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1: Get in the Water
Immersing yourself in warm water during labor can be as effective for pain relief as a shot of narcotics. The weightlessness of sitting in a tub reduces pressure and pain, and the warmth softens and soothes the muscles. Though a tub may not be available, most hospitals and birthing centers have showers available to laboring women. Women with lower back pain often find that pressure from a portable shower nozzle is incredibly helpful.
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2: Make Noise
If you find yourself making high-pitched or screeching sounds, drop your shoulders and try to make low, deep noises to help you breathe deeply and relax your pelvic muscles. Some women even sing songs, repeat words, or count. One of my students recited the Pledge of Allegiance with each contraction! These are all forms of distracting the mind and pushing the pain away.
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3: Change Positions
Go with the urge to get into gravity-friendly, pelvis-opening positions. Most are pretty simple: You can lean forward against the wall, the back of a chair or your labor support person. You can rock from side to side, walk or go up and down stairs. Changing position in labor is one of the top ways to reduce the chances of other interventions, but note that once medications are given, moving becomes restricted due to the necessity for continuous monitoring.
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4: Bring Support
Midwives tend to be there for most of the labor, but in general, most women labor without the continuous support of a medical professional until it's time to push. Hiring a doula has been proven effective in improving birth outcomes, and partners who have done some preparation for labor can be incredible resources, too.
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5: Try Massage
The key to a good labor massage is firm, consistent pressure in downward strokes. You can sit backward on a chair and lean forward on pillows while your partner keeps one hand on you at all times. This will help you keep focused. Your partner can also use tennis balls along your spine and lower back, rolling them in firm rotations. For women with extreme pressure in the lower back, counter-pressure can make a huge difference. Massage takes some instruction and practice. Take a childbirth prep class, talk to a doula and/or get a good book like The Birth Partner or The Big Book of Birth.
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6: Use Meditation and Visualization
Imagine being in a place that makes you feel very relaxed and safe. It could be a quiet beach, your childhood bedroom, or a yoga classroom — anything that works. Another option is to imagine how each contraction is not just painful, but productive — theyre opening you up for birth. This focus on the body doesn't work for everyone, but some women find it to be very positive. If at any point you feel overwhelmed, try taking several relaxation breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth to blow out stress.
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7: Take Drugs
An intramuscular shot of narcotics may be an option in early active labor. It reduces the perception of pain so that mothers can get a break and wears off by the time you push. You can also get an epidural, which is a combination of anesthesia and narcotics and removes the pain completely. In most hospitals, epidurals are given at any point during labor; the risks and side effects decrease the later in labor the medication is administered.
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8: Educate Yourself (and Cry It Out)
Fear of the unknown can increase the perception of pain. It's important to remember that we were built to give birth. Sometimes problems come up, but we have all kinds of ways to resolve them. Sometimes a desire for a lovely, "natural" birth can push women to repress their fears and try to stay tough. But talking openly about what scares you can be a huge relief. Sometimes a good cry is in order. Birth is at once the most extraordinary and completely normal thing.
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9: Find a Caregiver You Trust
A doctor or midwife cannot talk for hours at each appointment about everything, but they should make you feel comfortable about asking questions and getting information. You want someone who really listens and with whom you can share your concerns. Women tend to have more efficient labors when they feel safe and secure. The caregiver and the location of the birth have a role in that sense of security.
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10: Think Comforting Thoughts
Oxytocin — the hormone that causes contractions — is also released when it's dark, during massage, when you orgasm and fall in love, and when you feel safe. In other words, its an intimate hormone, and intense fear can slow it down. This doesn't mean every woman has to be a perfectly chillaxed prenatal yoga goddess, but try to create a less stressful environment in ways that work for you.
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