My 3 Favorite Comfort Measures For Labor

1. Visualization

This is my personal favorite as I know firsthand the power of visualization for coping with labor sensations. In my second birth story, I wrote about how practicing visualizations in pregnancy helped prepare me for the energetic shifts of labor, during which we experience an altered state of consciousness and move between brainwave patterns. Visualization allowed me to “go somewhere,” to focus my mental energy on productive imagery, and to allow the sensations to present as something non-threatening and beautiful.

During my first labor, I closed my eyes and imagined being in a small dark space, like a cave or cocoon, as I listened to music. During my second, I felt labor was “getting ahead” of me and things were moving fast, reminding me of my days riding horses and feeling that nervous thrill when they’d charge into a gallop. As contractions surged through me in the birth pool, I got lost in a visualization of hanging onto a big sturdy horse running full-speed ahead. I told myself over and over I could trust this journey — and at the same time, I could enjoy the ride.

Some people really enjoy the imagery of ocean waves in labor. Undulating waves mimic the energy of contractions, and the lull of the tides rushing in and out is like the powerful moan of a laboring woman. You may appreciate the imagery of a leaf floating on a stream, reminding us that we are safe to surrender. Or a flower blossoming (check out a time-lapse video of a lotus flower blooming) to signal your cervix to soften, melt, and gently open like the delicate petals of a flower.

Incorporate Affirmations

We all know the power of positive thought and manifestation. Birth affirmations provide an easy throughway to sharpening the mind-body connection before and during labor. They’re inclusive in that anyone can use them — you don’t need any special training, and they’re beneficial for any type of birth.

Visualization also includes a form of affirmation: visual reminders (for example, hung on paper or fabric around your birthing space, written on notes in random spots, lipsticked onto your bathroom mirror).

Your partner can relay your favorite affirmations during labor. Is your partner aware that simply showing care by verbalizing sweet nothings, pride, and appreciation can assuredly influence your hormone levels, reduce your fear, and decrease your reception of pain? They should keep a smile on their face, a confident expression, and eye contact to ensure the visual matches the affirmation.

I love these Relaxation/Visualization Audio Downloads, which I gift to my fully virtual clients and are also available at Birth Boot Camp.

2. Water Therapy

Water is also known as “the midwife’s epidural.”

Benefits can include:

  • pain & tension relief
  • may help protect against vaginal & perineal tissue damage
  • warmth = deep relaxation
  • buoyancy for weightless feel
  • sense of privacy

Because laboring in water can feel like SUCH a relief, it’s usually not recommended to hop in the birth pool or tub until labor is active and rolling. This avoids a potential labor stall caused by all the relaaaxxxxing!

When birthing in water, tissues are more soft and supple, decreasing the chance of tearing. The water is warming and soothing which raises oxytocin levels, overall comfort, and ability to cope with intense sensations.

Some laboring people say being in the water makes them feel more in control, while others say it makes them feel less grounded. To help feel more grounded in the tub, plan for different ways to “hold on” and get leverage (handles, a smaller pool, partner to lean into, etc).

If you want to incorporate water as a comfort measure, I suggest saving it as a last resort (unless you’re super eager to spend a lot of time here, then by all means). Many say pretty much nothing else will feel quite as good when things start to get really tough!

3. Touch

The energetic exchange of touch can make a significant difference in labor — progress, perception, emotions, sensations are all affected.

Touch can include massage, counter pressure, acupressure, holding your hand, stroking your hair, swaying with you, holding you, a partner’s kiss… And of course, vaginal exams and clinical procedures also involve touch of a clinical variety, which may have the opposite effect of causing tension and pain.

Have you thought about what kinds of touch are desirable for you in times of vulnerability? What do you need for touch to feel safe and helpful? Do you want certain people to be hands-on and others hands-off? What kinds of touch raise your comfort and confidence? In what situations would touch not be welcome (what triggers might come up)?

You’ll forever remember the way you were treated in labor. How can positive touch fulfill and sustain you in your birthing time, so what you remember is being treated with love?

Counter Pressure

OOOOH… that’s the spot!

Back labor can be intense (and it’s not always caused by a posterior baby, despite common belief). Counter pressure on this area can be quite a relief, so plan to have an assortment of trusted hands on deck if you suspect the possibility of back labor. You can use a strong pair of hands, tennis balls, and acupressure to achieve some relief. 

Hip Squeeze

When it’s time to bring in the big guns, often it means it’s time to try some hip squeezes!

Hip pain is common in labor, especially as baby descends and adds increasing pressure to the pelvis and sacrum. Baby’s position can also affect intensity of hip sensations. Giving the hips a good squeeze can provide lots of relief.

There are a few ways to do this: using your hands, squeeze the pelvis together where the laborer needs the counterpressure, or using a rebozo to tighten circumferentially around the hips.

Tips:

  • Practice hip squeezes in pregnancy (usually with a lighter touch) to get a feel for the technique.
  • If using your hands, the force should come from your shoulders, otherwise you may injure your wrists doing this for hours.
  • If using a rebozo, stick tennis balls between the fabric and hips, or insert a spatula in the fabric’s twist to “corkscrew”  it even tighter.
  • Get a doula to swap out with your partner so everyone has a chance to rest between surges. Work smarter, not harder by taking turns. Hands-on pressure will require a good deal of physical strength and endurance!

Learn more about these and other comfort measures in a Birth Boot Camp class series or workshop.

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