Comfort measures are probably not going to mean that you have an entirely pain free birth. They can help minimize any discomfort though and give you a focus to help you manage any pain, keeping it at a level that you can continue without medication.
To use birth tools effectively, you must have completed the preparatory work of:
1. Being honest with yourself and your partner.
2. Identifying and releasing your fears.
3. Truly knowing and understanding who you are and what comforts you in everyday life.
Once you have a good understanding of ‘how you operate’ then you will be able to better identify the things that may comfort you during birth. You can work with a Birth Mentor, who will be able to work through and recognise your individual coping style and recommend which tools will most likely work for you.
There are four main different types of comfort measures used while birthing. Depending on your everyday coping style, some of these will be better suited to your needs and senses than others.
What Kinds of Things Can Comfort Me During Birth? The 4 P’s
Changing Positions and making sure that you that move around during birth are important because you can change the location of the pressure and help your baby to move further along the birth path. It can also help to speed up labour. Have a think about what your birth partner can do to help with regards to positions. Assisting in you in changing position can be an important part of their role.
This is where your pregnancy yoga practice comes into play. I’m not suggesting you dive into a headstand but the strengthening of the legs for example, can be great for helping you to remain mobile and to assume positions such as squatting and all fours.
You might think that you’ll be most comfortable lying on the bed, perhaps because you’ve seen lots of women in labour doing so on TV. However, keeping as upright as possible will help speed up your labour and will make you better able to move and be comfortable. Even if you are lying on the bed, try not to lie completely flat, prop your hips up with some pillows or sit slightly upright.
Positions to Consider During Birthing
Staying upright makes the best use of gravity and is generally easier to prepare baby for exit. Upright positions can help lessen any discomfort during surges and make it easier for your birth partner to massage your back or to help you move around.
Try some of these to practice for the birth:
• Leaning onto a birth ball or chair offers support, as well as placing your arms round your partner’s neck or waist and lean on them.
• Try kneeling on a beanbag or cushion and then lean forward onto a chair.
• You can also try leaning onto the bed or a window to get the added advantage of getting plenty of fresh air.
• Go on all fours and try some cat curls or swaying your hips backwards and forwards.
• Sit astride a chair, resting your head on a pillow on top of the chair back.
• Try toilet sitting, lean forwards, or try sitting astride the toilet, with your head resting on the cistern. This was a personal favourite of mine during labour. Toilet sitting has the added advantage of allowing the body to relax and open naturally. When we sit on the loo, the sphincter relaxes and releases as we do when our bowels move. By sitting on the toilet, we encourage the cervix to do the same.
Props are simple physical props you can keep in your ‘tool bag.’ Your tool kit could include things like wooden spoons and massagers; heat packs or even fancy birth-kit items, such as a TENS machine.
Simple things You Can Find at Home:
Using a Tennis Ball during Labour
Because of the size and texture of a tennis ball, it makes it a great massage tool during labour. Any soft ball will do, it doesn’t have to be for tennis.
You can use a tennis ball to evenly distribute the pressure during a massage. Have your birth partner place the ball on your lower back and ask them to roll the ball in small circles. Another option is to lean into the ball against the wall. Place the tennis ball at your lower back so that it provides pressure as you lean on the wall. You can move to roll the ball around or provide more pressure where and when you need it. This feels awesome, even if you are not in labour and it’s brilliant for relieving pregnancy related lower back pain.
Birthing Tool Bag Checklist
Some handy and practical items you may want to include in your tool bag, some for comfort and some just because you will most definitely need them.
Tool Bag Checklist:
o Massage oil
o Positive affirmations
o Relaxation scripts
o Moisturiser and make-up (think about photos!)
o Aromatherapy oils
o Scented candles or sprays
o Birth Ball
o Frozen water bottle
o Rolling Pin
o Tennis Ball
o Hairbrush (soothing)
o Hair bobble
o Eye glasses if required
o Heat and cold pads
o TENS machine
o Clean clothes
o iPhone and pre-set playlists
o Hypnosis CD
o Water (shower head)
o Water to sip (with a straw!)
Peace and Relaxation is essential for natural childbirth as we talked about earlier; if we are relaxed, we won’t be tense and when we are not tense, we minimize pain. Relaxation techniques such as self-hypnosis, yoga and yogic breathing, deep relaxation, visualization and vocalization are fantastic peace inducing practices.
Relaxation holds the key to managing pain in birth, and you should take the time to master relaxation techniques that work for you. Relaxing through pain takes practice. Even if you have tried relaxation methods in the past, chances are that your first response to pain (headaches, muscle cramps, stubbing your toe) is to tense the offending part of your body.
Start slowly and gradually begin to increase the amount of time you spend in relaxation daily, until you have the concentration necessary to relax for at least half an hour.
Some good positions to try for relaxation during pregnancy include:
• Side lying Savasana: Lying on your side with a cushion between your knees.
• Viparita Kirani (Legs up wall pose.) Lie on your back with your legs resting up the wall. Prop a cushion under your hips to prop them up slightly.
• Baddha Konasana (Cobblers pose.) Sit on the floor and bring the soles of the feet together with the knees pointing outwards. Lengthen from the sit bones to the top of your head, encouraging a nice straight spine. Hold your feet with both hands or allow your hands to rest on the knees.
• Sukkhasana (Easy pose/simple cross legs.) Just come into simple cross legged position on the floor. Lengthen through the spine to make sure you are sitting up straight.
• Virasana (Hero pose.) Kneel on the floor, sitting your buttocks back onto the heels. Take the shoulders back and down and place the palms of the hands on your thighs.
The Full YogaBellies Breath:
This is one of the breathing techniques I teach to my women I work with to help them release, tension during pregnancy and birth. This is a great technique proven to lower blood pressure, relieve insomnia and make you feel generally calmer, happier and A-OK.
You can use the FYB during pregnancy to de-stress during the day or last thing at night to help you to chill out and get to sleep. This breathing technique is also used during the first part of labour to help you relax, get in the zone and release any tension that may have built up in the body during contractions.
Take a deep inhale through the nose, become aware of the turn of the breath, and then allow a deep exhale through the nose. Try to make sure the exhale is about twice as long as the inhale, making sure that you really release on the exhale.
You can count in for 3 and out for 6, in for 2 and out for 4, etc. Make the breath as short or as long as you need to be comfortable. Do not force the breath and at the end of the exhale, just gently allow it to turn back into an inhale.
Just bring your attention to the breath. Become aware of the cool inhale through the nose, the turn of the breath, and the warm exhale through the nose. On the exhale, just let it all out. Let it go.
Allow the muscles of the face and the jaw to relax. Allow a smile to form on the face allowing the back of the throat to open up for deeper breathing. And relax. It’s as simple as that, just use the breath to release.
This blog is adapted from the revised edition of Birth ROCKS by Cheryl MacDonald, available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.