For first-time moms there’s a lot of concern about what a contraction feels like–and for good reason, as they do not feel good (see Ceridwen’s excellent post for more on that). And while the physical part of labor is intense, I found that it was the mental part of labor where the real work happens. Certainly this is of special concern if you want a drug-free labor, but even if you’re planning on an epidural, you’ll have to work through those first few centimeters on your own.
Now, I’m not diminishing the physical difficulties of labor. I had back labor–imagine a giant stake being pounded through the spot just above your butt crack with pain radiating across the back half of your body–for more than 24 hours and several very intense hours of pushing a very stuck “sunny-side up” baby out. I choose not to have any drugs, and I was administered Pitocin in the pushing phase to help things along. When it was over, I felt like I had run a marathon, there was not a muscle in my body that wasn’t sore.
But, despite the physical side of things, I found that it’s how you deal with the pain/sensation/wave (whatever you like to call it) that will make or break you, whether at centimeter two or seven.
Here are three exercises that I think help to prepare you mentally for the physical sensation of contractions.
Exercise No. 1: Freeze Yourself (from Pam England and Rob Horowitz’s book, Birthing from Within): Put an ice cube in your hand or on your wrist and notice how your mind reacts to the sensation as it goes from cold to uncomfortable to painful. Do it in 30-, 60- and 90-second intervals to mimic contractions. The idea is to notice the pain but use your mind to push it out of the way and focus on breathing. I know it sounds silly, but this is exactly the type of mental preparation you will need to make it through natural childbirth.
Exercise No. 2: Toe Crunch: Kneel down with your feet, legs and knees on the floor. Pick up your heels with your toes curled under, and sit your butt on your heels so your toes start to stretch from the underside. Again, I would time this in 30-, 60- and 90-second intervals to mimic the length of contractions. For most people, this position starts to get incredibly uncomfortable, and you need to gauge your mental reaction to the feeling and work through it with breathing and personal mind tricks.
Exercise No. 3: Wall Sit: With your feet planted on the ground, knees shoulder-width apart, sit with your back against a wall with your thighs as close to perpendicular to the floor as you can handle. Unless you have amazing thigh muscles, you will feel a burn, and you will want to get up. But remember, you can not “get up from” a contraction. So stay there (30, 60 and 90), and breath through it. I think this is as close to the muscle tightening/mind frantically trying to escape a contraction feeling as you can get without actually having one.
The nice thing about each of these exercises is that they are not pregnant-female exclusive. You can and should have your partner try these along with you, so he/she gets some kind of a sense of what you’ll be going through. And you shouldn’t just do them once. You should do them a lot, especially the last two. Going through labor (especially a drug-free one) is not easy, and it takes a lot of mental preparation.
Contraction via Hong Kong Melver.
Ice cubes via Chill Pill Box.
Toe crunch via Vogue Yogini.
Wall sit photo via Active Woman.