Natural Childbirth: Coping with contractions
Contractions are perhaps the hardest thing to deal with during labor, and all of them are different, but we want to help you get through labor one contraction at a time. If you have been following our natural childbirth series, you will have already read our post Natural Childbirth: Your In-Hospital Options and Benefits of Natural Childbirth. We want to take this to the next level and give you a little bit of information on how to deal with those painful contractions. Remember, when we are speaking about natural childbirth we are referring to a birth where no pain relief via drugs are administered. Read on to find out how to cope with your contractions.
What is a contraction?
The uterine muscle is the largest muscle in the woman’s body. The periodic tightening and relaxing of this muscle is also known as a labor contraction. A woman in labor has contractions so that her body can push her baby down the birth canal and into her arms.
What causes a contraction?
Contractions first start when a series of chemical messages are sent directly from your baby’s brain and prompt your body and tell it that the baby is ready to make his grand entrance. These messages, which activate a hormonal chain reaction in your body, release oxytocin and prostaglandin, which are the two substances that will bring on those contractions and get you well on your way to meeting your baby. There are a number of factors that come together and work to start contractions and this is still somewhat of a mystery to medical professionals.
Things you should know about contractions
If you didn’t know already, there are different types of contractions:
Early Contactions: These are very minor contractions that may occur during the first trimester because you body is literally moving around, adjusting and making room for a human.
Braxton Hicks (BH) Contractions: BH contractions (also known as false contractions) can start as early as 6 weeks into your pregnancy (or not at all) and you may experience them all the way up until the “real thing.” With that said, you usually won’t be able to feel them until around 16 weeks. This type of contraction is when the uterine muscles tighten sporadically, are usually infrequent, irregular, involve only mild cramping, and are not too uncomfortable.
Real Contractions: Real labor contractions may come on slowly (or quickly) and you will be able to identify them by one or more of following:
- If they become more regular, frequent and intense
- If they become stronger and intensify no matter the position you are in
- If they are accompanied by diarrhea, cramps or upset stomach (not always)
- If you experience pain in your abdomen, lower back and upper thighs, or both
- You may experience the “bloody show,” a blood streaked discharge
- Your water may break (rapture of membranes) but this is not always the case. Some wormen’s water breaks, and for others their caregiver must break it for them.
Coping with contractions
Pain during labor is mostly caused by the contraction of muscles of the uterus and by the amount of pressure on the cervix. Let’s keep in mind that pain during labor is different for everyone. Some women have reported to actually feel no pain at all, and others report feeling 100% pain. Some women may choose to have an epidural to relieve pain, which is great if that is what she needs, but in this post we are going to focus on dealing with contractions without any type of medicine.
Have your partner, doula or caregiver massage your back with his/her hands or a tennis ball, using lotion or oil during a contraction. Even the gentlest touch can provide reassurance to a mother coping with pain and fear.
Use hot water:
Women who birth naturally usually spend most of their time in a hot bath or hot shower to relieve pain. The warm water is soothing, relaxing and may even help to speed up labor.
If you find your labor isn’t progressing as much as you would like you may find that doing some yoga can help to move things along.
When you are relaxing, your contractions will work better and your body will produce more oxytocin which is exactly what you need during labor and delivery.
Change positions (movement):
Changing positions will often help loosen you up, and move the baby around. Try walking, leaning, rocking, squatting or sitting.
Listen to music:
Having a birth playlist and listening to your favorite music can be a great way to stay calm and take your mind off of the pain. You should make a playlist and have it ready to go, before you start laboring.
Using imagery and visualization to focus on something you love can make you happy and decrease your awareness of pain.
Learn about labor:
This is probably the most important. If you want to know exactly what is happening with your body, you need to learn about it. Once you learn about it, you are going to feel better and safer about the entire process because you will be knowledgeable about birthing, and your body.
Express your fears:
Voice your fears about birth, and contractions. Having others hear you and listen to you can make you feel less afraid.
Breathing is key. You need to get through each contraction one at a time and often breathing, and focusing second by second can get you through each one as unbearable as they may seem.
A great way to release pain is through noise. Letting the pain out through low groans can help tremendously.
Surrendering to your contractions
If you want to have a natural childbirth, there is no way around the pain of contractions. If we understand this, and we know we must endure it all, why not try surrendering to the contractions? Achieving surrender is probably the hardest part. You have to remember, if you find yourself still thinking about or being overwhelmed by your contractions, then you have not yet surrendered to them.
The knowledge of how to give birth without outside intervention lies deep within each woman. Successful childbirth depends on an acceptance of the process.
~ Suzanne Arms
Women need not to fear the pain, but learn to accept and embrace the pain. This is how you truly surrender. Accept and let it into your body. Let it consume you. When you tense up during a contraction, it makes it that much worse. You need to surrender, staying a loose as possible and avoid any tension. If you are tensing up, you are resisting the labor process and this is something you want to avoid. Your pelvic muscles need to stay loose during labor, so tightening up will only prolong your contractions, and your labor.
The pain is what is bringing you closer to meeting your baby, one contraction at a time. The pain is there for a reason, and it shouldn’t be scary. If you do your research and know what is going to go on during labor and delivery, there should be nothing for you to be afraid of. Fear will stall labor. Understanding is key to having a natural childbirth.
For more on dealing with contractions and natural childbirth, we have a couple of books that we recommend you to read to better prepare yourself for childbirth.
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Lauren is a new mom living in Toronto, Canada. When she is not at home being a mom, she is working full time as a model, playing competitive baseball, and working on her personal blog. In her “spare” time, Lauren is aspiring to become a childbirth educator. You can find her at Lauren Hardy Blog