Eight expert tips for an easier and more positive labour
Mums-to-be all want an easier labour. Arlene Harris offers some tips
Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time and while countless methods of pain relief have been tried and tested, the fact remains that labour can be an arduous experience for both mother and baby.
But many women have positive and empowering deliveries and while some put this down to medication, others say it's got a lot to do with state of mind.
Emily Barrett gave birth to her first child, Finn, two months ago and found the whole experience to be positive. She believes this is due to her preparation, both mental and physical, before the big day.
"I was never overly concerned about labour but still wanted to prepare myself as best I could, so I started pregnancy yoga when I was 16 weeks pregnant," says the 33-year-old, who is married to Michael. "This helped me to relax, stretch my muscles and focus my mind - I also used a yoga ball in the second trimester to help baby get into the correct position.
"I continued with yoga throughout my pregnancy and went for a 4-5km walk every evening with Michael. And I bought some relaxation CD's from Gentlebirth, which I found really helpful, particularly the positive affirmations. Then, close to my due date, I began using almond oil for perineal massage - it wasn't something I liked doing, but I knew it would help prepare my body for the rigours of labour."
On the day she gave birth, the secondary school teacher managed her contractions at home with yoga stretches and walking. When she finally decided to go to hospital an internal examination revealed she was already 8cm dilated.
"After I was examined, I was offered gas and air but didn't feel like I needed it," recalls Emily. "I was in my own little world and breathed through each surge, repeating the positive affirmations from my Gentlebirth tracks. I stayed as upright as I could during my second stage of labour, finally delivering Finn on my side after just six hours from start to baby.
"My birthing experience was very positive as all my preparations helped to give me that gentle birth I wanted."
Midwife Tracy Donegan agrees and says while pain is such a subjective experience, labour can be made more positive by having a good attitude from the beginning.
"There are lots of ways to minimise pain in labour and some of them can be started in pregnancy," she says. "Your mindset is really important in how well you cope on the day but as we tend to be a 'glass half-empty' culture, mums need to mentally train themselves to think differently about labour.
"Talk to women who have had positive birth experiences as hanging out with 'negative nellies', who just want to tell you horror stories, is bad for your health and your baby's. We all know about being careful with what we put into our bodies during pregnancy, but you must also be careful about what you put into your mind - so don't listen to negative stories and keep yourself focussed on what can go right during labour instead of what can go wrong as most of the time it goes really well."
The experienced midwife, doula and GentleBirth instructor says it's important to keep active, reduce anxiety and get your partner in on the act.
"Being physically fit is also important as labour can sometimes be a physical and mental endurance event - yoga, swimming and walking are all good," Donegan says.
"A well-trained partner is invaluable to a labouring mum in managing her emotional state which, in turn, reduces pain perception. Try to find an antenatal class with a strong focus on developing birth-partner support skills so partners have a good understanding of physical as well as psychological comfort measures for the big day.
"Also shows like One Born Every Minute often portray birth in the most dramatic, distressing way possible and this definitely has an impact on mum's belief in her own abilities. Anxiety amplifies pain - so reducing anxiety is a priority."
Tips for a positive labour
• Melatonin is a helper hormone for oxytocin, which strenthens contractions, but we turn it off as soon as we turn on the lights, so keep the lighting dim
• Slow, focused breathing triggers the relaxation response
• Whenever possible, get a small pool to labour in at home whether planning a hospital or home birth. Deep warm water immersion is associated with increased levels of oxytocin and less pain. (If you can't get a pool, a bath is still a good option)
• Rest in early labour and be sure to eat and drink. Exhaustion and hunger will lower your pain tolerance and focus, making labour more physically and emotionally challenging
• All of the above will help you stay at home longer and women who labour in 'home-like' surroundings tend to experience less pain
• Move your body - being upright is associated with fewer requests for pain relief and shorter labours
• Consider having a doula to support you at home and at the hospital. Doulas are associated with a 30pc reduction in analgesia requests as their main job is facilitating your oxytocin production by being a continuous calm, supportive presence
• If you've used all of your tools in your labour toolkit and you need some extra help with medication, don't be shy in asking for what you need.