and every extra minute of sleep will help you meet the challenge.
Even if you feel it's impossible to fall asleep because you're excited, lie down and close your eyes. Rest and allow your body to fully relax. When your contractions build and you get into active labor you won’t be able to sleep, but at least you’ll have a recent memory of what it feels like to relax completely. The memory will bring you comfort and make it easier to get back to that state of deep relaxation.
5. Give yourself a warm oil massage.
If you can’t sleep, give yourself a massage. Warm up some of your favorite oil (I especially love the smell and feel of coconut oil). Begin at the top of the head and move down your body working toward the center meridian and your heart. Use long, smooth strokes on your muscles and circular strokes on your joints. Lightly anoint yourself as you think and speak thoughts of love about every part of your body.
The warm oil will soak in and lubricate all of the layers of your body and mind. It will help you stretch and shift more easily. And the thoughts of love will help you to feel safe and secure and better able to be present through giving birth.
6. Take a bath.
Just like at any other time, bathing can help you feel refreshed and revived. Taking a bath or shower and putting loving attention on your baby and every part of your body encourages them to work with you while you give birth. Your body and baby respond to your thoughts and intentions. Let them be filled with love.
Warm water also eases the sensations of labor. It relaxes your muscles and makes it easier to flow with the process of opening up. You can also begin using your voice. Lean your head back, open your throat, and make deep low sounds to help open all the way down to your cervix.
Continue to open your throat and make low, deep sounds throughout labor as the sensations intensify. You will feel the vibration and comfort throughout your body. It feels good.
Establishing a sense of calm in the mind and body is key to having a comfortable labor. It's like finding the eye in the center of the storm. No matter what is happening around you, or the sensations flooding your body—you can experience a stillness within. It will feel like you are in a bubble witnessing the birth. You will feel held throughout the experience.
Start meditating in early labor. This way you’ll be able to find your groove before the sensations get really strong. Whether you choose a guided meditation, use a personal mantra, focus on your breath, or learn a technique specifically designed for labor, you will be better able to let go of the pain and deeply relax.
Even when the contractions are intense, you'll be able to find that stillness within and make it through the experience with deep relaxation.
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