Easing the Discomforts of Labor
By Jan Moeller, RNC

Perhaps more than anything, women want to be in control of their own bodies. They want to make informed choices about what they consider to be their ideal birth experience. Many want to be able to try various methods of dealing with the physical and psychological challenges facing them during labor. Easing the discomforts of labor is a partnership between you and your birth attendant.

Good obstetrical care offers safe medications and a variety of anesthetic options. Within accepted professional boundaries, there are complementary therapies which can be utilized by laboring women, either alone or in combination with the medical options. The environment: Choose a birth place where you can feel comfortable and safe. Many birthing centers and hospitals have rooms which look and feel like a comfortable, cozy bedroom, with dim lights and relaxing music available. Bring items from home such as pillows, a comforter, roomy nightgown or sweats and socks. Include favorite photos, music and a unique object to make your focal point.

Physical supports: These measures range from special breathing techniques to varied labor positions. Walking, lunging, squatting, slow dancing, dangling (a stretch used to elongate the torso to facilitate the baby coming down into the pelvis) or leaning can speed up labor, reduce backache and encourage the descent of the baby by using gravity. One of the ways to facilitate labor is to remain in an upright position and out of bed.

Some women use the birth ball, rice socks (heated socks filled with rice used on the lower back or abdomen) or a rocking chair for relief.

De-stressing via massage relaxes muscles, aids circulation, offers counterpressure and facilitates communication between the giver and the recipient. Massage includes gentle touch (effleurage), hand, foot, back and neck rubs, acupressure and the use of manual or electronic massagers.

Hydrotherapy via the shower or whirlpool tub has the power of relaxation and recuperation for many women. The addition of a few drops of essential oils (lavender, chamomile or jasmine) create an aromatherapy which can be soothing during labor.

Thermotherapy, the use of heat or cold, can also alleviate discomfort and promote relaxation. A cold collar, frozen wet washcloths or special ice wraps can be used to apply compression, as well as cold to the neck or back. Heat via warm blankets, warm, wet compresses, or a hot water bottle can improve circulation and encourage relaxation during all stages of labor.

Touch, music, slow dancing, a soft voice, squatting, dangling, visualization and concentration on a focal point can also be useful tools in the physical support of the laboring woman. Emotional support: Knowledge and childbirth education preparation coupled with reassurance, compliments and encouragement are critical during all phases of childbirth. The presence of loved ones, a labor coach or doula and a responsive medical team will help to see that you are supported as you wish and your child's birth is a safe, happy and empowering experience.

Jan Moeller, RNC, Manager of the Family Childbirth Center at Milford Hospital. Direct caregiver in maternal-child nursing for 10 years and manager of the maternity and pediatric services at Milford Hospital for 13 years.


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