A couple of weeks ago, we posted the "Top 10 Fears Addressed in a Childbirth Class," and reassured you that it's normal to have fears about giving birth and becoming a parent. It's when those fears feel overwhelming, insurmountable, or begin to control your thoughts, actions, and prevent you from moving forward, that they become problematic. In today's post, we're going to cover the fear of pain in labor and birth. This is likely the most common and most talked about fear.
It could be that fear of labor pain is a hot button because that's how Hollywood portrays birth, or because that's what friends and family focus on when they share stories of birth, or because birth is intensely physically challenging -- and yes, for many, it also is painful. No matter the source, it's important to address this fear during your pregnancy. Taking a quality childbirth class is a great place to start, and can be enough to help you move through that fear and feel more prepared and confident for birth.
Let's take a closer look at fear of pain in birth...
Labor Pain is a Different Kind of Pain
No really, it is! Kind of like how heat in the desert is a "dry heat," pain in labor is still registered as pain, but it's experienced differently. Many educators will use the acronym P- purposeful A- anticipated I- intermittent N- normal to describe labor pain. I would add an "E" to the end to signify the other marker for labor pain: it ENDS. It's finite. It won't last forever. Important to know and be reminded of while in labor! Pain in labor is caused primarily by the contracting uterus -- the purpose of which is to birth your baby! It's anticipated -- you know it's going to come even though you may not know exactly what to expect. It's intermittent -- when a contraction ends, most women experience complete relief and can even sleep in between contractions. Labor is not continuous pain! It's also a "normal" pain -- in other words, something our body is supposed to experience and in most cases, equipped perfectly to handle. Unlike burning your finger, stubbing your toe, or breaking your arm, labor pain is gradual and naturally occuring.
Now that I've described the whys and whats of labor pain, you're probably still wondering the answer to the original question of how to deal with labor pain! Fortunately, there are so many wonderful ways to help you cope with the pain and work of labor.
Tried and True Ways to Cope with Labor Pain
First and foremost, take a good childbirth class. I know I sound like a broken record, but childbirth education truly is the foundation to a more informed, safe, healthy, and better birth experience. Be sure not to choose just any class -- seek out a reputable class, certified educator, and in-depth curriculum.
Once you've taken a class, you can begin to consider the many ways in which you can cope with labor pain. A good childbirth class covers all of the many ways to deal with pain, including a wide range of non-pharmacologic (aka, "no drugs") comfort techniques as well as narcotics and epidural use. Write down your ideal birth, take notes on the comfort measures that appeal most to you, and if you don't have one already, pick up a good book that covers the many coping techniques you learned in class so you can spend time reviewing and practicing them throughout the remainder of your pregnancy (Labor Lab, The Birth Partner, and Active Birth are excellent!).
If you're truly unable to take a class (there are excellent online options if you're short on time), pick up a few different books on labor and birth. Read through them and encourage your partner to do the same. Consider reading the same chapter (together even!), then spend time talking about what you have read and sharing thoughts and questions. It will be important for your partner to understand labor and birth, too, in order to best support you and help you achieve the kind of birth you want.
How you are treated and supported in labor and birth affects how you experience pain in labor, which is why it's crucial to carefully select your care provider, whether OB or midwife. While your care provider may not directly support you with coping techniques in labor (though many midwives will), they will influence the course of your labor based on how they tend to treat or manage labor and birth. Spend time asking your provider lots of questions about how they will help you achieve the birth you desire, which includes how they will help you manage pain -- both "natural" ways and using pain medication, if desired.
Last, but certainly not least, hiring a doula is an proven way to help you feel more confident about and better cope through labor and birth. A doula is a professional labor and birth support person that works directly for you and your partner. She meets with you a few times leading up to your birth and learns your preferences for support, your goals for birth, as well as your fears and concerns. A doula is trained to support you in the way you want, with no agenda for having a certain kind of birth (of course, not all doulas are created equally -- be sure to interview your doula thoroughly to learn about how she practices). Of the many things a doula can help with -- confidence boost, reducing rate of cesarean and induction, and providing evidence based resources -- pain relief and coping measure are huge. A doula will be with you from the point you request her presence in labor through the first few hours after birth. She can help you directly and/or help your partner provide the best comfort and support through suggested strategies, including position changes, comfort and focusing techniques, and helping you acquire information needed about medicinal pain relief if desired.
When you put all of the pieces together to prepare for your labor and birth, you really do set yourself up for a more positive, satisfying, healthy, and safe experience. Birth is unpredictable, yes -- you can't necessarily avoid or prepare for all the curve balls that could possibly happen -- but you can do better than "winging" it. And by preparing better for your birth, you will, in the process, help alleviate your fears about pain.
How did you deal with labor pain? How did you help yourself feel more confident leading up to birth?