5 Labour Comfort Measures That Work
I've been a Certified Birth Doula for over 15 years. During my training I was given a plethora of things to do with the birthing parent in labour to bring them comfort and ultimately avoid having an epidural. However, after being in this business for so long, I realize that not everyone wants to avoid having an epidural. And as someone who's had two, I can absolutely respect that. But we have to remember that there will be a period of time where you are labouring at home, and anesthesiologists don't make house calls. So here are 5 comfort measure options to try to keep you more comfortable at home until it's time to head to the hospital.
Submersing your self in a warm bath or having the warm water spray on your back or belly in a shower can be extremely relaxing. One of the causes of discomfort in labour comes from tension. Trying to remove tension from your body with hot water is an excellent way to bring you less pain and ultimately progress your labour forward.
And when you are in the tub or shower, try to think outside the box. Being in a bath doesn't mean just sitting in a tub or reclining back in warm water. Try facing out of the tub, or laying on your side to ensure a good position for baby. Also standing in a shower with out actually cleaning your body may feel odd, but try leaning forward so the water hits your lower back. Or if you have a hand held shower head, try being on all four and have your support person spray the water on your back. Or sit on the edge and have the water sprayed on your belly.
Tip: Make sure you test the temperature of the water before getting in. Your body is very sensitive to touch in labour so what was hot before may be scalding in labour. Don't burn yourself
Often times we see birthing parents swaying or rocking rhythmically during a contraction. This is extremely common and very helpful. The movement can help position baby and help them move further into the pelvis and the rhythm acts as a distraction for the mind from the actual contraction itself.
A great option is having a birth or exercise ball to sit on and rock side to side or back and forth. You can also slow dance with your partner during the contraction and sway from side to side while holding on to them and leaning into their body for support.
Tip: For the partner, try not to interrupt this rhythm during the contraction. If you need to speak to them or get their attention, wait until the contraction is over.
The best thing to avoid when in labour is simply laying in bed. Its always best to try and be in positions that are upright and forward leaning. If you have to rest because you are tired, try laying on your side. Listening to what your body is telling you is a great way to pick the positions that will work best for you. As a newer doula I was suggesting position changes for the birthing parent and there were times that they just made things worse. But once I stopped trying to micromanage the labour and allowed the process to flow, I found that birthing parents would organically choose positions that worked best for them. And that allowed me to encourage them, offer massage or counter pressure on their back or get ice chips and sometimes not doing anything but watching the space and paying to attention to them to look for signs of needing a change.
Choosing various positions throughout labour can be very helpful for moving the labour along. But how often? As often as you need. I heard a doula say once, you should change positions every 4-5 contractions. That seems like a lot. And honestly, exhausting. Keep a position until it no longer feels right for you, then switch it up. Ultimately our bodies know what they need, we just need to be open enough to listen and follow our body's lead.
Tip: Even if the nursing staff or midwives suggest a position, if it isn't working for you, go back to what was. And if a position didn't work well in early labour, try it in later labour, and vice versa.
Double Hip Squeeze/Counter Pressure
During labour it can feel like your hips are spreading apart. Squeezing them together, at the back or putting pressure on the lower back or tail bone can feel really good. I had a client who, for the entire labour, many many hours of it, needed me to do the double hip squeeze for her. It was very hard work and exhausting for me but it was incredibly helpful for her so I did it without complaint.
Tip: Partners, if you are finding hip squeezes or counter pressure difficult, tiring or your body is cramping up, keep all that info to yourself. What you are experiencing, pales in comparison to what the birthing parent is feeling.
Click this link for a YouTube Video on the double hip squeeze. However, when preforming it on the birthing parent try to hold it firmly during the contraction. Pulsing your hands can often feel irritating.
Rhythmic Touch or Massage
As mentioned above, rhythmic movement is comforting during labour. The same can be said for massage that is done in a rhythmic way. Having access to the birthing parents back and using light pressure in a flowing rhythmic pattern on their back, arms or shoulders can help them focus on that movement as opposed to the discomfort of the contraction.
The touch also releases endorphins in their system that will help lower stress hormones and as a result increase oxytocin levels to keep labour moving forward more efficiently.
Tip: Partners, as labour progresses, the light pressure may become irritating. Watch for signs that the touch needs to change to firm touch, or just holding their hand or having a hand on their shoulder instead of rhythmic movement.
Give these a try and with some relaxation and don't forget to practice ahead of time.
P.S. Want more information on non-medical comfort measures? Check out my online class.