Reducing childbirth pain?

June 30, 2011 at 6:08 am

It has never been easier getting from 0 to 9 centimeters as it was for me during my fourth birth. I couldn’t believe how comfortable I was at 7, 8, 9 centimeters.  I’ve thought a lot about that fact over the past four months, wondering… what made the difference? I can really only speculate, but these changes might at least partially explain the reduction of labor pain I experienced:

1) Prenatal exercise

I was in much better shape starting out this pregnancy than I have ever been in my previous pregnancies.  I continued running approximately three mornings a week until about halfway through my pregnancy.  Then I walked and hiked to keep myself active, though not as regularly.  As I’ve shared before, prenatal exercise has so many benefits, including: reduced need for pain relief, decrease in maternal exhaustion, and shortened labor.  It may not be safe for all pregnant women, but I was grateful to be able to exercise through my pregnancies and grateful to have midwives who urged me to keep running and walking.

2) Breastfeeding

I’ve never seen any research on this, and I have no idea whether there’s any weight to the idea that it might affect labor pain, but this was the first pregnancy in which I have breastfed.  We cut back a lot on the frequency and duration, but my toddler son was still nursing once every day or two in the last weeks of my pregnancy (he weaned a couple of weeks before the baby came).  I don’t know whether the oxytocin produced during those nursing sessions could have impacted the way my body labored, but it’s possible.  Having said that, I hope I don’t need to breastfeed through another pregnancy.  It took a lot out of me, I think, physically and emotionally.  And it was difficult to eat enough for building a baby and feeding a toddler (on top of exercising).

3) Late pregnancy oxytocin-boosting

I spent the last bit of my pregnancy doing lots of cuddling, massaging, hugging, serving, and loving.  I did this because of an epiphany I had about what I needed to do to improve my ability to bond with my new baby (read more about it here).  Those types of activities are oxytocin-boosting activities.  Perhaps my rising oxytocin levels also impacted the efficiency of my uterus somehow?  It’s possible?

4) Intact bag of water

The only truly “painful” part of my fourth birth was the five minutes after my water broke and the baby came barreling down and out.  I’ve had two labors which started by my water breaking and two with intact sacs until transition.  After all those experiences, I feel confident in saying that laboring with an intact bag of water is much milder.  There are other benefits to keeping the amniotic sac intact also.  In a previous post, I wrote, “The fluid cushions the fetus and umbilical cord. Once the membranes rupture, the risks of cord compression and abnormal fetal heart rate patterns increase” (see here).  So it’s just a generally good idea to keep that cushion as long as possible.  I’ve read and heard that boosting your vitamin c levels can possibly strengthen the amniotic sac (read more here).  And I was consuming far more vitamin c during this last pregnancy through my green smoothies and as a tear-prevention measure.  Maybe that helped keep my sac strong to the end of my labor?  Who knows?

5) Hypnobabies

I had heard rave reviews about the Hypnobabies system from various people, so I asked my cousin-in-law, Hilary, if I could borrow her cd’s.  I didn’t follow the whole program, and I didn’t love everything about it, but I did listen to some of the tracks on occasion during the last few months of my pregnancy.  I couldn’t seem to stay awake much past the first few minutes, but I hear that you can sleep through them and still benefit.  It’s entirely possible that the Hypnobabies tracks helped rewire my subconscious to perceive my contractions as “easy” rather than painful.  (Thanks, Hilary!)

6) Green smoothies

I originally started making and drinking green smoothies after I became obsessed with magnesium and got a Blendtec blender for Mother’s Day a little over a year ago.   I drank them almost daily throughout my pregnancy, packed full of dark leafy greens, vitamin-c-rich foods, and nutrient-rich nuts and seeds.  Using lots of alkalinizing ingredients also kept my morning sickness almost totally at bay.  Later, I even created a smoothie to serve as my birthing beverage, which I drank every day during the last week+ of my pregnancy and the night I went into labor.  Could those smoothies have reduced my labor pain?  I don’t doubt it.  My husband is a distance runner, and he swears that green smoothies, chia drinks, and magnesium have vastly improved his performance.  If you give your muscles the nutrients they need, they’ll serve you much more efficiently and with less complaint. (Your uterus is a muscle!)

If you’ve read my fourth birth story, then you’ll know it wasn’t my ideal birth, despite being a near-painless 0-9 centimeter experience.  I’d honestly rather have a good hour or two of intense contractions to build up enough endorphins to prepare me for the delivery.  But I hope this post will help those of you who might be looking for ways to minimize the pain you’ll experience in giving birth in the future.

Do you have any other tips or ideas you could add?