As the baby's due date draws near, all mothers-to-be feel some concern about the pain of childbirth. It's natural to worry about how you'll hold up to the rigors of birth and whether you can handle the pain. The best way to allay your fears is to arm yourself with options for coping with pain. Whether you're planning on a home birth or a hospital birth, the following methods are practical, natural ways to help ease the discomforts of pregnancy, labor and delivery. The earlier you get started, the more prepared you'll be when the big day arrives.
Heather Haapoja

Consider a doula for support
A certified doula is trained to help couples achieve their desired birth experience through guidance and support. She does not deliver the baby, as a doctor or midwife would, nor does she take the place of the coaching partner. Rather, she is concerned with the comfort of the mother and provides whatever level of support she and her partner may need.

"Doulas provide physical, emotional and informational support in a way that puts the birthing woman herself in control of her birth," says Karen Kilson, a Doulas of North America (DONA) certified doula from Danbury, CT. "We accomplish this through position, motion, massage, verbal encouragement, imagery, explanation and anything else needed."

Your doula will get to know you and help you make informed decisions about your birth beforehand. She'll also stay with you for the entire labor and delivery. No need to worry that her shift will end halfway through labor. Her sole purpose is to help you through the natural process of birth.

"There comes a time in almost every woman's labor where she says, "I can't do this!" and then goes right ahead and does it!" Kilson says, "Your body and your baby know what to do, they were created for labor and birth. Nature just needs the time and space to do her work. The result for you can be a more satisfying and empowering birth experience."

Know the breathing basics
If you've attended childbirth classes, you've already heard about the importance of proper breathing. Your baby is depending on you to provide plenty of oxygen until he can breathe for himself. Breathing correctly will assure him a steady supply.

Breathing techniques can also be effective for pain relief by providing a focus other than pain. Deep cleansing breaths have a naturally occurring calming effect on your brain, helping you to relax. Plus, well-oxygenated muscles work more effectively, an obvious benefit when it comes time for pushing.

Julie K., a mother of three from Minnesota, is sold on the power of breathing. "When I was in labor with my youngest, I had a wonderful nurse who really helped me with my breathing. She looked me right in the eyes and breathed along with me so I knew exactly what to do. It helped me regain control and got me through the pain."

Start concentrating on your breathing well before your due date. Any time you feel overwhelmed with the stresses of pregnancy or of life in general, take 10 slow, steady, deep breaths. Notice how breathing can relax you.

Imagery - mind over matter
Visual imagery is a mind/body connection that uses the brain as a tool against pain or illness. The more often you practice imagery, the more skilled you will become at using it for relaxation. Picture a scene in your mind that is relaxing to you. Really concentrate on the vision, don't just see the sight, but use all of your senses until you almost feel as if you're there.

Your labor coach can also use this technique by talking you through the image in a soft, soothing voice. This is known as guided imagery and is often used by doulas during labor.

Imagery can help you see your contractions in a more positive light. Remind yourself that each contraction brings you closer to holding your baby. See yourself holding her. As you feel a contraction, visualize your cervix dilating. You may want to choose a symbolic image, such as a flower gradually blooming. This type of imagery can speed up delivery by helping you work with your contractions rather than fighting them.

The healing touch
Massage can be very relaxing to a laboring mother, whether it's scalp, neck, foot or back massage. If you experience back labor, it may be particularly helpful. Try having your partner use a tennis ball, with a rolling motion, placing pressure at the point that gives the most relief.

Keep in mind that every woman and every labor is different. You may plan on massage for relaxation, only to find that when you're in labor you can't stand being touched. Don't be discouraged if your plans change and you have to improvise.

Shelley P., a mother of four, two of which were home births, had painful back labor with every birth. She found that her own form of self-massage was the most effective for her pain.

"I was only comfortable standing up during labor," she says, "What worked for me was to make a fist and lean on it, pushing against the wall and putting pressure just above my tailbone. It felt like a pinched nerve that was released when I found the right spot."

Water therapy
There are many beneficial uses for water in childbirth, ranging from a simple cool cloth on your forehead to complete water birth. Many women today are choosing water birth because it provides a gentle transition for the baby and a more comfortable labor for the mother.

If you enjoy a long bath when your muscles ache or when you need to relax, water birth may be an option for you. The warm water can relieve the feeling of heaviness and the intensity of contractions. If you've ever been swimming in your last trimester, you know the unencumbered feeling that's so unusual in late pregnancy.

If you aren't comfortable with water birth, there are variations. Taking a bath during labor can be relaxing. A warm shower may also be helpful and some hospitals offer the use of a whirlpool. Talk over the possibilities with your doctor or midwife to learn about your water therapy options.

Essential oils are the basis for aromatherapy. These are extracted plant essences; not to be confused with scented candles or room sprays. Essential oils have many health benefits as well as pleasant aromas. They are usually used in a diluted form, blended into a cold-pressed seed, nut or vegetable oil base.

"Aromatherapy techniques can be used very safely and beneficially to maintain the general health of the expectant mother, and to help minimize the various discomforts of pregnancy," says Angie Kehler, a Certified Aromatherapy Healthcare Therapist (CAHT) from Nepean, Ontario, Canada. "As a general rule, I recommend ladies wait until their second trimester to incorporate aromatherapy into their health regime."

During labor, essential oils can be used effectively in massage. Kehler recommends, "a gentle massage oil, using rosemary and lavender, with perhaps a little geranium if [the mother] were inclined towards that type of scent (floral). I recommend back massage, particularly lower back, and foot massage as a distraction during contractions."

As with any alternative therapy, it's important to be well informed before using essential oils. There are certain essences that should not be used, especially during the early months of pregnancy. You may want to consult a qualified aromatherapist before making your choices.

Red raspberry leaf tea
Although there are certain herbs that should not be used during pregnancy, there are others that are quite beneficial. Red raspberry leaf deserves special mention here because of its benefits in labor and delivery. During the last two months of pregnancy, the tea can be especially helpful in preparing the uterus for the work ahead.

The active substance in raspberry leaves is called fragrine. It helps to relieve uterine pain and tones the uterus by dilating the pelvic muscles. It has been said to make delivery faster and less painful. Use one teaspoon of red raspberry leaf tea to one cup of boiling water, once or twice a day.

What about hospital rules?
If you're planning a hospital birth, you may not be free to use some options, depending on your hospital's regulations and your doctor's approval. In many cases, a variation would be acceptable, such as taking a warm shower during labor if a bath is against your doctor's advice. This is why it's so important to discuss the details of your labor and delivery preferences with your doctor in advance.

No matter how carefully you've planned, always keep in mind that things can change once labor begins. Perhaps you intended to have a natural childbirth but ended up pleading for drugs. This can happen to anyone. By all means, don't let a change of plans get you down. After all, it's the end result that really matters -- holding your beautiful baby safely in your

Tags: medicine

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