Coping and relaxation in labour and birth: There’s more than just breathing… Written by Jenny Gough 25th April 2015

Off the top of your head, how many different methods of coping and relaxation can you think of for use in pregnancy, labour and birth?

If you reached a total of less than seven, read on. If you got more than that, check the list to see if there’s anything you’ve missed (or give yourself a pat on the back)!

Non-pharmacological:

The aim of many of these is to allow the body to relax, and allow the natural processes of labour and birth to occur. Many support or encourage the release of natural hormones (oxytocin and endorphins) and reduce unnecessary stress. For more on this, take a look at my other blog about Overcoming Fear & Worry in Childbirth.

  • Emotional support and advocate (birth partner/doula) – reassurance reduces stress, which reduces tension, which reduces fear
  • Positions/mobility (including birthing ball) – working with your body and baby to find the best position
  • Environment – space to relax and feel comfortable/safe
  • TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) – interrupts pain signals from the lower abdomen, stimulates body’s natural pain killers; endorphins
  • Breathing techniques – relieves tension, aids relaxation to work with body’s natural instincts
  • Deep relaxation – relaxes muscles, relieves tension and allows your body to work as intended
  • Self-hypnosis – enabling yourself to think positively about situations, events and processes, and associate these with positive thoughts
  • Visualisation (colours, processes of birth – opening, waves – ‘happy place’, baby…) – focus the mind on something positive/relaxing to help alleviate stress and anxiety
  • Positive affirmations – positive thinking, empowering statements, positive hypnosis of your thoughts
  • Water – soothes and supports, interferes with pain signals
  • Music – familiarity, focus, relaxation, choose a style that works for you
  • Vocalisation (chanting – baby name, positive affirmation – moaning, low noises, humming, sighs… relaxed throat, relaxed cervix!) – focus, meditation and relaxation
  • Acupressure (discomfort, pain relief, baby’s descent, contractions…) – stimulates and clears energy paths in the body
  • Acupuncture (requires a therapist to be present) – stimulates and clears energy paths in the body
  • Aromatherapy (familiar smells, therapeutic smells) – analgesic, calming, regulating contractions, placenta delivery, anti-anxiety, uplifting.
  • Reflexology – points and reflex areas on the feet correspond to different body areas
  • Massage/light touch (with birth partner, professional or using props) – relieves tension and aids relaxation, allows natural release of oxytocin and endorphins
  • Heat/cold – soothes and stimulates
  • Wash/brush face and teeth – refreshing
  • Food/drink (bite sized, high energy, isotonic, favourites) – energising
  • Distractions (normal routine at home, magazines/TV/walks in hospital) – switches off your conscious brain and allows the primal, subconscious side to get to work…

Top tips from the RCM (Royal College of Midwives)

Overcoming Fear & Worry in Childbirth (by Jenny Gough) – trust and work with your body in labour and birth

Pharmacological:

  • Paracetamol
  • Cocodamol: Paracetamol and low dose codeine phosphate (opioid)
  • Gas and Air/Entonox: (Inhalational – Nitrous Oxide & Oxygen – patient controlled – acts in ~ 20 seconds, on demand)
  • Pethidine/Meptid/Diamorphine: Opioids – injection in leg or buttock – sedative/relaxant – takes 20 min to take effect, lasts 2-4hrs
  • Remifentanil: Opioid – drip in arm – patient controlled – effective within 1-2 minutes, available when required
  • Epidural: Anaesthetic – injected into epidural space between vertebrae – patient controlled or anaesthetist controlled – aims to completely block pain from umbilicus [belly button] down – effective within 20 min of first dose, topped up as needed, wears off within 6hrs of last dose)

Obstetric Anaesthetists Association – information about pain relief options via leaflets and videos

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