Deborah Flower’s advice for pregnant women about handling labor
During the last few weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, I like to talk about labor and things that the laboring woman can do that will help her get through her birth as easily and gracefully as she can.
It is good when you are in labor to think and say positive things.
It is normal to sometimes have negative thoughts but you don’t want to dwell on those. Sometimes it helps to talk about them, then try and think of something positive to replace those negative thoughts with. Think of what you have to be grateful for and substitute those thoughts for the negative ones.
“Oh god this hurts” can become, “Thank you god.”
Be thankful that the contractions are strong. Be grateful that your body is working and thankful for the people with you who are there for you and nurturing you.
“I can’t” can become, “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can.”
“Oh shit” can become, “Oh baby.” “I can’t wait to see you baby.” “I love you baby.” It is good to remember why you are doing this! Oh yes, I get a wonderful prize at the end!
Labor is hard work. That is why we call it labor, but it is that way for a reason. What we work hard for we take good care of. In our culture we don’t always have to work hard for things. You may have been given a lot as you were growing up without having to work for it at all, so you may not be used to working hard. This is all about to change! Motherhood is hard work. Mothers make sacrifices for their children. When you work hard for something and then get it, there is a feeling like no other. You want to take good care of the things you work hard for, so that is why I say that labor is hard for a good reason.
In modern society we don’t have “rights of passage” where you have to prove to your tribe that you are an adult by doing something difficult. Child birth is one of those rights of passage that you can feel really good about and you really are transformed by. It prepares you for motherhood. This is true no matter how you give birth. Vaginally or by Cesarean.
After I had my first baby I remember feeling like I could whip the world with one hand tied behind my back! This is a good way to start motherhood, EMPOWERED!
The mind-body connection is real and powerful. How you think about what you are feeling in labor makes a difference in how your body reacts.
We are conditioned to pull away from pain. Usually this is a good thing, if you touch a hot stove and it is burning your hand you need to pull away from that. This is one of the ways labor pain is different. It is not causing you any harm so you don’t want to pull away from it. You want to relax into it instead.
When you are afraid, your body makes more adrenalin and that can make labor hurt more or make labor take longer or even stop labor. When you relax your body makes endorphins and they are your bodies’ natural pain relief. Take slow deep breaths and fill your lungs. Try to make it take as long as you can, so this is a slow, deep, breath. Envision that breath flowing into you and out your vagina, opening you up as you slowly breathe out. Envision that breath as a white light as it flows through you. Your breath has vital oxygen in it that goes to your baby and to every cell in your body. This gives you energy and is good for your baby too.
Our bodies are very smart and they know how to give birth. Trust that. Let go. Ride the wave of the energy of labor.
Sometimes if you are a person who normally wears glasses from the moment you wake up until you go to bed at night (I am one of those people) then in labor you might want to not wear your glasses. In labor you don’t need to see every detail of things. In labor you want to enjoy the experience. Yes, that’s right, enjoy it! It is something sacred that only women get to do and that we only get to do a few times in our lives. When you relax and trust your body you get in tune with that knowledge that you were born with that tells you how to give birth.
At your birth you want to have people there who love you and who you trust. A lot of women like some privacy when they are in labor. You may not want to have a lot of people around, especially people who do not have a purpose or who do not understand about the energy at birth. Pay attention to that and ask people to leave if necessary.
I just heard a funny story about one woman’s birth. She went into labor when there was a cookout happening at her house. She asked people to leave. People were not leaving. She asked them 3 times and still they wouldn’t go. She wanted to get into a water tub in the back yard so she took off her clothes and walked out to the tub naked, and then they left. Smart woman!
It is good when you are in labor to laugh a lot. You may not be able to do this during a contraction, but in between try to find the humor in things. If you have a friend who is good at making you laugh, that might be a good person to invite to your birth. You could ask people to write down their favorite jokes and then your partner or doula could read them to you during your labor.
I was at a birth once and when the woman got to about 8 cm. she said to us, “well you all can stay here and keep doing this, my body can stay here and keep doing this, but I’m leaving!” We all got a good laugh over that statement and we knew that she was probably going into transition. She laughed too and soon she was fully dilated and had her baby. This was her first baby.
Taking yoga and learning about relaxation breathing can be helpful. Some women have found that a hypnobirthing course helped them. Listening to relaxing music is good, as well as dimming the lights and lighting candles, using essential oils, getting a massage, or getting into warm water.
Another thing that can be very helpful is to go outside and enjoy nature during your labor. In Japan they believe in something called shinrin-yoku. It means taking in the forest atmosphere or “forest bathing,” to relieve stress and improve health.
Walking is early labor helps you make progress. Keeping busy in early labor can take your mind off of things and help you progress faster. Listening to nature sounds is known to reduce stress, so if at all possible plan to give birth somewhere close to nature or open a window so you can hear birds, etc. I have found that when a women is not making progress or is struggling with a painful labor, if we go outside her perception of pain changes. She is better able to deal with the contractions and get a “new lease on her labor!”
If you find that you are tensing up your muscles during a contraction, then try to relax those muscles instead. Think of melting into the bed, or whatever surface you are on. Sometimes during a very strong contraction it is impossible to relax completely. That is ok; you are not bad, just try to relax as much as you can. If you try, you will relax more that if you don’t try. If you feel like you “lost it” during one contraction, that is ok too, you will get another chance! Sometimes it takes a few contractions to get the hang of it
When I was in labor with my daughter I was chanting something in my mind that no one even knew I was doing. You can do this silently like I did or out loud. You can find the thing that has meaning for you and works for you, or you can use what I did. I chanted “relaaaaaaaaaax, relaaaaaaaaax, relaaaaaaaax.” This is what I wanted my body to do. Your body listens to you. By saying it very slowly and drawing the word out, it helped me to relax. If I had been saying it very fast and short, relax, relax, relax; it would not have had the desired effect.
With my second birth I had a 2 hour labor. I had an orgasmic birth. I felt no pain, for that matter when I was pushing out my daughter it felt wonnddeerrffuull. This does not always happen with every woman or with every birth, but other women have reported having this same experience. It is more likely that this will happen if you are somewhere where you feel comfortable with the people around you. For me this was at home with my partner and my midwives.
You will go to “another place” when you are in labor. This is good. You are supposed to do that. It is a meditative place where you can tap into your inner strength and that knowledge of how to birth that you were born knowing.
This is why you need to have people with you who understand this and who will guard that space for you. This is also why you want to set the mood with all the things I’ve mentioned.
Stair steps of labor:
When the contractions feel strong, if you breathe through them, and try to relax and let the endorphins flow, usually after a few contractions, you can integrate them better, and it does not seem so intense.
Then as labor progresses, and the contractions become more intense again, going up to a new level, if you can remember that it did that before, and you DID learn how to integrate it, you handled it just fine. With this new intensity, you can do that again. You can think of it like stair steps, it goes up to a new level, then it plateaus for a while.
When the next stair step rises, the more you have faith in your capacity to cope, the smoother it will go. Have Faith that your body knows what it’s doing. Stay out of labor’s way, let your body do it. Sometimes you just have to ride the wave, surrender to the force. When you BELIEVE in yourself, it all unfolds perfectly.
Some women get meditative as they surrender to the strength and intensity of the contractions. It’s almost like self-hypnosis, when you surrender, the pain is there, but it feels like less.
Even though the contractions grow stronger, it’s not hurting as much as it did in early labor, because you are handling it and surrendering better and better.
I remember another woman who was having her first baby. As the contractions got stronger and she was approaching transition, she looked down at her belly and said, “Oh, go ahead and hurt!” That was when she let go and surrendered. Labor progressed more quickly after that.
Women can sometimes figure out a way to keep their labor from progressing. The contraction may get to a place where they think, “Ok that is enough, I don’t want it to get stronger.” And they are able to hold it at that level. If you find that you are doing that, this is when you may want to let go and see what happens. Trust your body. Labor may take you to the edge of what you think you can handle and you may learn that you can handle more than you ever knew.
Labor is a balancing act of being in control and not in control all at the same time! Maybe this is what a surfer feels when they are riding on the top of a powerful wave. The control part is the balancing act so you don’t fall off your surf board but you can’t control that intense wave that is under you, you just have to ride it!
No two births are the same. This is what makes birth so wonderful and exciting. This is why I don’t have women write a birth plan. Instead I encourage women to think of it as an adventure. Go bravely into birth trusting it and let birth reveal to you what the plan is!