The techniques you learn in childbirth classes to lessen your discomfort during labor don't quit working once you've given birth; they are life skills as well. These methods can help you relax while breastfeeding, stay calm during the most trying moments of parenthood, and even cope with the emotional and physical pains of life in general.
Of course, your primary concern right now is making your labor more manageable, and these techniques will do just that. You may find that the strategies alone will ease the pain of your contractions. Or you may discover that they allow you to decrease the amount of medication you need or delay the start of an epidural anesthetic, which may benefit your baby and your progress in labor.
Here are a few of the skills you'll learn to assist you in delivery and beyond:
Labor benefit: Decreases the discomfort of back labor by helping the baby move into an anterior position, with the back of the head toward the mother's abdomen and the face toward the mother's back.
Life skill: Soothes low backache. It also strengthens abdominal muscles and improves posture.
How it's done
Although you can practice the pelvic rock in almost any position, the easiest way to learn it is on your back. Be sure to turn onto your side after doing the exercise so you're not flat on your back for more than a few minutes. (Lying on your back puts more pressure on the blood vessels in your pelvis, which in turn may decrease oxygen supply and cause you to feel lightheaded.)
1. Lie on your back with knees bent, feet on floor.
2. Rock your pelvis toward your face, tightening your abdominal muscles and buttocks; the small of your back should remain flat against the floor.
3. Rock your pelvis away from your face and relax your muscles; your back should be slightly arched.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 ten times in a slow, rocking movement.
Labor benefit: This "walk through your body" helps you remain relaxed between contractions and minimizes pain during contractions.
Life skill: Relaxes you anytime you're feeling tense.
How it's done
1. Get into a comfortable position, either lying down or sitting in a comfy chair.
2. Close your eyes and slowly take a couple of big breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. (This is sometimes called a cleansing breath.) As you do this, imagine you're breathing in healing air and blowing out tension.
3. As you continue breathing slowly, contract and release the major muscles in your body, beginning at the top. Squeeze the muscles in your face for about five seconds, then relax them.
4. End with a couple of slow, deep breaths, again going in through your nose and out through your mouth, and open your eyes. Your limbs should feel heavy and your entire body relaxed.
Labor benefit: Visual imagery creating a picture in your mind helps you stay calm during and between contractions.
Life skill: Creates a sense of peace anytime you feel stressed.
How it's done
You can practice visual imagery after progressive relaxation or on its own.
1. Close your eyes and picture your favorite place in the world.
2. Visualize the things you'd be seeing if you were there; imagine the sounds you'd be hearing, and "smell" the scents around you.
3. Enjoy the beauty and serenity of your favorite place as long as you like.
Labor benefit: Helps you relax and focus during contractions.
Life skill: Can be used to let off steam anytime you're feeling stressed, nervous, or angry.
How it's done
1. Begin by relaxing your body and focusing on something visually: Either keep your eyes open and look at something or someone near you, or close your eyes and imagine something beautiful in your mind.
2. Take a big, cleansing breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
3. Continue breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, about twice as slowly as you normally would.
4. Now begin to count as you inhale and exhale ("In, two, three.... Out, two, three"), or slowly recite calming words as you breathe in ("I...am") and out ("staying...calm").
5. End with another cleansing breath, then relax. You can use slow-paced breathing for an extended period of time during meditation, for example or briefly to offset stressful events like an argument with your spouse.