As you prepare to bring your child into the world, any class or book you can find on relaxation, breathing techniques, focal points, etc. can be helpful in preparing you for labor and birth. The reason labor is called labor is because it is hard work. However, it was never meant to be more difficult than we can handle and especially not impossible. Women have been giving birth on this planet for thousands of years and they have been successful doing it. We know this because all of us are here.
Labor does not need to be some horrible, frightening, out-of-control event, it does go smoother if we are prepared. You would not show up on the day of a marathon to run the race if you had not prepared for it. Without being in shape, you would never make it to the finish line. In some ways, labor is like that. No matter what, sooner or later, the baby will come out whether you are ready for it or not. However, if you are prepared, you can accomplish your task with grace and dignity, being in control when it happens.
Comfort Measures to Use for Labor, Birth and Postpartum
It is important to learn how to relax and understand where you carry your tension. I encourage women to do an exercise which helps them learn how to isolate different muscle groups. In the evening, when you can relax with your partner, I suggest tightening all of the muscles in your body. Then, concentrate on relaxing one particular muscle group, such as one leg and foot. All the other muscles stay tense. When you can relax one muscle group, then work on two different groups, such as relaxing one arm and one leg, while everything else remains tense. is helps you to recognize tension, learn to relax it, and how to isolate different muscle groups. So when you are in labor, you will be able to relax while the uterus tightens up to do its job. Your partner’s job is to watch for tension and to recognize the signs of how you carry it – wrinkled brow, hunched shoulders, hands held in a fist, feet stretched out straight, etc. If they see tension in your body, they can gently touch that area – you learn to automatically let go of tension when you feel the touch. This eliminates the need to command her to relax, which is usually not received well in the middle of labor. This technique helps couples to work as a team without irritating or frustrating one another.In Natural Healing for the Pregnant Woman, we are given some sound advice:“Take the time (maybe once a week) during your last trimester to sit quietly and imagine your labor. Deal with the idea of pain when you aren’t having it so that you can be prepared for it when you are. Don’t ever try to fight it or flee from it – rather, surrender to its power. Imagine the tightness of your contractions squeezing your body, the pulling of tissues, the downward pressure of your baby’s head, your birth passage stretching wider, the feeling of being gripped in the lower abdomen or the small of your back. Imagine the wavelike shape of contractions, drawing a tight circle around your center, then letting go. See yourself being carried by these waves. You will not go under, but rather, will meld with them and become part of them. As difficult as some of them may be, you will ride with them, giving up to the power that is generated by your own body. Take a cleansing breath and allow your eyes to relax open.” (199)
Learn how to do several different types of breathing. Program yourself to take a ‘cleansing’ breath at the beginning and end of each contraction. Breathe in through the nose, filling the lungs, then, breathe out through the mouth. This helps to accomplish a couple of things: First, it helps to level out the oxygen, so you don’t hyperventilate. Second, it lets everyone in the room know a contraction has started, so everyone’s energy can be focused on supporting you through the contraction.During most of the labor, slow chest breathing is usually effective. Breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth, slow and easy. These breaths are kept relatively shallow, so the diaphragm is not pushed down on the uterus while it is working. Sometimes, women relax better if they breathe deeply. Some women do better in transition if they can change their breathing to match the intensity of their labor, alternating three ‘hes and a blow’, so it would go something like this: “he, he, he, whooooooooooo, he, he, he, whooooooooo”. Sometimes, it helps to breathe through the peak of the contraction with short little blows, like blowing out candles in succession. Sometimes, it helps to have the mother drop her jaw, letting her mouth hang open, then groan out the pressure she is feeling – “Ahhhhhhhhhhh”. Everyone is different. It is important to be in tune with what works for you or for the woman you are working with. Some women like to labor alone; others need a lot of help and encouragement. Most women appreciate some support through the transition. In Creating a Joyful Birth Experience, we read an interesting statistic:“Numerous women have told us that their beliefs about labor come from two primary sources: the media and other people’s horror stories. Films and television depict labor and delivery as a traumatic and excruciatingly painful experience. In one study of 296 television births, only one was portrayed as happy and true to life. All of the others were sensationalized, dramatized, and guaranteed to stir up conflicting emotions in the viewers. (167)
3. Healthy Snacks and Treats
The mother can eat and drink as much as she wants during labor, so she will have the strength needed to do her job effectively. Some women do not like to eat because their digestive system has shut down. If this is the case, encourage them to drink, so they will stay hydrated.
4. Empty the Bladder
As labor advances, remind the mother to get up and empty her bladder. This will help the labor to progress and relieve the pressure on the uterus.
5. Blue Cohosh
Blue cohosh can help get labor started. If a woman has reached her due date and the cervix is soft and ready – then, Blue Cohosh may be used to help induce labor. If her body is not ready, it probably won’t help. Most women take 4 capsules or 1 dropper full of tincture every 20 minutes while walking, usually for two to four hours, unless they begin to develop a headache. This is the body’s signal that it has had enough.
6. Castor Oil
When a mother is past her due date, anxious about starting her labor, and her body is ready, then she can drink up to an ounce of castor oil in some juice. Normally, if her body is ready, in two to four hours the bowel cleanses and the contractions begin. This is effective because the castor oil causes the intestines to contract, which irritates the uterus and causes it to start contracting.
7. Horsetail Tincture
Calcium is a natural painkiller. Horsetail or Shavegrass has silica, which is the precursor to calcium. When given under the tongue, it has been known to help increase pain tolerance.
8. Rescue Remedy
A Bach Flower combination which can be used under the tongue, as often as needed. This is used to help calm a mother who is starting to feel out of control or frightened.
9. Shepherd’s Purse Tincture
This is traditionally used to help control uterine bleeding. I use a dropper full under the tongue, as often as needed.
10. Evening Primrose Oil
If there is a stubborn cervical lip, which does not want to disappear, we have used evening primrose oil to help dissolve it. It can be massaged directly onto the cervix or a capsule can be placed between the baby’s head and the cervix.
11. Liquid Chlorophyll
If it is a long labor and the mother needs an energy boost or there is excess post-partum bleeding, I will give the mother an ounce or more of chlorophyll.
12. Red Raspberry Leaf Tea
Traditionally, this has been used to help labor be easier and shorter than it might be otherwise. At the onset of labor, take one ounce of red raspberry leaves, pour one pint of boiling water over the leaves, cover, let steep for 30 minutes, strain. Drink, as hot as possible.
13. Comfrey Tea
While the mother is in labor, make a batch of comfrey tea. Soak 4 sanitary pads in the tea and place them in the freezer. The rest of the tea is placed in a jar for the mother’s use after the birth. The frozen pads are used for the first six to eight hours after the birth when the perineum is swollen and sore, to reduce swelling and begin healing. The rest of the tea is used in a Peri bottle, following the birth, each time the mother goes to the bathroom. Instead of wiping herself, she uses the Peri bottle to rinse herself off. This will help her to heal faster. Note: Let the frozen pads thaw a little first as to avoid causing frostbite!
Bonus Tactics to Relax Mom and Baby
Babies Gripe Ease
Use Babies Gripe Ease as often as needed for the baby if there is a problem with colic.
Active Labor/Glycerin Base
Sprigs' Active Labor formula has been used to help induce labor and/or to encourage a sluggish labor to move along. The Blue Cohosh stimulates the contractions and the Black Cohosh makes them more effective. Again, stay active, take every thirty minutes for four to five hours unless you develop a headache.
If there is any cause for concern about infection, take 4 Lymph Releaf infection capsules every 2 to 4 hours for the first week.
When the mother is finished nursing her baby (hopefully, this will be at least a year to 18 months after the birth) start cutting back the number of times you nurse until you are down to one feeding per day. When you are ready to completely dry up your milk, take some fresh parsley and bruise the leaves (this can be done by crushing it in your hands). Pack this on the breasts at night and drink a cup of parsley tea before going to bed. is will help to dry up the milk without becoming engorged.
Lavender Essential Oil
Can be used in bath water or mixed with olive oil to be massaged on the mother to help with relaxation.
Clary Sage Essential Oil
If the mother is feeling a sharp pain in the lower abdomen that she is having a hard time dealing with; soak a cloth diaper or hand towel in hot water, wring out, put several drops of Clary Sage on the warm, wet cloth and hold on the lower abdomen to help the pain. If her skin is sensitive, apply olive oil to the abdomen first. Aromatherapy in Midwife Practice by Denise Tiran, states, “Clary sage may also be helpful where there is an occipioposterior position (baby is facing forward with the back of his head on his mother’s back), as it will act as an overall analgesic and assist in relaxing the mother”. (89) These tips may equip women to have the labor they dream of having. They further reinforce the notion that both pregnancy and labor are natural. They are not foreign processes to be met with fear, doubt, and in some cases even medical intervention. A woman’s body is capable of amazing things but these tips provide natural nudges for a woman in labor. They also provide natural remedies for the postpartum period and a newborn. To this effect, feel free to check out Nancy Laudon’s story. She shares her home birth experience after previously having a traditional hospital birth.