Working Through Natural Childbirth
By Anne Sweden
“Why on earth would you go through all that pain if you don’t have to?” I’m often asked this by other mothers, whose first order of business after settling into the hospital bed is requesting an epidural. My answer to this question is very simple. The pain of natural childbirth not only can be managed, but it serves a purpose.
After giving birth to six children, I’ve learned the valuable role that labor pain can play. It can tell you how far along you are. It can alert you when something is wrong. It can help you intuitively find the best position for delivery. The key is to manage the pain as best you can and work through it.
My first labor was an unexpected c-section so I was heavily medicated and didn’t even reach transition. And even though my second labor was a VBAC, I got an epidural once again because I was totally unprepared for the pain and intensity that faced me at the end. I still remember how bizarre it was to be lying on my back with the midwife looking at a TV screen while she cued me for pushing. Unfortunately, because I was so numb, I had no idea how hard to push, or which muscles to use. I paid dearly for that the next day with broken blood vessels all over my face (Dr. Sears calls it “purple pushing”), a throbbing and swollen perineum and aching abdominal muscles.
My last four births have been totally natural and the experience is amazingly different. I’m not tethered to a painful IV for endless hours, nor must I endure the dreaded catheter. I’m much less sore the next day. I am free to move immediately following birth. Baby and I are alert. And did I mention the bill is quite a bit lower, too? Epidurals aren’t cheap.
I’ll share with you some of the best ways I’ve learned to manage the pain of natural childbirth, and I’ve got some wonderful midwives to thank for many of these techniques.
- Water is your friend: When you are 9 months pregnant, anything that makes you feel weightless is much appreciated! Water not only helps to lift up a tired body that is racked with contractions, but it touches millions of nerve endings on your skin all at the same time which provides a small “diversion” for the brain which is sending nothing but pain signals. If you can arrange to have a large labor tub or jacuzzi during delivery, do it. The next best thing is a regular bath or shower.
- Hands on helpers: The power of touch can really soothe you during labor. Whether that’s from a hot or cold pack, counterpressure against your back or even something like acupressure, the relief can range from mild to significant and make all the difference for you.
- Slow down your breathing: Panting too much will make you dizzy and light-headed. Aim for breathing slowly and evenly so that you feel like you are on top of the contraction, not being carried away by it. As soon as a contraction begins, take a deep breath through your nose and then slowly let it out through your mouth as your contraction peaks and then subsides. Breathing like this will help you feel anchored when contractions become more intense later on.
- Make a joyful noise: Ok, you’ll probably sound more like a bellowing bull calf, but you get the idea here. Making some sort of sound during painful contractions can help release a little bit of tension. The noises you make can also alert your doctor or midwife that baby’s arrival is imminent. With my last and most recent delivery, the midwife came running from several rooms away because she heard me making the telltale “birthing noises.” The only thing you really want to avoid is screaming because that will do nothing but increase your anxiety and tension and probably scare the living daylights out of everyone in the room!
- Rock-a-bye baby: I could kiss my midwife for showing me how to rock slowly and rhythmically back and forth during labor, whether contracting or not. I’ve done this while on my hands and knees, and also while standing and leaning against the bed. The swaying movement is very relaxing, and like water it gives your brain something else to think about rather than just pain. I would imagine, too, that it’s quite pleasant for the baby in your womb that’s being jostled around by all those contractions.
- Lean on your labor team: I know we’re often told our bodies know what to do, and that’s generally true, but when you’ve been laboring for many hours the pain and fatigue can really take a toll. Rely on your doctor, your midwife, your doula or other experienced and trusted labor coaches to help you through this difficult task. They’ve got all sorts of tips and tricks and encouraging words to help you cope.
- Be realistic about transition: It’s the time when even the toughest among us might beg for drugs. Contractions are coming one on top of the other and boy do they hurt! Baby is “rounding the corner” and putting maximum pressure on your muscles, your cervix and possibly even your lower back. I always feel shaky and queasy at this point and my emotional state starts to deteriorate. Suddenly labor doesn’t seem manageable anymore. It’s like a runaway train. But hindsight has taught me to expect this. I know it’s coming, and when it does I grit my teeth and tell myself that it means I’ll be pushing baby out soon. I visualize transition as the peak of a mountain I’m scaling and if I just hang on and reach the top it will be downhill from there.
- Push away the pain: In your final moments, try to focus everything on pushing rather than on coping with contractions. The uterus has already helped get baby down; now it’s time for you to push baby out. Before you were trying to breath and move and sooth yourself through the pain; now is the time to push through it. Try to see past the contractions and imagine the baby coming out. If necessary, get a little mad. I do! I ball my fists up and mentally tell myself “I’m pushing this baby out! I don’t want it in there any more!” Which of course is true, because that’s the dream of every expectant mother – to finally meet that little one who’s been poking and prodding with its little hands and feet for months.
And after it’s all over and you’re holding that tiny new baby in your arms, you will be amazed at what you just accomplished. And so will everyone else around you. That time just after the intensity and noise and pain of delivery is exquisitely unique. There is a peace and joy that is almost indescribable.
My husband tells me he will never understand how I can go from crying and moaning and shaking one minute to being completely relaxed and quiet and serene the next. It seems almost impossible, but then, I suppose that’s why they call every birth a miracle.
For more eco-crazy tips follow Eco-Crazy Mom on Twitter and Facebook. You can also follow my blog and join my mailing list to be the first to know about new posts, giveaways and the latest eco-crazy news!
Did you find this information interesting or helpful? Please help spread the word! Give this post a +1 or share it on your favorite social media site using the buttons below.