This is the fifth and final post in a series about comfort measures for labor that appeal to each of the five senses. Today, we're focusing on the sense of smell! Studies show that aromatherapy can be an effective way to reduce anxiety and tension. This decrease in anxiety can then reduce your perception of pain. Here's a look at some essential oils that can be useful during labor.
Several floral scents have been shown to likely relieve stress and/or lower pain scores during labor. Diffusing lavender, jasmine, rose, or geranium into your labor and birth space can help you feel more at ease and comfortable during labor. Something I've noticed about floral scents is that people often have strong preferences towards or against certain scents. So smell a few and find a scent that you like!
I love the smell of citrus! When I found the picture above of the sliced open oranges, I could just smell and taste their tangy sweetness! Studies show that citrus scents can also be helpful during labor. Specifically, bitter orange (citrus aurantium) may lower pain scores, and both bitter orange and sweet orange peel (citrus sinesis) may decrease stress and anxiety during labor. Sign me up!
Peppermint for Nausea
As much as I love citrus and enjoy floral scents, the essential oil that I use most--hands down--is peppermint. An unfortunate side effect of transition in labor (when your cervix dilates from 8 cm to 10 cm) that many people experience is nausea. The rapid changes--physical and hormonal--that your body goes through during this time often lead to an upset stomach. For many of my clients, when I put a few drops of peppermint oil on a cotton pad and give it to them to inhale, their nausea goes away. It's not always effective, but it's a very handy tool to have on hand!
This post is the fourth in a series about comfort measures for labor that appeal to each of the five senses. Today, we're focusing on the sense of touch! Check out these six ways that touch can help you manage labor.
(Photo by Isaac Ordaz on Unsplash)
In early labor, it may feel nice to have someone (your husband/partner, doula, friend, etc.) to lightly run their fingers along your arms, shoulders, back, or other places. The backs of the fingers work well for this, and the light, stroking motion should feel like a pleasant tickle, encouraging you to release any tension you may be holding. A head massage tool, like this one, gives a similar sensation for your scalp. Some people (e.g. me) love it, and some people (e.g. my husband!) hate it.
Counter pressure during labor relieves the stretching and contracting sensations, invites you to focus your attention somewhere else, and can give baby more room to descend. There are tons of different types of counter pressure, and lots of places where a little pressure gives great relief: head, shoulder, knees, tail bone, hips, and more! If you're the one giving counter pressure to someone in labor, always ask to know how much pressure feels good--it may be a lot more than you'd guess!
Get the Oxytocin Flowing!
(Photo by Annette Sousa on Unsplash)
Oxytocin--the love hormone--makes you feel SO good, AND it keeps labor moving along! Kissing and cuddling can be an effective way to make labor as enjoyable as possible, and it will bring you closer together as you enter the next stage of parenthood!
Heat and Cold
(Photo by Pixabay)
During labor, both hot and cold can be helpful for different purposes. A heating pack on your lower back can feel great during contractions, and as you get closer to meeting your baby, a nice cold compress on your forehead or shoulders may feel fantastic.
(Photo by Yellow Kite Lifestyle Photography)
Sometimes the comfort of a hand on your shoulder or a nice leg rub can feel great in between (maybe even during) contractions. Comforting touch can add a sense of security and safety for you--which is critically important as you open your body to bring your baby into the world!
No, Thank You
(Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash)
It's also possible that you won't want anyone to touch you at all during labor! You may turn inside yourself and find outside touch distracting or uncomfortable. It's important to have a birth team that you trust to be responsive to your needs in the moment, because it's hard to predict what exactly you'll want during labor!
What kinds of touch do you expect you'll like during labor? Or do you think you'll prefer a hands-off labor?
Today, in the third post about comfort measures for labor that appeal to each of the five senses, we’ll be looking at your sense of taste… or at least, what you can do with your mouth to benefit your labor!
Eating During Labor
(Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash)
Laboring and giving birth are hard physical work! You wouldn’t want to go for a long hike without anything to eat—your body would be tired and hungry, and it would make the hike feel ten times harder! The same is true for labor—you need energy from food to sustain you through it!
There may come a time in your labor when food doesn’t interest you, which is why it’s especially helpful to eat during early labor when you have an appetite. Don’t eat anything overly heavy or greasy, but do make sure you’re giving your body energy for the life-giving work it's doing!
Some people have concerns about the safety of eating and drinking during labor because some hospital policies have restricted it due to a concern about potential aspiration if emergency anesthesia was needed. Updated research and updated anesthesia technology show that low-risk birthgivers should have the right to choose whether to eat and drink during labor (you can read a detailed summary of current research and recommendations here, at Evidence Based Birth).
(Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash)
Drinking water or other liquids during labor is important! Dehydration can interrupt healthy labor patterns and lead to fatigue. Drinking plenty of water also ensures that you’ll be getting up to empty your bladder frequently throughout labor, which helps you progress through labor. (An empty bladder gives the uterus space to do its job, sitting on the toilet naturally relaxes the pelvic floor—a necessary part of cervical dilation!, and moving around helps baby descend and encourages your body to keep doing the work of giving birth!) There's no need to be extreme or drink excessive amounts of water; just be sure to stay hydrated!
(Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash)
Okay, so this one has nothing at all to do with your sense of taste. But another thing that you can do with your mouth during labor is “sound out” your contractions/surges. When you feel that tightening sensation, open your mouth and make low, unrestricted sounds. High-pitched sounds can tighten the muscles in your throat, jaw, and surrounding area. Increased tension means increased pain, so let it go! (And read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth for a description of “sphincter law” and how releasing your throat muscles also encourages your cervical muscles to relax and expand!)
(Photo by Dave Phillips on Unsplash)
Honey sticks are my secret weapon for a quick energy boost when you’re past the point of interest in food. So pack several in your hospital bag, or ask your doula if she carries them—I always do!
Today’s post is the second in a series considering comfort measures that appeal to each of the five senses.
Let’s consider the sense of hearing. What are some things you can do during your labor that will bring you comfort that appeal to your sense of hearing?
Listening to Music
(Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels)
Studies indicate that listening to music may be an effective way to help manage discomfort during labor. The most important thing to remember about music selection during labor is that it’s personal. You should choose and listen to music that is positive/relaxing/motivating for you! So, put together a playlist of your favorite songs, and you may find that listening to them helps to set a positive tone, give you energy, distract you when needed, and ease any anxiety or tension!
(Photo by lascot studio from Pexels)
Sarah Buckley, author of Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, says, “avoid talking to the laboring woman unless absolutely necessary.” There are points during labor when you may not want to hear anything so that you can be more deeply in tune with your body and what’s going on inside of you. You may want to turn off the music and request that no one speaks. Having conversations with your birth team about this possibility beforehand will make it easier to request if silence becomes your preference during labor. Ask your partner or doula to share your request for silence with nurses, other family members, and anyone else in your birth space.
Sometimes, though, you’ll want to hear reassuring words from others and from yourself. Make sure the people in your birth space are aware of the power of their words and are mindfully using them to add to a positive birth experience! This is SO important! (So important that I have a whole other website and weekly podcast about this topic!) Check out my Birth Words podcast and other resources at www.birthwords.com for more resources about the power of words!
The post about visual comfort measures mentions that written affirmations can be helpful. You may also want affirmations spoken to you, or you may want to repeat them to yourself over and over again. During your pregnancy, find phrases that center you and help you feel confident and calm, and repeat themselves to yourself multiple times each day. As your labor begins, these phrases may become anchors for you that you can continue to hold on to throughout the course of your labor and birth.
Visualization Exercises/Hypnosis Tracks
(Photo by Krivec Ales from Pexels)
Visualization exercises take advantage of your mind’s ability to create and enjoy visualized scenes that bring you comfort, relieve anxiety, and increase relaxation. Some visualizations exercises walk you through your favorite season or have you imagine hiking to a mountain’s summit! Others guide you as you mindfully relax every portion of your body. Others describe the vibrant colors of a rainbow. The possibilities are endless, and you can choose exercises that appeal to you!
Hypnosis during childbirth is really just another variation of these relaxation exercises. You can listen to pre-recorded tracks or have a support person read scripts that guide you through deep relaxation exercises. If you’re interested in more hypno/birth resources in Utah county, visit http://www.hypnobirthingutahcounty.com/ or https://curtismethod.com/.
(Photo by Pixabay from Pexels)
During your pregnancy, consider which sounds bring you a sense of calm and comfort. Maybe you love listening to the sound of ocean waves or rainfall. For some, listening to the sound of baby’s heartbeat brings comfort, while the constant sound of the fetal monitor is distracting to others. Consider what you anticipate will be best for you, and come prepared with a recording to listen to. Popping in headphones can be a great way to tune out distracting stimuli in your birth space.
What other auditory comfort measures have you considered? I’d love to hear your ideas!
Today’s post is the first in a series of five: we’ll take a look at each of the five senses. For each sense, we'll consider some tools that appeal to it that can invite comfort and calm to your labor and birth.
Let’s start with what often seems like our dominant sense: sight.
(Photo by Bekka Mongeau from Pexels)
I encourage my clients to consider their own feelings and beliefs about birth, work through their worries and concerns, and discover the power of their own beliefs about their strength and ability in birth, then turn these into affirmations. Affirmations are personal to your journey and unique, but here are some examples of some that may be centering and affirming:
I am giving life!
My body is designed to birth.
Each surge brings my baby closer to my arms.
My body releases and opens as my baby descends.
I am powerful and flexible.
I am a co-creator with God.
My contractions are not stronger than me because they are me.
Again, those are just examples, and your affirmations should speak specifically to you. If none of those do, work through why they don’t, and grab on to some positive words that do speak to you! And when you’ve found your affirmations, write them down, print them out, make them look nice, and post them where you’ll see them often during pregnancy. Take them with you to your birth space and have someone hang them around the room to affirm your truth as you birth.
For more about affirmations, you can check out this podcast episode I did at Birth Words, and you can also order customized affirmation cards.
Dim or Natural Lighting
(Photo by Hakan Erenler from Pexels)
Birth is an intimate experience. Harsh lighting can interrupt the flow of oxytocin and make the whole process feel much more clinical and much less personal. So turn down the lights, and consider lighting some candles (or, in the hospital, using LED candles) or hanging a string of lights.
(Photo by https://www.instagram.com/Didssph/)
This comfort measure doesn’t have to do with what you’ll actually see with your eyes, but what you visualize in your mind. Imagining calm, serene scenes, or places that are personally meaningful for you, can bring comfort during your labor. Sometimes, these visualizations will be guided my someone else, as your partner or doula reads aloud to you or describes a favorite place. But if you’ve practiced visualizing pleasant images before labor, you may be able to take yourself there without another person verbally guiding you through it.
I’ve found some fabulous visualization exercises in this book. And this podcast episode talks a bit more about the power of symbols and imagery that you can incorporate in your visualization.
The Faces of Loved Ones
(Photo from https://www.pexels.com/@pixabay)
It’s important, during labor, to surround yourself with those you love—people you feel comfortable around and supported by. Inviting people into the birth space who bring up feelings of discomfort or tension will likely slow your labor and make you less comfortable, both physically and emotionally. So, during this important time, surround yourself only with people who will create a feeling of warmth and love.
So carefully choose your birth team: friends and family you feel safe with, a care provider who respectfully cares for you, a doula that you feel emotionally connected to, a photographer who you feel comfortable with, etc.
Also, if there are loved ones who can’t physically be with you, you may want to bring pictures of them. Perhaps you admire a grandmother and her picture would bring you strength, or maybe you have young children that you don’t want in the birth space, but keeping their pictures with you will comfort you.
As you prepare for your labor and birth, consider if there are any other visual comfort measures that you’d like to have in your birth space. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Hi, I'm Sara. I'm a childbirth educator and birth + postpartum doula serving Utah county. I'm a twin mom (plus one!), natural VBACer, and birth lover!