Let's face it: Pain is the scariest part of labor when you've never experienced it before. Yet many women are surprised and amazed at how well they can handle childbirth. Others know they want the safest and most natural delivery for their babies. And even those who feel certain they'll choose pain relief medication need to be prepared with alternative strategies for early labor, when anesthesia is not yet recommended or available. Don't panic: Regardless of your preferences, there are many alternative ways to cope with the discomfort of contractions.
You'll notice that throughout this article you'll be encouraged to change your strategies often. This is because your brain will habituate or become "bored" and, because it's not paying attention, you won't get the pain relief that you might have. When you change your strategy, position or environment, your brain becomes alert to the changes you've made and your comfort increases.
As you look at the rooms in the place where you'll give birth, think about how you can create an environment that will help you feel comfortable and confident. You'll want to be able to move around in this space as you try out various positions. The temperature of the room and the lighting, pillows and furniture will affect how you feel. Bringing a favorite nightgown, throw or pillow will give you the scent of home. Having pictures and music that you enjoy at your birthplace can help you relax and cope with labor.
Think carefully about whom you'll invite to share in your labor. This is one of the most critical decisions, because women with continuous, nurturing care and support during labor give birth more easily. The people who surround you must be supportive of your beliefs and plans for the labor and must be able to convey to you a calm, competent, reassuring presence. You may decide to have a professional support person (doula) join you and your partner during labor and birth.
You'll find that your emotions change as your labor progresses. The initial excitement of being in labor will give way to a more focused concentration on working with your contractions. There will be times when you need encouragement and times when you'll be confident and on top of things. It's important that you are surrounded by people who'll listen to you and are ready to do whatever it takes to help you feel strong and capable.
Heat and cold are effective pain relievers. For heat, you might use a blanket from a warmer, a heating pad or a hot-water bottle. Heat is especially good for "achy" pains and can help relax muscles. Many women like warmth applied to the lower abdomen. Hot, moist towels placed on the perineum during the birth process can help the tissue relax and stretch.
Cold can be applied by using an ice-filled glove, a chilled soda can or a cold pack. Cold can numb a painful area, such as a sore back. Alternating heat and cold is often more effective than using just one or the other.
Many women in labor find that their internal temperature fluctuates. At times you may feel cold, at other times too hot. This is normal.