by Erin Bockstael
Photography by Megan Stoneman
Are you thinking about labour?
Some of us pregnant people might think we know exactly how our births will go, like those of us having planned caesarian births, for example. Most of us will go through pregnancy with a big question over our heads – what will giving birth be like?
It can help to know that labour and birth are different for every pregnant person, and there are some aspects that we can’t control. It can be hard to imagine what it’s like to be in labour, so I will compare it to a really bad stomach flu. It can build up slowly or come on suddenly. It can last for up to 48 hours, but usually lasts less than a day. It can really take a lot out of you, there are some bodily fluids to deal with, and you might have moments where you feel like you just can’t stand it.
But unlike a stomach flu, you will end up with a brand new person in your arms!
One thing that is true for every single birth is that the person giving birth needs to feel safe and cared for. It helps when we are labouring with healthcare providers and support people we trust.
But did you know there are things we can do to help ourselves feel safe and comfortable during labour? While there are medications and techniques that can be given by a provider for pain relief, those are best discussed with your midwife or doctor. We are going to focus on some comfort measures that you or your loved one can provide to give you some relief.
Please note: not all of these may be suitable for your situation. Discuss these with your provider to make sure they are appropriate for you.
Caring for Body
Pleasing any of your 5 senses can help lessen feelings of intensity or anxiety.
To see: Photos of loved ones, pets, a favorite place, or image.
To hear: Encouraging words from others: “You’ve got this.” “You’re doing great!”, “You are being so strong!” “I’m here for you.”
Encouraging words from yourself: “I am doing this.” “I am bringing my baby to me.” “I am powerful!” “I am surrounded by love.”, “I am love in action.”
- Your favorite music: What songs make you feel more relaxed? What songs make you feel like moving your body?
- Jokes! We don’t have to be serious just because this is an important day. This is your baby’s birth day – have a party if you want to!
- Touch or massage.
- A cold cloth on your forehead.
- Water: showers and baths can soothe.
- Cuddles and kisses: Showing and receiving affection releases our love hormone, oxytocin, which helps labour progress.
To smell: Use scented lotions or essential oils.
To taste: Have some water, juice or a popsicle. Staying hydrated helps our bodies work!
Caring for Mind and Spirit
Some of the ways we help our body in labour also helps our mind feel at peace as labour unfolds. Labour is a time for compassion, from others and from yourself.
We can soothe our minds while having intense feelings by meditating, counting in multiples, and all kinds of vocalizing: chanting, singing, grunting… and even yelling!
You can do meditation – focusing on your breath – whatever else is happening. See text below for a one-minute meditation.
Whatever happens in labour, remember all of your strengths and know that you can handle it, with support. One thing that helped me cope was remembering that there are 300,000 people around the world in labour in any given moment – I felt that we could all get through it! Rock that birth!
Find a comfortable position, sitting or lying down. Focus your attention on your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Observe the different sensations of each breath in and out, without looking for anything special to happen. There is no need to change your breathing in any way.
After a while, your mind may wander. When you notice this, gently bring your attention back to your breath, without giving yourself a hard time. The act of realizing that your mind has wandered and bringing your attention back without criticizing is central to practicing meditation.
Your mind may become calm like a still pond, or it may not. Even if you get a sense of absolute stillness, it may only be for a short time. If you feel angry or exasperated, notice this may also only be for a short time. Whatever happens, just allow it to be as it is.
After a minute, let your eyes open and take in the room again.
Adapted from Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
Erin Bockstael is a bilingual Health Educator at Women’s Health Clinic specializing in maternal health and wellness.