I used to be frightened of labor pain. Now I am fascinated by the different ways women deal with it.
Labor pain is referred pain. Many organs in the body — including the uterus — refer their pain signal. This means that when the pain signal is elicited the actual physical feeling or sensation of pain is sent to another part of the body, not felt within the organ itself. With the uterus it is commonly referred to the skin of the low-to-mid abdomen, or the back, or, less frequently, the thighs. The pain is not felt inside the uterine walls or muscles, but externally on the skin and underlying fatty tissue of the referred area.
When you feel the contraction pain signal in labor, you will have a “fight-flight reflex,” and your body experiences an adrenalin surge. This primitive mechanism gives us the energy to deal with any stressful situation — instantly. Adrenalin is a hormone of action.
When you are active with stress — even the stress-challenge of the healthy pain of labor — your endorphins kick in, and provide you with a natural chemical pain relief. Activity also depletes adrenalin, which helps labor to be more efficient rather than long and drawn out.
Now that you understand the physiology of the pain, think about what you are going to do every time you feel it. Here are ideas to get through contractions in the first stage of labor.
Start gently so you don’t tire. You could begin with a hot pack over your belly, slow walking, swaying, background music, a lavender bath or shower, some general relaxation, light rhythmic massage and soft breathing.
As the pain increases, step up with it. Otherwise the adrenalin overpowers you and you will eventually lose the very control you seek. So little by little try more active techniques and see how they work for you — rhythmic stepping, blowing, vocalizing the ah sound, squeezing and banging stress balls. At the same time you will be turning each activity into distraction because instead of focusing on the pain, you will be focusing on the rhythm of the movement, the sound of your breath or vocalization, the bang of the balls, etc.
Be creative. Do whatever it takes to get your mind off that pain and on to any action or thought that grabs your attention.
Be visual. Focus on the cervix opening and the baby moving down into the pelvis, or visualize a scene far from labor. Use a “blackboard in your brain” to write key words — visualize an image, relax, release, let it out, healthy pain.
Be positive, be confident, and do all that you are capable of — you just might astound yourself!
Juju Sundin, a physical therapist and birth skills educator in private practice in Sydney, Australia, is co-author (with Sarah Murdoch) of Birth Skills.
Is natural pain relief the way you prefer to go? E-mail your thoughts and comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.