When you mention you’re pregnant or it becomes obvious in the more advanced stages, other women feel obliged to start sharing their birth stories and old wive’s tales with you. These stories are seldom positive or empowering as they are based on perceptions of someone who is either pregnant or in labour. It was a volatile time in her life, and the experience is usually coloured with emotions and hormones.
All pregnant moms will agree that the one thing they are most afraid of during childbirth is the pain, particularly related to its intensity and the resultant loss of control they’ve heard about. Besides the actual physical pain, many moms to be will also be stressed about how they will cope with the pain.
Given all these factors, and the unfamiliar territory of becoming a new parent, it is quite natural that you feel overwhelmed, scared, inadequate and wishing there was an easier way.
Fear is a natural reaction in such a momentous situation, however, it can in turn leading to tense muscles and an increased perception of the level of pain. This is called the ‘fear-tension-pain-cycle’.
To ease any anxiety about the birthing experience, it is advisable to empower yourself during your pregnancy with accurate knowledge on coping mechanisms and the medical interventions that are available during labour and beyond.
Seeing pain as a normal part of the process and adopting a positive attitude will change your perception. Discuss your fears with your doctor to rule out any misconceptions.
What are your options?
Latent phase of labour (up to 3cm dilatation)
- Walking around, bouncing on an exercise ball or finding a comfortable position during contractions are excellent ways to ease the discomfort in the early stages of labour.
- Breathing through contractions - in through your nose and out through your mouth - will help you focus.
- Intramuscular injections e.g. Pethidine and Atarax may be given, it will relax you and relieve some of the pain. It passes through the placenta, and therefore is not given late in labour as it will make your baby lethargic.
Established labour (3-8cm dilatation)
- Various options are available. For mild and manageable pain, relax in a warm bath. A soothing massage and deep breathing can help keep you calm during contractions.
- The option of hypnosis or using a TENS machine should be discussed and practiced during pregnancy with the relevant specialist to ensure efficacy.
- Discuss the choice of an epidural with your gynaecologist during your pregnancy. This excellent form of pain relief is administered by an anaesthetist and is very safe. The dosage is usually tapered towards the end of labour so that you feel the natural sensation to push and thereby deliver your baby more effectively.
- Because you are relaxed, you will dilate more easily, allowing your baby to move down the birth canal smoothly. You will still feel the sensation of the contraction, but no pain. If you need to have an emergency Caesarian section, the epidural can be topped up to provide the necessary pain relief during the procedure.
- Laughing gas is another very safe option and is usually offered to you at the end of labour to take the edge off the pain. You control the mask and you cannot overdose. It also doesn’t cross the placenta, so it has no effect on your baby’s alertness after birth.
- Make sure that your information source on birth and the associated pain is trustworthy, such as a gynaecologist or midwife.
- When your friends start telling a potentially scary story, rather tell them gently that you would prefer not to hear it as you don’t need anything to undermine your confidence.
- Women were designed to give birth, and nowadays there are a multitude of options available to make it more comfortable.
- Believe in your own ability to cope and trust that your caregiver will support you with the best options. Discuss these options until you feel assured and at ease, and include your choice in your birth plan.
- Discuss and educate your partner about the options available and ensure that he/she is aware of your birth plan choices.
- With proper preparation you can enjoy the birth of your baby and fully experience the wonder of the event.