Acupuncture has been part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years and is now widely used alongside conventional medicine in the UK. Fine needles are inserted into the skin at specific points to allow your natural energy – or ‘Qi’ – to flow freely and restore balance throughout the body.
Proponents say it can kickstart contractions, encourage relaxation, boost strength and stamina and help deliver the placenta. It’s available on the NHS in some areas - ask your midwife if she can recommend a practitioner near you.
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A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machine is a small, battery operated device which transmits small electrical pulses to the body through electrodes placed on the skin. It works by both blocking pain signals and stimulating the body to make it’s own pain-relieving endorphins.
It won’t stop the pain but it can distract you in early labour, and as it’s operated manually, you’re in control. However, it’s less effective in active labour and won’t touch the sides at the pushing stage. Machines are inexpensive to buy or hire – a quick look online should give you all the info you need.
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Massage is often used during labour as a way to reduce tension, aid relaxation and help relieve the pain of contractions. One study found women who used massage were less anxious, had shorter labours and were less likely to suffer from postnatal depression.
Ask your partner or midwife to rub your shoulders or lower back, using a light oil to reduce friction. If you’re planning to use essential oils make sure they are safe for use in labour and bear in mind that some women hate to be touched during contractions, so it might not be for you.
Also see: Labour and Delivery: 10 Surprising Things You Need to Know
You may think it’s more comfortable to lie down during labour, but lying on your back can mean more painful contractions, a longer labour and reduced blood flow to your baby. Changing your position regularly will help you deal better with pain and feel more in control, while staying upright will help your baby move down the birth canal more quickly and enable you to push better in the second stage.
Try moving between the following positions - kneeling, on all fours, squatting or rocking back and forth on a birthing ball.
Also see: How to Induce Labour
Most antenatal classes cover breathing techniques so it’s worth practising before the big day arrives. Regular breathing will get more oxygen to you and the baby, help with pain and stop you pushing at the wrong time. In early labour try breathing in through your nose for a count of three, then out through your mouth for four.
Try to keep your breathing steady and focus on your breath, not the contraction. When it comes to pushing don’t hold your breath – inhale deeply, then exhale slowly as you bear down.
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If you’re tense and stressed it could slow things down, so the more relaxed you are the better your labour is likely to progress. Think about which parts of your body are tense during contractions - it could be your face, neck or shoulders.
Then try to relax your muscle groups one by one to release tension throughout your body. Some women find meditation useful - try focusing your mind on a positive image or repeating a particular phrase over and over.
Water is used widely to help women both relax and deal with the pain of contractions and most hospitals now provide the option to labour or give birth in water. A warm bath or shower can help in the early stages, while later on a birth pool can make it easier to move around and stay in an upright position.
If you don’t want to be fully immersed you may find a shower spray on your lower back or bump can help. Water should always be warm, not hot – 37C is the maximum advised.
Heat can be used in different ways to make things easier during labour, and midwifes have traditionally used warm compresses to help relax aching muscles and relieve lower back pain. Try a wheat bag which can be heated in the microwave and will stay warm for up to an hour.
Alternatively use a warm cloth or hot water bottle wrapped in a towel. If you’re feeling shivery as you go into transition a warm blanket can help, while a compress can also be applied to your perineum to help prevent tearing.
The more relaxed you are during labour, the more confident you will be as things progress. Hypnosis won’t take away the pain, but it can help take your mind off it by creating a state of mind where you feel calm and in control. You can learn relaxation and breathing techniques at special hybnobirthing classes which will help prepare your body for labour and birth.
There are also many self-hypnosis CDs available, but for the best results it makes sense to see a qualified practitioner.
Homeopathy is based on the principle that you can treat ‘like with like,’ using highly diluted substances to kickstart the body’s natural healing process. There are various remedies for use during labour which can help speed up contractions, keep you calm or give you an energy boost.
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