15 Ways to Reduce Pain During Childbirth
It is a common feeling that childbirth is a beautiful thing. But as many women will tell you, with beauty comes pain. Here are 15 ways to reduce pain during childbirth.
1. Forget Your Fears
There is a connection between fear and pain during childbirth. The efficiency of the magnificent uterine muscle depends upon your hormonal, circulatory and nervous systems all working together. Fear upsets the balance of these three systems, causing your body to produce excess stress hormones that counteract the helpful hormones your body produces to enhance the labor process and relieve pain during childbirth. This results in increased pain and a longer labor. Fear also causes physiologic reactions that reduce blood flow and thus oxygen supply to the uterus. An oxygen-deprived muscle tires quickly, and a tired muscle is a hurting muscle.
2. Address Your Fears
What specifically do you fear about pain during childbirth? Do you fear the pain of having negative experiences with pain in the past? Do you fear having a cesarean or needing an episiotomy? Are you afraid you will lose control midway through labor? Do you have fears about problems with the baby? List all your fears and alongside each one, write what you can do to avoid having the fear come true. Realize, too, that some events and outcomes are beyond your power, and resolve not to worry about things you cannot change.
3. Inform Yourself of What to Expect
The more you know about pain during childbirth, the less afraid you will be. (See “Understanding the Cause of Labor Pain.“) While no two mothers’ childbirth experiences are alike, and each birth a woman experiences is different from the last one, childbirth does follow a general outline. There are sensations (aka “pains”) that will always occur between the first contraction and the final delivery of a baby. If you understand what happens and why, and what it probably will feel like, you will not be taken by surprise. Having a sense of what to expect – and when it will end – helps most mothers feel confident that they can handle labor and delivery.
A good childbirth class can help you understand what happens and why. There is no class that can tell you what it will feel like specifically to you, because this will depend on each woman’s particular situation and her ability to cooperate with the forces of labor. Women can easily be taken by surprise at the intensity of pain during childbirth. Some decide they do not like it one bit and wind up resisting the forces when fear takes hold.
4. Employ a Professional Labor Support Person
An experienced woman, called a professional labor coach, will help you interpret your sensations during labor, offer suggestions for managing your pain during childbirth, and help you understand and participate in any medical decisions.
5. Surround Yourself with Fearless Birth Attendants
Fear of pain during childbirth is contagious. Be sure you do not allow any fear mongers in the labor room. Don’t think that this is the time to finally prove something to your mother; if she has a fearful attitude about labor, better she watch your birth on video afterward than be in the birthing room infecting you with her fears.
Many men, including fathers-to-be, are afraid of birth. They don’t understand it, and they find it very upsetting when their mate hurts and they can’t “fix it.” It helps to inoculate your mate against fear so that he won’t pass the bug onto you. Prepare your partner for the normal sights and sounds of labor. Tell him what may happen if events don’t go as planned. A calm birth attendant can give your mate a much-needed break and help him keep focused on his job, which is to support you and share in the birth experience; not to protect you from this perfectly normal process.
6. Avoid Fearful Replays of Pain During Childbirth
Don’t carry scary baggage from your past into the delivery room. Childbirth has a way of stirring up uncomfortable memories of previous traumatic labors or even of a past sexual assault. (See “6 Tips on Preparing a Labor-Friendly Nest.“)
7. Take Responsibility for your Childbirth Decisions
While a painless childbirth is as rare as a sleep-through-the-night newborn, most pain during childbirth is under your influence – if you are ready for it.
8. Choose your Practitioner Wisely
Does your doctor or midwife take an active role in teaching you about the birth process and helping you to trust your body to give birth? After each visit do you leave believing your birth will go right? Or does this person create a fearful mindset about birth, filling your mind with all the possibilities of what could go wrong?
9. Understand Labor and the Birth Process
Do you know what happens during contractions and what those “pains” actually do? Do you understand how being upright and changing positions during labor can influence how you experience contractions?
10. Understand Which Technological Tools are Likely to be Used
Are you confident that you are knowledgeable enough to participate in decisions about the use of technology in your labor (such as electrical fetal monitoring)?
11. Be Aware of Options for Medical Relief of Pain During Childbirth
This most commonly includes drugs and epidural anesthesia (See “7 Common Types of Epidurals.“)
12. Understand Releasing and Surrendering to your Body During Labor
Are you determined to assume whatever position works for you rather than tensing up, resisting the labor process, or becoming a passive patient and spending a lot of time in the horizontal position?
13. Learn to Relax your Birthing Muscles
“Relax” is more than just an empty word for helpless bystanders to throw at a mother who is experiencing the most intense physical work of her life. But relax is what you must do to help the work progress. Relaxing all of your other muscles while only your uterus contracts eases the discomfort and speeds the progress of labor (See “3 Time-Tested Relaxation Techniques.“) If there is tension anywhere in your body, especially in your face and neck, this tension will spread to the pelvic muscles that need to stay loose during a contraction. Tense muscles hurt more than relaxed ones and they tire sooner.
Chemical changes within an exhausted, tense muscle actually lowers the muscle’s pain threshold, and you hurt more than if the muscle were working unopposed. When tight muscles resist the relentless, involuntary contractions of your uterus, the result is pain. Exhausted muscles soon lead to an exhausted mind, increasing your awareness of pain during childbirth and decreasing your ability to cope with it.
14. Learn to Balance your Hormones for Childbirth
Two sets of hormones help you labor efficiently. Adrenal hormones (also called stress hormones) give your body the extra power it needs in situations that call for tremendous effort, like labor and birth. These hormones are often referred to as the “fight or flight” hormones, and are there for the body’s protection. During labor your body needs enough of these stress hormones to help you work hard, but not so many that your body becomes anxious and distressed, causing your mind and muscles to work inefficiently. Stress hormones may even divert blood from the hardworking uterus to the vital organs of the brain, heart and kidney.
15. Relax to Boost your Endorphins
Another kind of hormone also works for relieving pain during childbirth – natural pain-relieving hormones, known as endorphins. These are your body’s natural narcotics, helping to relax you when you’re stressed and relieving pain when you’re hurt. These physiologic labor assistants are produced in the nerve cells. They attach to pain receptor sites on the nerve cell, where they blunt the sensation of pain. Strenuous exercise increases endorphin levels, and endorphins enter your system automatically during the strenuous exercise of labor; as long as you don’t do anything to block them such as tensing up, which blocks endorphin release.
Levels are highest in the second stage of labor (pushing) when contractions are most intense. Relaxing will allow these natural pain-relievers to work for you. Fear and anxiety can increase your levels of stress hormones and counteract the relaxing effects of endorphins. Endorphins also stimulate the secretion of prolactin, the relaxing and “mothering” hormone, that regulates milk production and gives you a psychological boost toward enjoyment of mothering.
For more information on this topic, see The Birth Book: Everything You Need to Know to Have a Safe and Satisfying Birth
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 40 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. He has served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine, and University of California: Irvine. As a father of 8 children, he coached Little League sports for 20 years, and together with his wife Martha has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on over 100 television programs, including 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012. He is noted for his science-made-simple-and-fun approach to family health.