Lessen Your Labor Pain

Unfortunately, no one, not even someone who's given birth before, can tell you exactly what to expect on the big day. That's because every expectant mom’s labor and delivery experience is different. Fortunately, there are basic things you can do beforehand to strengthen both your body and your resolve, and during labor to help keep you as comfortable as possible while waiting for your new baby’s big entrance. Try these nine strategies.

For Pregnancy

New mom tip #1: Learn about labor. Find out everything you can about labor from books, magazines, Web sites, videos, classes, and hospital tours. Familiarizing yourself with the procedures and customs at your hospital or birth center will mean fewer surprises.

New mom tip #2: Take childbirth classes. In these classes, you will learn different ways to deal with pain during labor such as walking, changing positions, taking showers or warm baths, and using breathing exercises, hypnosis, relaxation, and massage.

New mom tip #3: Express your fears. Are you worried about labor, needles, or medication? Speak with a knowledgeable childbirth educator or your doctor. Voicing your worries can bring relief as well as practical solutions to your concerns.

New mom tip #4: Keep up with your normal exercise routine. The more you move during pregnancy, the better prepared your body will be for labor, delivery, and recovery. Exercise helps reduce backaches, constipation, swelling, and other unpleasant side effects.

For Labor

New mom tip #5: Create a sense of calm. Make your environment in the hospital or birth center as soothing and familiar as possible. Play some soft music and put some framed pictures of your partner next to your bed. You may also want to bring a pillow from home (if the facility allows it).

New mom tip #6: Get a massage. Having someone rub your back will warm your skin and stimulate the body to release its own natural painkiller.

New mom tip #7: Use a warm compress. Applying warmth is a tried-and-tested way of relaxing aching, tense muscles. Have someone in the hospital room keep a compress handy to warm your back, tummy, or groin.

New mom tip #8: Practice deep breathing. Focusing on your breathing is a very helpful way to get through each contraction. Taking a deep breath at the beginning of each contraction and then slowly releasing it will conserve your energy and help ease the pain.

New mom tip #9: Change position. Try not to lie on your back once you’re in active labor unless you’re exhausted. Instead, walk around or stay in an upright position. As labor progresses, lying on your side can provide rest and may help slow a delivery that is happening too quickly.

These tips will certainly prepare you for your baby’s big debut, but if you feel you need more help managing the pain, speak up or have your partner convey your needs. And remember, this pain will be a distant memory once you have your beautiful new baby in your arms.

My Easy Delivery

At 38 ½ weeks pregnant, I thought I was as emotionally ready as I would be at 40 weeks. I woke up at 12:30 a.m. feeling … wet. After going to the bathroom, I couldn’t tell if my water broke or not, or if my squished bladder was merely not cooperating again. My husband and I spent 20 minutes rereading our books and searching online “how to tell if your water broke.” The most telling advice I discovered from last-minute online searching: Lay down for 15 to 20 minutes, and if you get up and are leaking a lot (more than a trickle), it’s probably time.

It was good advice, as it turned out my water had broke, which means an immediate visit to labor and delivery to prevent infection to the baby. After a 20-second, in-shock-that-this-was-it panic attack, I ate a bagel, and off we went to the hospital. New mom tip: If possible, eat something before going to the hospital, since once you’re there, the rule is no food allowed.

On the way to the hospital, my contractions started, and over the course of the 17 minute drive, they increased in pain while decreasing in intervals. Once we reached labor and delivery, my contractions had greatly intensified, and no amount of breathing techniques seemed to ease my pain and discomfort. What kept me going was knowing our bundle of joy would enter our world very soon.

I was 2 cm dilated when we first got to the hospital, so I decided to get an epidural to help me through the physical pains of labor. It helped tremendously. I was able to rest and relax, since I knew the next 18 years would be far from restful.

After being examined at 8:30 a.m., my doctor said I would still be a while. But less than an hour later, I was feeling more intense pain and pressure. After receiving additional pain meds, the pressure just intensified. We informed a doctor who examined me again, and couldn’t believe I was 10 cm dilated. I knew to trust my instincts and was right.

At 10:05 a.m., I started to push. It turned into an out-of-body experience. Every possible ounce of energy that my body had stored was used to push, and just when I couldn’t push anymore, my doctor said to push harder. I was told to take a deep breath, and push for 10 seconds at a time. After pushing for what seemed like an eternity, my doctor announced that “this next part is called the ‘ring of fire.’” Note to doctor: Don’t tell a woman in labor she should anticipate feeling a ring of fire. The most surreal part of the experience was the doctor telling me to reach down and touch the top of my baby’s head, which was part extremely bizarre, part extremely fascinating.

Once the head made it through, my baby seemed to swim right out into the world. In total, I pushed for 27 minutes -- a relatively easy delivery -- and the most amazing love of my life was born. She was 6 pounds 9 ounces of perfection. As I held my new child in my arms skin to skin, I could not have ever dreamed up a better feeling.

The Expectations and Reality of Labor

My son’s birth was both everything and nothing like I imagined -- and trust me, I spent a lot of time thinking about how it would go! I had a strong sense of what the process of childbirth would be like, but when it comes down to it, you have to go through it to really understand it. The pain and joy of labor and childbirth just can’t be explained in a textbook!

Here are three ways that my birth story was different than I expected:

The Pain: I had a natural birth. To prepare myself for childbirth, I took a twelve-week birthing class and read plenty of books. But I was very surprised to discover that childbirth pain is not constant. There are lots of ‘breaks’ in between contractions. I wouldn’t say that these breaks were a cakewalk, but they were a welcomed relief. Towards the end of labor, when I was getting more tired, my body would even ‘skip’ contractions to let me rest and regain my strength.

Feeling Embarrassed: I thought I’d be embarrassed by the ‘bodily functions’ that accompany childbirth. Most women will poop or pee on the table because of the force of pushing the baby out! The idea of that was so mortifying -- until it happened to me. Trust me: You won’t care when you’re delivering your baby!

“I Hate You!”: In the movies, women always scream at their partners things like, “I hate you! How could you do this to me?” My husband was supportive, loving, and always did exactly what I needed him to do during labor. I never once thought, “I hate you!” Instead, I told him over and over again how much I loved and appreciated him.

And here are two ways my birth story was similar to what I expected:

The Pain: Although the pain was different than I expected in that it wasn’t constant, the overall pain level was what I’d imagined. Before birth, I spent a lot of time imagining what the pain would feel like and how I’d handle it, and that helped me a lot.

The Joy: I imagined that the moment my child was born, I’d look at him and feel this overwhelming and intense sense of joy. And I did! My son’s birth was such a spiritual and transforming experience for my husband and me. The emotional high that I got from delivery ran so deep. It really was the best moment of my life.