Every Mom-To-Be Wants To Know How Much Labor Will Hurt – And What She Can Do About It!
First stage: Early labor
During early labor, chances are you won’t need to rely on pain management options at all. Contractions are usually short and intermittent during this phase of first stage labor. It’s an exciting time! You can eat, drink and move around as much as you want to.
In active labor, when contractions get longer, stronger and closer together, it’s usually time for comfort measures. Deep breathing, massage, walking, changing positions or using hydrotherapy – taking a shower or a soak in the tub – will not only help you stay comfortable, but also use gravity to help your labor progress and your baby move further down the pelvis.
If you’re having a hospital birth, this is the ideal time to get pain medication if you desire. Your options will be narcotics given through an IV or injection, or an epidural. Both medications offer different kinds of relief – narcotics will “take the edge off” but you’ll still feel contractions. An epidural will numb you so you don’t feel them. Sound great? They can be helpful for lots of moms, but they come with potential risks.
Should you get an epidural?
“We have known for a long time that women who have epidurals are more likely to have babies stuck in a posterior position, where the back of the baby's head is near the mother's tailbone,” explains Amy Romano, CNM, Midwife, Researcher and blogger at ScienceandSensibility.com. Until a couple of years ago, many people assumed it was because women with posterior babies experienced more pain and therefore were more likely to request an epidural. But recent research disproved that theory. The researchers used ultrasounds in labor to show that the epidural caused the babies to turn posterior. It may be because of changes in the pelvic floor muscles or the woman's lack of mobility or some other factor. But women should be aware of this effect because, unless the baby rotates --which many cannot -- a woman may not be able to give birth vaginally and if she does, instrumental delivery, episiotomy, and severe lacerations are more likely.”
On the flip side, an epidural may help you relax and be just what you need.
“I have taken care of several women who I am certain would have cesarean surgery if it weren't for an epidural, Romano explains. “Sometimes it provides a needed opportunity to rest and regroup.”
In my childbirth classes, I also stress creating a comfortable labor environment by thinking about these questions:
1. What helps me relax or de-stress on a normal day?
2. Are there any items at home I could bring to the hospital for comfort?
3. What do I like/dislike from my partner when I need support?
Often the most challenging part of labor – but also the shortest – transition is a time when you may to rely on comfort measures and pain relief even more. Patterned, focused breathing techniques, relaxation and visualization exercies and extra emotional support from your partner or doula can help get through transition.
Second Stage – Pushing
Most moms say that pushing brings relief, but it’s still hard work! Depending on your hospital’s policies, it may be too late to get an epidural. Even if you have one administered earlier in labor, it’s a good idea to let it wear off a bit so you can feel sensation and be able to push without assistance.
If you push in the classic semi-sitting position, extra pillows behind your head and neck will help alleviate strain. Many women find it more comfortable to push in a squatting position or on hands and knees – these positions also use gravity to help baby emerge.
Third Stage – Delivery of the Placenta
You’ll feel some mild contractions as the placenta detaches from the uterine wall, but they shouldn’t be too painful. Plus, you’ll be holding and admiring your baby by now! If you are uncomfortable – which may happen during third stage, especially if you tear or have an episiotomy and need stitches – some of the comfort measures used during the first stage like taking a deep breath will help.
You won’t know what works best for you until you’re actually in labor, so keep an open mind! Surround yourself with a supportive doctor or midwife who shares the same birth philosophy you do, and ask her any questions you may have.
Video: How to use deep breathing for labor pain relief
More tips on managing labor pain: