For the vast majority of us, preparing for birth includes choosing a place of birth and what medical interventions we do and don’t want. But birth is so much bigger than that. Medical interventions aside, you will need to be well-versed in comfort measures to help manage discomfort, reduce stress, and create an environment that you feel safe and able to birth in. It’s said that all mammal mamas require five things to give birth: darkness, silence, safety, warmth, and privacy. Just like the cat who hides to birth, these five qualities of a birth environment help the birthing person to relax and surrender to the surges and sensations that bring us baby. It doesn’t matter whether you are planning for a home birth or an epidural, comfort measures can help you attain your best environment to help labor progressing, with a positive experience for mama!
Set the scene
As a doula, the first things that do after I check in with the mother in labor are to dim the lights, turn on some gentle spa music, and get my essential oils out. These simple steps can really change the mood of the room dramatically. It can take a hospital room and make it more intimate and more home-like. I use a mixture of lavender and clary sage during labor as both oils help the birthing person to relax and feel safe, which in turn helps labor for stalling. Although oils are natural, be mindful that the scent may be too much while in labor, try a little on washcloth or cotton ball before you start a diffuser. Another way to set the scene is asking your birth partner to tell staff not to talk to you during contractions, and to keep chatter to a minimum. This really protects your space, and the energy in the room.
I hear so many women say, “Just give me the epidural,” solely relying on the epidural for pain relief. Let me tell you, this is not always the best plan. For one, you’ll want to labor as long as you can without it, to get baby moving downward using gravity, think hips swaying, walking, and sitting on a birth ball. This will help your labor to progress, as epidurals will slow down your labor. Also, the anesthesiologist is not always readily available, and they don’t always relieve 100% of the pain.
Change positions: This is huge. Familiarize yourself with different positions, a doula is a great resource in your labor to offer up position options. Squatting, hands and knees, leaning on your partner, sitting on a birth ball, or standing up and swaying. If you’re not hiring a doula, find a print out of positions and bring it with you as cheat sheet for your partner.
Hip squeeze: An old Midwife and doula trick, this can not only relieve pressure, but create space for baby to move down in the birth canal. Placing the heal of the hands into the soft spot on the buttocks and pressing inward. Most moms love this, and like lots of pressure too.
Sacrum press: Placing the heal of the hand on the sacrum and pressing in can create counter pressure to baby pushing on mom’s sacrum and tailbone, think back labor.
Heating pad: This is great for early labor (and for afterbirth cramps too). Just how it relieves cramp pain during your menstrual cycle, it can relieve discomfort, so you can rest during early labor.
Ice pack/Cold cloth: Most women are so appreciative of cold cloths during labor. The hormones and chemicals in the body can create hot flashes, and this is a fast and easy way to soothe mama. You can freeze wet washcloths, or if in the hospital, as for a basin, fill it with ice. Then ask for 4-5 washcloths and put all of them in the ice. This way, as you use one, and it warms up on mom’s forehead, back, or neck, you have a fresh one right away to switch out!
Hydrotherapy: I once had a client say, “I never knew water could feel so good,” while laboring in the shower. It’s true, water can be so therapeutic. Standing or sitting on a birth ball or stool, and let the water fall on your back, belly or all over your body. Remember to keep the water warm, but not too hot, and take breaks.
Although there are so many more ways to bring safety, relaxation, and respect to the birthing space, this is a great place to start. Hiring a doula may be the best way to ensure all of these options are available to you, and that your partner feels supported and confident in the process.
About the Author:
Lauren Shields, CD(DONA), RPYT, Founder of Meraki Mama Collective
Lauren is passionate about working with individuals and couples in helping to empower women to trust their bodies and their instincts throughout pregnancy and into motherhood, serving as their advocate + holding space during this sacred transition.