When I first became pregnant my younger sister, who had given birth to a baby 8 months before, told me to buy the book "Birth Skills" by Juju Sundin. I was very skeptical and thought it would be a lot of visualisation or weird things that I'm not into. As my pregnancy progressed she kept telling me about this book until one day when I was about 7 months along she came up to visit and brought the book with her. I read the whole book just a couple of weeks before I went into labour and I am so glad that I did.
I honestly believe that without the knowledge and skills I learned from the book I would have panicked and asked for an epidural (something I really didn't want). Anyway, enough raving. I will try as best as I can to outline the main principles from the book.
At the beginning of the book the author says these things:
"Labour pain is healthy pain. As labour progresses and the pain really established its presence, there will be no time to make decisions about how you will handle each contraction..." "... it is essential that you understand that labour pain is healthy pain. It is caused by the uterine muscle actually working." pg. 7
All the skills that she teaches in the book are based around this principle:
"If you bombard your nervous system with non-painful thoughts and physical and emotional actions, you can dull your pain further through distraction and redirected focus of attention".
Basically what that means is that if, when you are in pain, you can take your mind off the pain or distract yourself in some way, you won't focus on the pain as much and it won't feel so bad. Also, if you are focusing on the pain, you tend to panic and freeze up. If you have something else to focus on then you feel more in control.
When we are in labour adrenalin is pumping through our body like crazy.
"Adrenalin thinks in terms of stress and action. If action is not taken when adrenalin pumps into your system - even if the trigger is healthy pain - it will continue to rise and rise within your body, increasing your stress." pg. 26 "If you can mobilise yourself with a pain-free rhythmic activity and focus on that, believe me, fear and panic will take a back-seat." pg. 26
So... what can you do to take your mind off the pain? When labour first begins it is important to try and rest - you don't want to wear yourself out too early. If the pain is off and on and not too bad, try to sit down, relax, breath slowly (really hard when you are so incredibly excited about meeting your wonderful new baby). Once the pain is more intense, try any or all of these strategies.
1. Focus on the legs not the pain.
* Pace the floor in a slow rhythmic fashion.
* Walk on the spot and focus on the movement, or your feet on the floor. (When we got to the hospital I put on my nightgown and my sneakers and I jogged on the spot for about 5 hours. This was the biggest thing that helped me manage the contractions and before that day I wasn't even fit enough to run around the block :))
* Lie on your side on the bed and slide your foot along the calf of your other leg.
* Sit on a fit ball with your feet wide apart and bounce softly (My hospital had a fit ball and I was hoping to be able to use it but it didn't feel comfortable to me at the time).
2. Breathing and vocalisation
"Simple: pain makes you hold your breath! If you hold your breath in the first stage of labour you make the pain worse". pg. 49
* Each time you breath out whisper 'yes' or 'open' or any word that helps.
* Make an aah sound, not as in a screaming AAAGH but as in "Aaah that baby is so cute". Focus on the rhythmic aaah sound as it comes out. Get louder as the pain increases.
* Ask your husband to make the aaah sound and focus on the sound he is making. Let me say that when I was reading all these skills I thought I would be too embarrassed to do them, or the midwives would think I was crazy. But in the moment I wasn't embarrassed and the midwives have seen it all before anyway.
"Visualisation is quite simply the creative faculty or process of forming visual images or ideas, realities, imaginings, scenes, memories, future events, objects etc. in your mind". pg. 82
* Imagine a beautiful relaxing scene like a beach or a waterfall.
* Play soft relaxing music (if the hospital allows it) and imagine things that go with the music. (I used an ipod to play my favourite praise and worship songs and I focused on the words in the songs).
* Count up and down. Ask your husband to count and picture each number in your head as he says it. This can also be helpful in counting out each contraction. As I felt a contraction coming I would say "Count" and my husband would start counting. I would focus on what he was saying until the contraction passed.
* Imagine you are riding a wave, going higher and higher, then down. The day before I went into labour my husband drove me down to the beach and we drove past some big fishing boats pulling into a dock. He said "when you go into labour just picture those big powerful fishing boats pushing through the waves". I thought he was crazy, but when I was in labour, I kept picturing those powerful fishing boats and I think they got me through a good 2 hours of contractions :)
4. Stress balls.
Get a couple of those little soft squishy stress balls if you can and use them in different ways.
* Squeeze the balls in your hands and focus on your hand movements.
* Play music and tap the balls to the beat.
* Bang the balls in time with the contraction - slowly at first then faster as it intensifies, then slowly again.
* Repeat a word over and over (any word).
* Repeat a phrase over and over - "healthy pain" or "pain out" or "baby's coming".
* Look at what you see and say those things - "tiles, bed, tap, sink, floor".
* Give some keywords to your husband to say for encouragement - "keep breathing", "focus on my voice", "keep stepping", "release".
The book also has techniques to help with the pushing stage.
My Final Tips
1. Pray. Pray before you go into labour and during labour. Ask God to give you strength and peace.
2. Take some comforting verses from the Bible in with you to read or memorise a couple of verses to say over and over in your head.
3. When you get to the hospital inform the doctor or midwives of your desire for a natural birth. Ask them not to offer pain medication unless you ask for it or unless it is medically necessary.
4. If you are induced and the pain starts quickly, start using the strategies straight away if you need to. If you find one or more birth skill isn't working for you try something else. (I told my husband about the skills and he reminded me of different things to try when he could see that something wasn't helping).
5. If you have tried everything to help with the pain, do not feel like a failure if you need medication. Every labour and birth is different, no one should judge your way of doing things.
6. Nothing comes before the safety of the baby and the mother so listen to the advice of the midwives and doctors. The end goal is to have your beautiful baby healthy and safe in your arms. It doesn't matter so much how they get there.
7. If you still have a few days left before you go into labour, try and sit forward with your legs apart as much as possible on a lounge or on a fit ball (as opposed to lying down or putting your feet up). This will encourage the baby to be facing the right way when it comes out which makes labour easier.