8 options for a more comfortable labor

Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Picture a woman in labor. Is she panting, sweating or yelling out in pain like in the movies?

Many expectant moms worry about how they will cope with labor pain, and the images we see in the media don’t help.

When you start to panic about how you will actually get this baby out of you, remind yourself that your body was made to grow and birth a baby. It’s a natural process that women have been doing for centuries.

Also, take steps ahead of time so you know what to expect during labor and you can feel empowered about it. Educate yourself through reading, attending childbirth classes, and/or going on a hospital tour.

Then, pick the right place to have your baby. Choose a hospital that meets your needs, with a balance of expertise and amenities, such as private birthing suites and pain relief/alternative comfort measures, as well as prompt access to anesthesia services if necessary.

Most importantly, plan to have someone there for support. Continuous emotional and physical support during labor, such as by a spouse or partner, family member, friend or doula, is associated with improved outcomes.

Support by a certified nurse midwife (CNM) can offer significant benefits for expectant moms who want a positive, comfortable experience. As advanced practice nurses, CNMs are trained and licensed in ways to help laboring women have a healthy birth using their own natural physiology, while avoiding unnecessary procedures that may interfere with that process.

When the big day arrives, there are a number of ways — both pharmacological and natural — to reduce pain and improve your experience.

Ask your obstetrician or certified nurse midwife about these 8 comfort options during labor:

  1. Use attention-focused and relaxation techniques. Rhythmic breathing can help release tension and distract you from pain. You may also find comfort during and between contractions from a gentle massage on your hands, feet, shoulders or back, acupressure, music, aromatherapy and/or hypnotherapy.
  2. Use warm and cold packs. Try a warm gel pack, hot moist towel or warm blanket in your low abdomen, low back or shoulders. The application of cold, such as an ice pack, frozen gel pack or cold moist cloth, can also help to reduce pain.
  3. Take a shower or bath. Bathing in warm water during labor is a great way to relax and help relieve pain. Sit on a stool and direct a hand-held showerhead on your front or back. Through its midwives, Elmhurst Hospital offers hydrotherapy or warm water immersion for labor and birth.
  4. Try giving birth in alternative positions. It may be more comfortable and less painful for you to give birth in upright or side-lying positions rather than on your back. You may consider pushing when squatting, on your hands and knees, or lying on your side.
  5. Move around and change positions. Moving during labor has been found to enhance comfort and reduce pain. It can also help labor progress by gently moving the baby through the birth canal. Try walking, rocking, swaying, kneeling over a birthing ball, or sitting backwards in a chair.
  6. Consider nitrous oxide. Unlike systemic drugs that can cause unwanted effects, nitrous oxide (a tasteless, odorless gas inhaled through a mask) is considered safe to use during labor and can be beneficial for both pain relief and anxiety relief. It also has a quick onset and quickly exits both the mother’s and baby’s system. While alternative comfort measures are encouraged, Elmhurst Hospital is the first in DuPage County to offer this pain relief option for women in labor, and it has been adopted by both the hospital’s OB-GYNs and the Elmhurst Clinic midwives.
  7. Try other pain medications. Some women prefer opioids to “take the edge off” of the pain instead of an epidural, since this option doesn’t interfere with the ability to push during labor. Pain medication can be given as a shot, intravenously (IV) or through a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump, usually during the early stages of labor to avoid side effects for both mother and baby.
  8. Choose an epidural. Epidural anesthesia is used by more than half of women giving birth. While it is the most effective form of pain relief for labor (as it “numbs” pain), an epidural has some disadvantages. Talk with your physician about if this option is right for you.

Keep in mind, having continuous support is key to comfort in labor. The more personal attention and nurturing you can get, the more positive your experience will be and the better your chances for a safe, healthy birth.

Learn more about pregnancy and baby services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Learn more about the benefits of a certified nurse midwife.

Find an OB-GYN or midwife.

Read related blogs:

Demystifying c-sections: what every expectant mom should know
Overdue and overeager? Learn natural ways to induce labor
Midwives: delivering another option for moms-to-be

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