Secrets to a Comfortable Labor and Delivery

If you’re dreading the onset of labor, your best bet is to be prepared. Try these great tips and tricks for making labor easier. As long as your doctor says it’s OK, anything goes when it comes to making mom comfortable.

The life-changing news of your pregnancy may have you bouncing off the walls with excitement. And why not? A little child will be entering your life very soon—there’s no better reason to celebrate! But no matter how happy you are, the thought of labor can be enough to bring on anxiety and a case of nerves. And rightfully so: labor, so aptly named, is hard work—yet that doesn’t mean it has to be unbearable. With a little experimentation, trial and error, and personal touches, labor can be more tolerable than expected.

Prepare Your Body

Long before you’re in the delivery room, you need to prepare your body for labor, says Joel M. Evans, MD, author of The Whole Pregnancy Handbook. This means, “eating well, staying well hydrated, and sleeping and napping as much as possible close to your due date,” Evans says.

Besides being physically ready, addressing your fears and anxieties before birth can keep you at ease. Discuss your concerns with your doctor or midwife so you’ll know what to expect.

Pack Your Bags

Before you leave a packed suitcase by the door, sit down and really think about the things that make you calm and at ease. These are the kinds of things you’ll want to bring to the hospital with you once the time comes. Here are some items that often bring laboring women comfort.Music: Do you have a certain CD that calms your nerves? Did you listen to it during pregnancy? If so, relaxing music may be the perfect addition to your labor bag. Or, if music isn’t your thing, you may like a sound box. “There are devices that create different soothing sounds like the ocean, a waterfall, and the wilderness,” says Amy Clarke, CNM at the Medical College of Georgia Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Massage Lotion: As a laboring woman, you may not wish to be touched at all, but if you do, having some massage lotion or oil on hand is a good idea. Have your partner rub your shoulders and neck to ease some of the tension. Just make sure the lotion is non-scented or has a fragrance you enjoy.

Aromatherapy: If you enjoy aromatherapy candles or oils, now may be a good time to use them. Experiment with different scents before your due date and see which bring you to a state of relaxation, suggests Clarke.

Photos: Having a few pictures in your labor bag may help bring you to a calmer state of mind. It could be a photograph of you and your husband, your puppy, or a magnificent ocean scene—whatever eases your mind is perfect.

Stuffed Animal: It may seem strange, but packing along a fuzzy stuffed friend can make all the difference in your labor. When you don’t feel like squeezing a hand during those hard contractions, squeeze the teddy bear. Having something cute and cuddly by your side can help bring a smile to your face at a time when you’ll be grateful for such distractions.

For an even more complete list of items you’ll want to be sure to pack for your hospital stay, read WFA Mom’s What to Pack in Your Hospital Bag.

Use Labor Techniques

You’re all packed up—have been for two months—and you feel it: your first contraction. Before you know it, you’re rushing off to the hospital and it’s time to start putting all the things you’ve learned into practice. There are plenty of ways to keep your cool during labor; the key is finding those that help you the most.

Breathing: Whether or not you’ve taken a birthing class such as Lamaze, there are several ways to breathe and visualize during contractions that help ease pain and keep you focused. Clarke suggests visualization on a focal point, focusing on a sound, and patterned breathing as helpful examples.

Hypnosis: Many pregnant women are learning self-hypnosis techniques to make laboring easier and less painful. Look for HypnoBirthing seminars in your area to learn more about this technique that may help keep you in a constant state of relaxation during labor.

Hot/Cold Therapy: Since every woman is different, there’s no right or wrong way to go here. Spending some time in a warm bath or using ice packs on the lower back can work wonders. Some women even enjoy both extremes at the same time, with an ice pack on the lower back and a warm pack on the neck, for instance.

Walking: Movement during labor can be beneficial and help speed up the labor process. Pacing, leaning against your partner, or just alternating positions can make the pain less intense.

Reducing Stimuli: Some women find it utterly distracting for the lights to be up to their fullest, the family chattering away in the room, or the TV blaring. “Dimming the lights and using soft voices,” can help the mom-to-be concentrate, says Clarke.

Change Your Position

According to Clarke, when a laboring woman moves in and out of all sorts of positions seeking comfort, the process is called the “dance of labor.” It certainly may look like dancing, when you’re standing, sitting, lying down, and rolling around on a labor ball, but whatever feels best is again the motto here. Try some of these positions to ease labor discomfort.

Standing: This can incorporate walking around, leaning against your partner, or leaning over a table. Standing can help move things along faster, with gravity encouraging the baby to move into position.

Side-Lying Pillows: These can be placed between your knees to help keep your pelvis open. This position is helpful for women who experience back labor.

Labor Ball: You can sit on a labor ball or lean over it. The rocking motion is often preferred, says Clarke, explaining that it helps tilt the hips in such a way that the baby moves down.

Hands and Knees: With the belly hanging, a lot of pressure is taken off the body, especially if you’re experiencing back labor.

Squatting: Another position that uses gravity for your advantage, squatting helps open the pelvis and can be a natural and comfortable position for delivery.

Successful Support

The key to having successful support during labor is to discuss your wishes with your partner and anyone else who will be with you during labor before your due date, says Evans. “This way there are no expectations that won’t be met,” he says. This is also a great time to decide whether or not you’d like to have a doula.

Once your partner knows what you expect from him, he can be even more helpful by actively listening, says Clarke. The support person needs to pay attention to what the mom-to-be is saying and what she needs, help her move into different positions, and bring her warm packs when she says she feels tense. Most of all, it’s important for the support person to have gone through the labor classes with the pregnant woman and to have a working knowledge of what makes her comfortable outside of labor.

Lastly, don’t set your expectations too high and expect a “textbook labor.”

“Be flexible,” advises Evans, “the best of plans can and do change as labor is a dynamic process.” All you can do is show up prepared and bring your “bag of tricks” to make labor more comfortable. The rest is left up to time and nature—but there’s no harm in helping the process move more smoothly for you and your baby.

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