I don't know anyone who would wish for a more painful labour.
Usually when women plan or discuss their preferences for the birth, they consider their options for pharmaceutical pain relief.
Yet, so many women go through labour every single day, not realising there are simple things that can actually make labour pain worse.
If they knew about and avoided these things, it could significantly help to reduce the amount of pain and discomfort they might feel during labour, hence their need for pain relief.
Unfortunately, labour wards aren't set up for the most optimal birthing experience, which means comfort can be compromised.
8 Things That Can Make Labour Pain WORSE
So, let's get started – what 8 things should you avoid in order to prevent labour being more painful than it needs to be?
#1: Lying On Your Back
Not only does lying on your back put all of the weight of the baby and your uterus on your back (which is not great for blood supply), but your uterus contracts forward, so you’re not working with gravity – you’re working against it.
At all costs, avoid positions on your back during labour.
Instead, choose upright, forward-leaning positions where possible. It’s okay to rest on your side if you need a break – but just keep off your back. Reclining should also be avoided where possible, unless its for a break.
What has fear got to do with it? When we’re fearful, we tense up. When we’re tense, we don’t breathe deeply, our body is tight and and we feel more pain. So, how do you combat the fear? I believe the best things a woman can do for herself (and her partner) to help prevent fear is get informed and educated with good quality information and surround herself with great support. This includes:
- Getting independent birth education (out of hospital)
- Reading books that give you great information, as per BellyBelly’s list here
- Hiring a doula or independent/homebirth midwife
- Considering a homebirth
- Look into Calmbirth/Hypnobirth classes
- Join pregnancy or birth groups that are supportive of your choices
- Hang around people who are supportive of your choices and have had the kind of experience you want
- Ignore the horror stories and avoid spending time around negative people
A great book to get started with if fear is a hurdle for you is Birth Without Fear.
#3: Not Having A Doula (Or Other Skilled Birth Support Professional)
Not having experienced, skilled birth support during labour can lead a mother-to-be feeling fearful… then that fear creates to tension, and the tension results in pain.
Most women don’t realise when they hire an obstetrician for childbirth, he or she will spend very little time in the birth room. Hospital midwives need to manage several women in labour and don’t stay in the room as long as you may think too. So if you’re labouring (especially for your first time) and you’re not coping or don’t have the tools to help you cope with the pain, it can end up being a much more painful experience than it need be.
A doula fills a much needed, missing gap in the birth industry. A doula is a trained birth support person, who has the ability to change the experience of birth a couple have, from a painful, stressful event to a more relaxed, highly supported one.
In fact, studies have shown that a doula is more effective than hospital staff or the mother’s friends or family, due to a support trifecta she can provide unlike anyone else: she is known to the woman, she is experienced in birth, and she can provide continuous, one-to-one support (wont leave the mothers side).
Doulas not only build a relationship with you and help to educate you before the birth, but they have learnt many skills to help ease pain. Studies have shown that women who use a doula use less pain relief, are more satisfied with the birth experience and dads feel more satisfied with their role too. A doula supports the mother’s partner so he can better support her too – and that’s gotta be good for everyone.
If money is an issue, a student doula is a second best option. Doulas understand there is already enough pressure on a family to pay for a baby, so they try to make it as easy as possible with payment plans and other flexible payment options. At the same time, doulas invest a great deal of time and energy in this physically and emotionally demanding work, so they are definitely worth their weight in gold.
Find out more about doulas here.
#4: A Stressful Birth Environment
- Is someone is in the birth room that you don’t want to be there?
- Is the midwife or doctor upsetting you with their bedside manner?
- Is too much is going on around you?
- Is it too noisy or do you keep being interrupted?
These things can all make you stressed during labour. As per above, stress causes tension, and you’ll end up not coping as well with the pain. Make sure you’ve chosen great support people to make sure these things don’t happen. They are on a vigil to protect your needs in labour.
Make sure any untrained birth support people who will be at the birth have read BellyBelly’s article 10 Tips On Being A Great Birth Support Person.
The team around you need to be able to rally together, getting you through your toughest moments in labour. Unfortunately what happens when they fall apart or aren’t supporting you like you hoped, you’ll want the quickest escape route to try and deal with the stress – usually in the form of intervention to get it over as quickly as you can.
A woman in labour cannot hold together her birth support team and have a great birth at the same time.
#5: An Induction Or Augmentation With Artificial Oxytocin
Sometimes an induction becomes necessary due to the health of the mother or baby, in which case it is very important that you trust your doctor and make the decision thats best for you. However if there is no urgent medical need and you can avoid an induction, your body will be able to labour in a more natural way.
While it can be lifesaving for some, being medicated with a drug that was designed to really ramp the labour up to get the baby out quickly can be quite painful for many women. I would not say all, as I have worked with a couple of doula clients who have needed an induction with syntocinon, but not asked for pharmaceutical pain relief.
But many do find it challenging — myself included during my first birth when my labour was augmented. Syntocinon or pitocin is for those who need to get the baby out NOW. And you’re committed to doing what it takes to get the baby out once you’ve started. This will involve other interventions, so weigh up if the risks are worth it for you. Your decision is yours and yours alone.
Only accept an induction if you truly need it. For more information on inductions, check out BellyBelly's article on medical inductions here.
#6: Not Knowing Any Natural Pain Relief Options
Where possible, its best to start with natural pain relief options rather than medical ones – some are particularly effective. After attending births, its been surprising to hear what helped my clients best cope with pain. One told me how the simple action of breathing with her made a massive difference, because it gave her something to focus on.
Another said she was so happy to hear me suggest to get into the birth pool, because she wasn’t sure if it was too soon (its more effective as pain relief later in labour). Once she got in, she relaxed and baby was born soon after.
Another client got through transition (the last, most intense part of labour before pushing) by hearing me take her through some visualisations that worked for her when she learnt Calmbirth.
Natural pain relief options can certainly help relieve pain. If you don’t know effective natural tools that work, you’ll head straight for the drugs, which have side effects to consider.
While some drugs can completely numb the pain, it sets off other courses of action, which may result in pain later down the track and even complications. An epidural can immobilise you in bed, meaning you wont be able to have an active labour and help your baby to move down. Not to mention the risks you need to weigh up.
Find out everything you need to know about epidurals here.
You wont be able to feel yourself push unless the epidural has worn off, which means that you could be pushing ineffectively, especially for first time mothers. This means that a forceps, vacuum or caesarean birth may become necessary.
You may be surprised – many natural options are effective enough to get women through the harder parts of labour – but if you don’t know your options then you don’t have any.
Be sure to take a look at out article, which offers 13 natural pain relief options.
#7: A Posterior Baby
Many women with posterior babies (baby’s spine against the mothers spine) find ‘back’ labour to be challenging. This is because on top of normal labour pain, they feel strong back pain. However, there are several things you can do about this. As a preventative, look into optimal fetal positioning (see the website www.spinningbabies.com), which can help encourage baby into an anterior (front) position. It involves simple positioning activities and tools and tricks – for example when you sit, sit in a way that your bum is above your knees, which changes the position of the pelvis.
You might like to find out if the centre you are birthing at offers sterile water injections, which can take away ALL the back pain for some women, and a significant amount for others. It doesn’t work for everyone but its a fantastic, natural option. Some hospitals aren’t aware of the sterile water injections, so print out BellyBelly’s article and ask them to investigate if they don’t know about it. If your centre allows you to bring in your own acupuncturist during labour, this is another option to help with back pain.
Keep active in your pregnancy as best you can, even a 30 minute walk every day at your own pace will help your body, mind and your birth. Keeping active during labour, changing positions and working with your pelvis will help to keep baby turning and moving until he or she is ready to be born.
Acupuncture is also a great option for turning babies, as well as general pregnancy wellbeing and birth preparation. Osteopathic and chiropractic checkups are also worthwhile to make sure your body is aligned and primed for birth. Its definitely worth booking yourself in with experienced practitioners to prepare you for the best birth possible.
#8: Being Dehydrated
Not drinking enough water and being dehydrated can cause problems in labour, because when you’re dehydrated, your uterus doesn’t contract as efficiently. Every single cell in your body relies on water to function properly, and when you don’t have enough, things start to break down – even your energy levels, concentration and focus can suffer when you’re dehydrated, no matter if you’re in labour or not.
You don’t have to throw back a heap of water, little sips often are ideal. Make sure you have bendy straws in your birth bag, so your support team can offer you drinks easily without you having to hold the cup. If you put a piece of tape across the cup to hold the straw in place, this can help stop the straw from moving around while mama is trying to drink. The little things make a big difference.