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Grand Rapids, MI doula and birth photographer

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living through an unmedicated birth

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If my last post was about what can be done during pregnancy to prepare for a birth that's undisturbed and unmedicated, this post is full of practices to do during labor.

  1. Visualize opening and releasing or expanding (not contracting). Some women find it helpful to rename contractions “surges” or “waves” because those are more fluid and open terms.
  2. Work with and surrender (or "yeilding" or "letting go"). This is partly physical and partly mental/emotional, and it is half the work! The sooner you can get out of your own way, the sooner you'll be done.
  3. Consider an essential oil blend (e.g., lavender, clary sage, myrrh and peppermint) which can be applied to the insides of your ankles, lower abdomen and lower back. (You can purchase my labor blend in a roller bottle in the shop). Some oils help relieve pain, others are for emotional balance. Warning: do not use clary sage at all until after labor is established.
  4. Keep your mouth/jaw/lips slack and relaxed with each contraction/surge. When one sphincter muscle is relaxed, the others tend to follow suite. Try not to clench your hands. 
  5. If at all possible, take a bit of food every hour or so in order to keep up strength. Also be sure to take frequent sips of water.
  6. If at the hospital, ask for intermittent monitoring (good idea) and a hep-lock (if you must) but no constant IV drips. This serves to make the next tip possible.
  7. Be able to move around and do so as much as you can. At home, this is a given, but you may have to ask for it at hospital. If you're home, you may find you don't WANT to move around, because it will intensify the sensations and that feels frightening. Do it anyway. ;)
  8. Change positions as often as needed based on what feels best to your body. You don’t need to stay on the bed, nor do you need to be on your back. Other options include walking, hip-circles on a ball, sitting in a rocking chair, having a shower or a bath, squatting by the bed or across from your partner, lying on your side, or being on your hands and knees. Sometimes a simple shift in position can make contractions feel much easier and it may also suddenly speed up labor because it'll be just the thing baby needs to slip into the just-right position for descending!
  9. Use hydrotherapy, which is really just fancy talk for getting wet. Standing in a shower with water pounding on your back or submerging yourself in a bathtub can give a surprisingly effective measure of pain relief.
  10. Ignore the numbers and measurements and cover up the clock. These things apply an often false sense of pressure to perform. For example, if you are told that you aren’t as dilated as you thought you were, you may get discouraged, and worries about your body being faulty can begin to creep in. Clock-watching can also cause feelings of “this should be over by now” or “why is this taking so long?!” If your care provider believes it is necessary to do vaginal checks of your dilation, station, and effacement, consider asking them not to share their findings with you.
  11. Take it one contraction at a time. Be fully present to your body and your baby one contraction at a time, instead of thinking about how many are left or how much longer you can or cannot do this. You can do ANYTHING for 60 seconds, and then you'll get a break.
  12. Remember that just when it seems the most unbearable and you most want to beg for an epidural, you’re probably almost done!
  13. Vocalize if you need to (it can feel awesome and powerful!), but aim to keep it low and deep, avoiding screeching and screaming, which tend to cause tightening in all the muscles of the body
  14. Breathe deeply, especially in between contractions, and visualize the way that doing so is sending cleansing oxygen to your baby, too.
  15. Talk to your baby if it feels right to do so. Tell him/her that you’re looking forward to meeting them and give him/her little pep talks (“We’ve got this! Come on, baby! I love you!”)
  16. You don’t have to push with every contraction -- your body will actually do it without your help and you can let it if you want to. Also, trust your own style of pushing. Counted/coached pushing (which is the standard of care in hospital settings) doesn’t work for every woman. It’s okay to ask for a nurse to stop that and to do instead what’s called “mother-led pushing,” which means you just go with whatever your body is telling you to do!
  17. Know your rights. You are under no obligation to birth your baby on anybody’s watch other than your baby’s! If you feel at all pushed or rushed or pressured to have an intervention, confidently delay or reject it. You are the consumer and therefore the boss, and as much as you may respect your OB (or midwife), he/she isn’t actually the one in charge.