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Now that you know about the Stress Response (“fight or flight” ), how to break the” cycle of fear”, the” anatomy of pain”, the importance of support, and how your own emotions, values and attitudes affect the birthing experience, now it’s time to set up your “tool box” for a calming and awesome labor experience! Ready?
You are now going to learn skills to apply to the concepts discussed so far.
PRACTICE is key to their effectiveness! If you don’t practice you will forget how to do them and then wonder why these techniques didn’t work -I know silly, right?
Also, taking an active role may also increase your personal satisfaction in preparing for childbirth while boosting your confidence level and capabilities by knowing how to help yourself during your labor experience and afterwards. This is part of the self-care I talked about earlier.
Now, ya gotta have a mental “tool box”! A “knowing” of actions to take and “tools” to use, or skills that you’ll choose from to use during your labor. They will provide comfort, distraction, help you focus, and manage your labor contractions.
There are many “tools” to choose from! You will choose what works best for you at any given moment. Some you will like, others not, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is you will use what you are comfortable with because if you use what you like you will most likely use it more often. Make sense?
The “Tools” are
- positive birth mindset and attitude
- Birth affirmations
- warm/cold compresses
- touch, massage, pressure
- birth ball
- upright position changes
- dancing, movement
- visualization, guided imagery
- making noise
- warm showers, tubs (waterbirth)
- gentle exercise (prenatal yoga, prenatal aqua exercise)
- breathing (slow and deep)
- support, love
- calm environment
- pleasant smells
- coping skills
Trust in Self
Let’s begin with the most important one: trust in self. This is not a skill, but an awareness of you and your body. It is your innate ability to trust your own judgement, your intuition, to be able to “tune” into your body’s intuition, or inner “voice“, or “gut” feelings.
Our bodies send us signals when we need to shift in a chair. When we feel cold we automatically grab a sweater or blanket for warmth. When we have the chills outside in the cold we know that when we move around we generate heat to help keep us warm. These are just a few examples.
The inner “voice” also presents itself when women are in labor but is often muted by emotions. Fear, anxieties, nervousness, and so on, gets in the way and clouds your ability to LISTEN to what your intuition is telling you.
If you can accept, not fight it, the physiological changes that your body presents to accommodate the labor process, you can work WITH your body to accomplish its goal – birth your baby.
How? By just allowing your body to do what it needs to do. I know, a simple statement and you’re wondering how to do this, right?
The uterus needs to contract. It has a purpose and a job to do. Think about this, your uterus wants to impress you! It’s not out to hurt you, it’s a PART of you! So, Relax, calm down, it’s the best thing you can do to help.
Relax, breathe easy, slowly, and let the waves (contractions) come and go, come and go. If you are getting inner “voice” messages to change positions, do it! If you feel the urge to moan, go ahead! Don’t fight it. When you start to fight, your body will be in conflict and tense up initiating the “Stress Response”.
Ride the waves of the ocean … you know when you go against the waves, you usually crash against them, coming up for air with a bunch of sand in you swim suit
Trust your intuition and nurture your self-confidence in birthing your baby. You have the ability to do so. Besides, you have no choice! So, why fight it? It will only cause more distress, fear, and even more discomfort.
A positive birth mindset will also help a great deal. Never underestimate the power of the mind. Here is a true story for you:
Ina May Gaskin is a Midwife and also wrote the book, “Spiritual Midwifery”, and “Childbirth”. She once had a couple in labor who had also planned to marry, but the woman went into labor before the ceremony was performed. The labor was going on 72 hours, a concerned Ina May asked the woman if there was something on her mind. There was indeed!. This woman was worried, because she had not married yet, that her partner would leave her. Ina May arranged the marriage at the bedside. The couple exchanged their vows, and the baby was born an hour later!
This woman was holding on to her baby! She didn’t want to deliver the baby because of the anxiety of not being married. What you bring to the birth experience, unresolved issues, concerns, and your own views of the birthing experience can influence your experience. If you expect the worst, it will most likely happen, or you just may be pleasantly surprised that giving birth was the most exhilarating experience for you!
Why are breathing exercises so important during labor?
Breathing slowly is the #1 tool to use during for labor as well as managing any stress in your life for a few sound reasons.
- increases oxygen levels (baby too)
- initiates the relaxation response
- provides more energy
- relaxes the body
- improves circulation
- reduces stress
- decreases blood pressure and heart rate
The vagus nerve runs through the chest cavity communicating with nerve receptors in the lungs. These nerves are directly connected to the limbic center of the brain which controls our emotions. Think about it, when you’re upset you breathe in short bursts. Breathe deeply, slowly, a few times in a row and you immediately calm down.
The goal is to stay calm, maintain adequate oxygenation to you and the baby, and avoid hyperventilating!
Speaking of which, what is hyperventilation? Defined, it is the imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. Signs of hyperventilating are dizziness, tingling in fingertips, mouth and nose, tightness in the chest, visual disturbances such as “spots” or “specks” , and feeling disoriented. How does it happen? Rapid or deep breathing and/or anxiety.
Now, the following breathing techniques I’m going to tell you about have been taught since the 1950’s when they were first introduced into childbirth classes in the USA. I refer to them as “traditional” breathing techniques because they are outdated and a couple of them have the potential to cause hyperventilation.
Currently, it’s recommended that a woman in labor breath the way she wants or needs to
From the following breathing techniques ( more discussion on this too) choose what ever works for you at the moment – during labor. Breathing should always be comfortable, not forced, relaxed, rhythmic, slow, and oxygen levels are good for you and baby. NO hyperventilating allowed!
These techniques should be slow, easy, and paid attention to. They are calming and help to DISTRACT you from focusing on discomfort.
Breathing through labor works!
- slow (the best)
- “blowing out the candle”
- and patterned, “Hee, Hee, Hoos”
Practice them daily,just before bed with your partner or first thing in the morning. Practice them pretending you are having a contraction ( that info is just around the corner :-)) Do each breathing technique.
Start and end each labor contraction with a nice deep breath.
- inhale slowly through your nose, or mouth, until you fill your lungs comfortably
- exhale slowly through the mouth
- Then start the breathing exercise, be it slow, combined, or patterned. If you are having Braxton-Hicks (practice contractions) you can use these breathing exercise with them too. Breathing Methods (don’t worry, more to come on this)
While you are sitting with her and as you do the breathing exercises together, touch her in some way, massage her shoulders, hold her hands, etc. Speak to her as well –
- “you’re doing a good job”
- “you’re focusing real well on your breathing”
- “I love you”
- you can do this
Be encouraging, positive, attentive, and supportive. When you are done, ask her what she liked that you did, was it the massage, and so on. Get specific feedback on what you did that helped her to relax more.
Next, discuss with each other likes and dislikes of what is relaxing , what comforts her. What felt good and what didn’t. This simple exercise is very important because you are getting to know each other in a different way.
Finding out NOW how your partner likes to be touched, if at all, during a contraction, or in between one, will help you on delivery day because you will know how to help her, and what she likes. This will also help you to feel confident in guiding her through her labor and choosing the “tools” that work best.
Breathing techniques can be combined with other techniques, such as visualization, sound, and so on.
A word about coping skills and how you can use them as a labor “tool”. We all have unique ways to deal, or cope with stress. It’s innate and just a part of our personalities.
Some people withdraw from a stressful situation and escape by watching T.V., going to sleep. Some need to release pent-up stressful energy and go exercise. Some use medications or substances to cope with life situations. Everyone is different.
Let’s say mom-to-be when she’s stressed she likes to withdraw,remove herself from the situation to find calm. In labor, she can’t leave her labor room if she’s in a hospital, but you can help create a calm environment – dim the lights, close the doors, play relaxing music. Relaxing positions would be good too, swaying, using a rocking chair.
Let’s say our next mom likes to exercise when stressed to release stress. Getting her to change positions would be great. Walk, use a rocking chair, take a shower, etc.
Tap into her coping behaviors and use them to console her.
More to come, ready?
Now, take the quiz below! Got questions? Write them in the comment box and I’ll answer them!
There are 5 questions.