Hot and Cold
Heat and cold are effective pain relievers. Alternating them is more effective than using only one or the other.
Heat -- using a blanket, heating pad, hot-water bottle or rice-filled socks -- is especially good for achy pains and can help relax muscles. Many women like heat applied to the lower abdomen and back. Hot, moist towels placed on the perineum during the birth process can help the tissue relax and stretch.
Cold -- using an ice-filled glove, chilled soda can, cold pack or rice-filled socks -- can numb a painful area, such as a sore back.
Beauty and the Bath
Laboring women often find a warm bath to be very relaxing. The buoyancy of the water helps relieve some of the pain of the contractions, and the warmth of the water relieves tension. The relaxation and warmth may also help labor to progress. In the shower, you can sit in a chair or on a birth ball and direct water onto your back or abdomen with a handheld showerhead. Ask your partner to bring a bathing suit and join you.
Progressive relaxation focuses on specific muscle groups in order to differentiate between relaxation and tension. Begin in a well-supported position and tense each large muscle group in your body, noticing how it feels when it's tense. Breathe out and release the tension, noticing how the muscle group feels when it's relaxed. By the time you've completed the sequence you'll find that your whole body is relaxed.
When you have become adept at progressive relaxation you can begin to work on another approach, called a neuromuscular dissociation exercise. Here the goal is to tense one part of the body while maintaining relaxation everywhere else. Start with one limb and then add one whole side or opposite sides as you become proficient. This is a transfer skill, meaning that you won't be doing this exercise in labor but will instead be using information that you have learned about yourself and your body and applying it in the labor situation.
In labor, the tensed part is the uterus. Remaining relaxed in labor when the uterus is contracting becomes more difficult as the contractions increase in strength. But by working on this skill you may be able to remain fairly relaxed during the contraction and then be able to totally relax once the contraction is over.