A Labor of Love- how much does it have to hurt?
You know it's gonna hurt, but how much?
The pain of labor and childbirth is, as a great relief to men everywhere, something only women can experience, and for each woman, and each child she has, that experience will always be a highly personal one.
Pain relief in labor has come a long way over the past few decades, but some things remain the same. The Victorians used laudanum, an opiate based method of pain relief, and today we have pethidine, which acts in a similar way, although is commonly received intravenously rather than sniffed.
The most radical change to pain medication in labor was the introduction of epidural or spinal anaesthetic. These work by effectively blocking all sensation in the lower part of the body, meaning no pain is felt. However, the lack of sensation generally means a lack of control, a catheter is used to prevent bladder accidents, and mothers often need help in knowing when to push.
However, many mothers are now turning back to Nature to provide the remedy for the most natural pain in the world.
So what are my natural options?
Well, breathing for starters. The Lamaze method is probably best known for advocating breathing as a means of pain relief. Some women swear by it, in a mind-over-matter kind of way, others (myself included) find the impact of breathing on the pain limited in its effect when in the jaws of a belting contraction.
Water birthing is another natural way of easing the pain of contractions, which has increased hugely in popularity over recent years. Birthing pools can be used purely for pain relief, without needing to actually deliver in the water, and can offer the opportunity fro husbands or partners to get in the pool and feel a greater partcicpation in proceedings. Water deliveries tend to be far more hands off from a midwifery perspective, which can be appealing for those wanting the most natural experience, but can prove daunting for first-timers or those of a more nervous disposition.
Aromatherapy can be used during both pregnancy and labor. Specially blended labor oils can be purchased from a number of online retailers, or the more adventurous can mix their own. Clary Sage is particularly often used in labor mixes, described as Nature's entonox, and other popular scents include Lavender for relaxation, citrussy notes such as mandarin or bergamot for vitality and finally, tea tree for its antispetic purposes. Ouch! Oils can be used in oil burners, in baths in the early stages of labour, or as a massage oil that can be applied by birthing partners at all stages. Always take care to use an appropriate carrier oil such as sweet almond when mixing for personal use and NEVER apply oils directly to the skin.
Gas and Air, Alternative and More Unusual Methods
The most well known form of pain relief is probably gas and air or entonox. This is most effective when breathed in deeply as the contraction begins, so that the gas can take effect when the apin of the contraction is at its height. The gas is expelled as you breathe out, so only remains in your system for a very short time, when yuo really need it most. Some mothers love the floaty sensations, others feel nauseous. If you are having trouble maintaining your breathing, then the effects will be reduced.
One method of improving your breathing control is to take up prenatal yoga. Qualified instructors can teach you relaxation and breathing strategies alongside the most effective yoga shapes for both pain relief and advancement of labor. Even if you are unale to find a class in your area, there are some excellent online resources that may help, or you could consider purchasing a DVD.
Hypnobirthing (or Natal Hypnotherapy in the UK) is a more recent trend in reducing or even eliminating labour pain. The concept is based on self- or partner-originated hypnosis that convinces the mind there is no pain being experienced. Course can either be taken online or in person, or home-study resources can be purchased. Uk centres offer discounts to those who agree to video record their birth experience as a practical illustration of the effectiveness of the technique.
So which method should I choose?
Any woman's pain relief option in labor should be a decision for her, or in consultation with her partner. Keeping an open mind can be advantageous, especially for first-time moms, as you can't know what the pain will feel like until you are actually experiencing it.
If you do feel very strongly that you do not want to use a particular method of pain relief, then do tell your birthing partner, as the strength of your convictions is likely to wane with each hour of labor, and he or she can gently remind you of your intentions. He or she should also be prepared to be insulted when making this helpful comment.
Finally, the ultimate way to stop the pain is to deliver your baby. The adrenaline combined with pure joy (either at meeting your child or just getting it out) makes the pain instantly vanish, allowing you to enjoy those precious first moments with the new addition to your family.
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