When creating your birth plan, you may have been wondering how you can plan for a shorter and less painful birth experience. I do a lot of this work with my clients prenatally and am always so proud to witness their strength in making it happen!
Here are 6 of my best Doula tips for achieving a shorter and less painful birth that will hopefully help you achieve yours!
1. Be Mindful of the fear, tension pain cycle
Imagine for a moment, a cute little bunny about to give birth. The bunny has found a safe place and instinctively, her body begins the labour process. All of a sudden, the bunny hears the familiar sound of a fox creeping nearby! Also instinctively, knowing her baby would be in danger if she were to give birth then, her labour stops. Her body floods with adrenaline, the muscles used for labour tense up, blood rushes to her limbs and she is able to run away to find a safer place to continue the process. Pretty handy system, for a bunny! The natural fear a bunny has of predators helps them to be able to protect themselves and their unborn babies.
Humans also have an instinctive response to fear. We call it “fight or flight”. The problem for us is that our brains are unable to differentiate between real danger (like a predator) and perceived danger (something we think or believe is dangerous but isn’t). Unfortunately, we often give birth as if we are in danger. We try to birth with tension in our bodies (caused by our learned fears surrounding birth), causing more painful contractions and exhaustion (longer labour due to more tension). This pain then causes more fear which causes more tension and then more pain, and the cycle continues! This is called the “fear, tension, pain cycle” and can easily derail an otherwise calm and uncomplicated birth.
Mindfulness practices in pregnancy such as meditation, deep breathing, keeping a journal, and balanced statements are great ways to address and work through your fears before the big day and will help you not to bring them into the birth space.
2. Perineal Massage
The main idea behind perineal massage is to familiarize you with and help you to practice breathing through the sensation of crowning. While helping to lengthen and soften the perineal tissue, it also helps you avoid a tear as you will not be surprised by the sensation in birth and will have already practiced coping, allowing babys exit from the womb to be more controlled. Here are the instructions on how to do perineal massage.
****You can start this at 35 weeks of pregnancy. Perform this massage technique for 10 minutes once a day.
Take a warm bath or hold a warm compress on the perineum for 10 minutes to help you relax before the massage.
Sit or lean back in a comfortable position. Put a water soluble lubricant on your thumbs and perineum.
Place your thumbs 1 to 1.5 inches inside your vagina. Press downward toward the rectum and to the sides until you feel a slight burning, stinging, or tingling sensation. Hold the pressure for two minutes until the area becomes numb. Breathe deeply and concentrate on relaxing the muscles.
As you continue to press down with your thumbs, slowly and gently massage back and forth over the sides of your vagina in a U movement for three minutes.Relax and repeat the process once.****
Just like you would practice breathing through contractions, you can also practice pushing prenatally.
Pushing in labour involves the same muscles involved in using the toilet. When I’m teaching a childbirth class, I often describe it as “what you do when you poo” for lack of a better phrase. Effective pushing involves relaxing the pelvic floor and bearing down to push as if you were having a bowel movement.
The easiest place to practice this is, in fact, on the toilet as your body and mind instinctively know what to do there. Sit comfortably and take a few deep breaths. When you feel ready, take another deep breath and as you exhale, bear down ever so slightly as if you were having a bowel movement. Try to keep all of those muscles relaxed as you inhale and repeat this a couple times.
Practicing this will help you recognize how pushing should feel and can help shorten this stage of labour. You can even try practicing pushing while doing perineal massage if you felt like really familiarizing yourself with all those sensations.
4.Positive and Encouraging support people
As a Doula, I am a huge advocate for positive and encouraging support for women as they birth their babies. For birth to progress effectively, we know that it is incredibly important for a woman to feel safe and supported. This helps her to relax, allowing the birth process to progress efficiently, and with less tension being held in her body, lessens her need for medical pain management! Support people include family, friends, a Doula and/or husband/partner and you have the right to have all the support you feel you need in the birth space.
Evidence suggests that when the opposite is the case (a woman is alone or has an unsupportive, belittling, or a birth team that lacks compassion) she is more likely to request pain medication, have a slower or even stalled labour, require more interventions and possibly even require a cesarean.
Of course, birth support does not always prevent intervention, and birth plans do change even with the most positive of birth teams. However, another notable difference between the two scenarios is that women who have positive support also have higher birth experience satisfaction and are even less likely to develop PTSD and other postpartum mood disorders.
If you’re curious about what a Doula does and how they can support you to have a shorter, less painful and more positive birth experience, check out my website, or search for Doulas in your area!
5.Allow labour to begin on its own
After 40 not so easy weeks of pregnancy, it is absolutely understandable that any woman would just want to get labour and birth done and over with. Combined with the excitement and anticipation of meeting their newborn sweetheart, it’s no wonder more and more women are opting for inductions as early as 37 and 38 weeks gestation.
While it’s true, baby is “pretty much done” developing, there are still key things that need to develop and happen, even to your own body, for labour to begin and progress efficiently. That includes cervical softening, dilation, and effacement, the release of natural pain relieving hormones, and other hormonal changes that signal your body to begin and maintain efficient contractions. All of these things happen naturally and in their own time in each pregnancy and contribute to shorter, less painful labours and births.
In the last weeks of pregnancy, focus on resting, eating, drinking lots of fluids and enjoying your last days/weeks before your family expands. Remember that babies arrive int heir own time and that even a 42 week gestation period(even though that may seem unthinkable) is normal and safe.
6. Change positions and move around in labour
I don’t know many women who like to or want to labour in one position, either on their backs or on their side. While choosing a position to birth in is great, for the active stage of labour, it really helps progression and pain management to move around and try different positions that open your pelvis and make use of gravity. Here are a few of the most effective positions and how they can benefit your labour and birth.
Standing and swaying/ Slow Dancing
This position is great for hip manipulation and uses gravity to increase the effectiveness of contractions. Your weight is supported by your partner/Doula allowing you to rest between contractions. This position also offers a sense of safety and closeness to your partner.
This position uses gravity to increase the effectiveness of contractions while also opening up the hips. It can also encourage a posterior baby to move into an anterior position.
Sitting upright on a birth ball
This position also uses gravity and opens up the pelvis nice and wide. You can even rotate your hips around to give baby room to move down. It is also a restful position.
Hands and Knees
This position offers relief of back discomfort and creates lots of room for baby to move down. It also uses gravity and enables you to sway your hips.
This position uses gravity making bearing down easier/ more natural. It is also good for increasing the strength of an individual’s push and opens up the pelvis for optimal room.
*This position is NOT recommended for first time birthers or birthers who are unprepared for the intensified contractions*
There are so many different ways to achieve the most positive birth experience possible and we are fortunate these days that hospitals are mostly accommodating to whatever your preferences are for your birth. If you are birthing with a midwife, your birth may already be more likely to be short and less painful! Remember that your birth is your own and you have the right to autonomy, comfort, respect and choice in the birth space!