When I was looking forward to the birth of my first baby, I was given a copy of Childbirth Without Fear by Grantly Dick-Read, and it was a breath of much-needed fresh air! I even took that book, along with my Bible, to the hospital with me for the birth of my baby. I wanted it nearby in case I needed a little refresher on any of the contents. 🙂 During the last three months of my pregnancy, my husband and I also took Bradley Method childbirth classes. Dr. Bradley and Dr. Dick-Read were both strong, early influences in the formulation of my thoughts on birth.
Both of those men stressed relaxation and education as the key for a more comfortable labor. Education helps relieve fear and relaxation helps relieve pain. Many childbirth preparation methods focus on those principles in one form or another. I agree that learning how to relax your body during labor is one of the most crucial factors in increasing comfort in labor. But, from personal experience and almost 30 years of working with pregnant women, I’ve learned that relaxation alone may not always give enough pain relief if a woman is having a painful labor. There are a variety of factors that contribute to pain in labor, and they don’t all stem from tension…although tension will definitely increase pain.
Labor discomfort may come from sensitive cervical nerves, muscle or ligament strain, the position of the baby or other issues such as referred pain from a previous injury, so a variety of techniques may be needed to alleviate pain.
The truth is, labor can be more painful for some women than for others because of those and other factors. BUT… pain or lack of pain is not a determinant for a positive or negative birth experience. Some women may have a painless labor due to the aid of medication, but may still feel that their birth experience was less than great. The lack of control and lack of sensation can be distressing to some women. Other women may cope with a large amount of pain during labor, but recount their experience as being very positive and fulfilling. So, many women do not view pain as the ultimate negative in birth.
In my classes, I teach a variety of ways to relieve pain without medication. As well as relaxation and relaxed abdominal breathing, I teach positions and techniques that help adjust babies into more comfortable positions and how to discern if the baby’s position needs to be adjusted. I also teach some simple acupressure points for pain relief, ways to shift the pelvis to relieve back pain considerably, how to use hydrotherapy (water for pain relief) and other things. I also cover the emotional aspects of labor and birth and how the supporting birth partner can identify emotional phases and give appropriate emotional support. This is actually very important, as studies have shown that adequate emotional support can be as effective as medication for some women.
In addition to pain-relieving instruction, I explain the physiology of birth–what actually happens to the uterus and cervix during a contraction, so the laboring mom and her birth partner can understand why she is feeling what she is feeling. Having that understanding relieves a lot of fear, as it takes the mystery out of the sensation and helps explain the discomfort. I also teach about the normal variations of first and second stage labor and how to discern when there is a true indication for medical intervention.