Managing Labour Pain Naturally
- 9 Months ago
If you want your labour and delivery to be as natural as possible, you may want to look into complementary and alternative medicine techniques.
Not every woman wants traditional pain medication. Many moms-to-be want their labor and delivery to be as natural as possible (and for women who are recovering from drug and alcohol abuse, analgesics and tranquilizers are usually a no-no), but still as comfortable as possible.
What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners believe in the involvement of body, mind, and spirit to stay healthy and to heal - and to reduce pain. They also firmly believe that pregnancy and delivery are not medical conditions, and shouldn't be treated as though they were.
But CAM practitioners are not alone in their philosophy - more and more traditional doctors are hopping on board the CAM bandwagon, too. Many recommend CAM techniques to their patients - either as an alternative to pain medication, or as a relaxing supplement to it. Even if you're sure that there's an epidural with your name on it waiting at the hospital or clinic, you'd be wise to explore the world of CAM, too. (And to explore it well before your due date, since many of the techniques take practice - or even classes - to perfect.) But remember to go only to CAM practitioners who are licensed and certified, not to mention have plenty of experience with pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
• Acupuncture and acupressure: The Chinese have known for thousands of years that acupuncture is an effective form of pain relief - but it's only recently that the rest of the world, as well as the traditional medical community, has started to catch on. Scientific studies now back up the ancient wisdom; researchers have found that, among other not-well-understood effects, acupuncture triggers the release of several brain chemicals, including endorphins, which block pain signals. An acupuncturist inserts dozens of thin needles at prescribed points along invisible paths (or meridians) on the body. According to ancient tradition, the paths are the channels through which chi, the body's life force, flows. Researchers have found that the points correspond to deep-seated nerves, so that when the needles are twirled (or electrically stimulated, in a procedure known as electropuncture), the nerves are activated, leading to the release of endorphins - and pain relief.
Acupressure (or shiatsu) works on the same principle as acupuncture, except that instead of getting poked with needles, your practitioner will use thumb or finger pressure, or will apply pressure with small beads, to stimulate the points. (You may have learned about some of the points during your pregnancy; for example, pressure on a certain point just above your inner wrist can ease nausea - which is why sea-bands work). Acupressure on the center of the ball of the foot is said to help back labor.
• Reflexology: This CAM is similar to acupressure, except the pressure is applied only to the feet and sometimes the hands (and ears). Certified reflexologists believe that the internal organs - including the uterus - can be accessed through points on the feet. According to some, labor can be shortened dramatically with the aid of a reflexologist. Some of the pressure points are so powerful, reflexologists say, that you should avoid stimulating them unless you are in labor, because you might trigger contractions.
• Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): In TENS, electrodes are placed on the skin and deliver low-volt electrical pulses. The pulses are believed to stimulate nerve pathways to the uterus and cervix, blocking pain. TENS is widely used in Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, and also in Canada, but isn't common in the United States (although more and more hospitals are making it available to laboring women). The electrodes are placed not on the uterus but on either side of the spine, at about mid-back level. Mom-to-be is given a handheld switch to set off the electrodes; the intensity can be controlled by a dial on the TENS machine. The pulses are said to feel like a slight buzzing. Scientists are still uncertain of the effectiveness of TENS at reducing labor pain. Some studies show no less pain in women who use it compared with those who don't; other reports indicate that it leads to a shorter first-stage labor, and a lesser need for pain meds.
• Physical therapy: For many women suffering through contractions, massage at the hands of a loved one (or a skilled health professional) can bring relaxing relief and can help diminish pain (just be careful where you get massaged; your uterus - and baby inside - will not benefit from vigorous massage). If you're cursed with back labor (in which the back of your baby's head is pressing against your sacrum) you'll want to try as many physical therapy tricks as you can to ease your aching back, from a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel or hot compresses, to ice packs, to intense counterpressure on the sore spots (have your partner press his palms or knuckles - or even tennis balls - into your back).
• Hydrotherapy: If you prefer, you can settle into a Jacuzzi and let hot jets of water do the kneading (or you can just settle in for a soothing soak). Because hydrotherapy seems to reduce pain and definitely relaxes women during labor, many hospitals now provide Jacuzzi tubs. (If you're laboring in a birthing center, you'll likely find a tub, which some women choose to deliver their baby in; if you're at home, you can use your own). A caveat: Keep the jets of water directed away from your vagina, because you don't want to force water inside.
• Hypnosis: About one-sixth of the population is highly suggestive to hypnosis. If you are or think you might be (some clues are having a long attention span, rich imagination, and if you enjoy - or don't mind - being alone), then you might want to look into hypnosis for pain relief during labor. Hypnosis usually won't mask your pain (unless you're very suggestible), numb your nerves, or quell contractions. What it can do is get you so deeply relaxed (some women describe it as becoming like a floppy rag doll) that you are totally unaware of any discomfort - your mind is separated from the sensations. (Sort of like when you get engrossed in a good book and don't hear the telephone ring; some hypnobirthing practitioners claim that there is no pain if you're relaxed enough not to fight your contractions, and that labor, without your anxiety working against it, will progress more quickly.) More and more women these days are seeking the help of a medically certified hypnotherapist (you'll want to shy away from someone without such credentials) to train them to get through labor by self-hypnosis; sometimes, you can have a hypnotherapist with you during the process. It's not something you can just start when that first contraction hits; you'll have to practice quite a bit to be able to achieve total relaxation, even with a certified therapist at your side. One big benefit of hypnotherapy is that while you're completely relaxed, you're also completely awake and aware of every moment of your baby's birth. There are also no physical effects on the baby (or on you). Hypnosis isn't for everyone; about one-fourth of the population is highly resistant to hypnotic suggestion, and many more not suggestive enough to use it for pain relief.
• Distraction: Not crazy about the idea of entering a hypnotic state - but would like to get your mind off the pain? There are other tactics you can try - many of them pretty successful. Childbirth education programs generally rely on distraction to teach women to cope with their labor discomfort. Use whatever works best for you - relaxation, meditation, and visualization techniques (like imagining your cervix is blooming like a flower - dilating, that is) are often useful between contractions, and breathing exercises during them, for example. Some women are relaxed and preoccupied by music (from opera to hard rock; whatever gets your groove on - and your mind off the pain), and others by watching TV or a movie, or playing handheld video games. Keeping your pain in perspective is also key to an easier labor. Staying rested, relaxed, and positive (remember that the pain of a contraction is actually accomplishing something, as each one gets you closer to your baby, and keep telling yourself that it won't last forever) will help you stay more comfortable.