Relaxation for Labor and Birth
Relaxation for labor and birth is a powerful way to handle giving birth naturally. These techniques let you handle and even remove pain – and keep labor moving smoothly and safely.
A few minutes of daily practice using relaxation techniques conditions your body to relax when you want it to – making relaxing during labor much easier. Have your birth partner do these exercises too!
Start with Awareness
To fully relax you need to be aware of two things: your breathing and the tension in your body.
It sounds simple, but for many people it's tough to slow down enough to notice these things.
Start by finding a quiet, relaxing place to lie or sit down. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Let your thoughts fade away and notice your breath going in and going out. Focus on your chest rising and falling.
Pay attention to how you breathe now — and the rest of the day:
- How do you breathe when you're calm?
- How do you breathe when you're upset?
- When you're stressed?
- When you've just run or rushed somewhere?
- When you're purposefully trying to breathe deeply?
What kinds of breathing seem most sustainable? How can you calm your breathing down if it's not sustainable?
You don't want to take exaggerated breaths. But you do want to take deep, calming breathes. You can start by taking a few long, deep breathes (called “cleansing breaths”). Then begin your rhythmic breathing in and out.
It can be tough to figure out how to relax your body! Practice now and you'll be able to use relaxation for labor and birth.
Start with this simple exercise:
- Ball your fist and hold it tightly. Notice the tension in your hand.
- Now do this with the muscles in your forearm.
- Now with the muscles in your upper arm. Feel the tension.
- Do this with the muscle groups all over your body. Go from the top of your head down to the tips of your toes.
- Notice each group of muscles you can voluntarily control – even the ones you usually never think of.
That was part one of practicing relaxation for labor and birth. Here's part two:
- Go back and do the same thing as before: ball your fist again.
- But this time hold your fist in a ball for a few seconds – then release.
- Let go of all the tension, let it melt out of your hand so that your hand is hanging soft, limp, and partly flexed.
- Do this with all those muscle groups you just tensed.
By doing this exercise, you discover what your body feels like tense and what it feels like in a totally relaxed state. Some muscle groups (your forehead, your neck, and your shoulders perhaps) may be very hard to relax. You're so used to holding tension there that you really have to focus to let it out. Keep working at it.
Again, watch yourself throughout the day. Notice how you respond to certain situations and how you tense your body.
Practice letting go. If you tense your neck and throat when you get frustrated, practice letting go of the tension as soon as you notice it beginning.
Combining Breathing and Muscle Relaxation
Start by getting comfortable. You can do this sitting or when you lie down.
If you're going to be lying down be sure that you're on your side, and use pillows to support your body and your belly if you need to.
- Start by noticing your breathing. Close your eyes if you can. Notice your breath going in and out. Notice the expansion and contraction of your lungs and chest.
- After you've given a few moments to noticing your breath and calming it into a deep, deliberate process, begin to relax.
- Start with the top of your head. As you breathe in focus on the top of your head. As you breathe out, release all the tension that you have there. Take another breath or two if you need to.
- Next move on to your forehead. Breathe in and focus on it. Breathe out and let the tension go out with your breath. Continue this process downward to the tips of your toes.
- Progressively relax each part of your body. If you're alone and it's quiet you may fall asleep. This is a good thing 😉 In fact, if you're having sleepless nights they are a great time to practice this relaxation.
- Pay special attention to relaxing the muscles of your pelvic floor and thighs – you want these muscles soft and loose during birthing!
Make the time to do this every day. If you're caught in traffic and getting frustrated – start your breathing and relaxation. If you're angry – start your breathing and relaxation. If you're scared – start your breathing and relaxation. You get the idea! Do it before bed if you can't find anymore time.
You'll begin to condition yourself to relaxing. Your body gets used to it, and relaxation for labor and birth comes naturally – simply because you've trained your body to relax. The calm, deep breathing is also excellent breathing to use throughout labor.
One Last Tip – Put it on Ice
In the book Birthing From Within, Pam England gives a chapter of extensive pain relief options for natural birth. In the book she recommends practicing the pain relief techniques using an ice cube.
Hold an ice cube in your hand while you attempt to calm your breathing and relax your body. It's a whole lot harder isn't it?! The ice is a constant distraction, and can even be painful, as you try to relax. It's effective practice for labor.
If you find that you master having the ice in your hand, have your birth partner hold it behind your ear as you try to relax. Breathe and let go as the cold throbs behind your ear and icy water slides down your neck! It's an excellent exercise!
If you'd like more detailed information and guidance on how you can discover effective relaxation techniques for labor (and how your partner can actually be helpful using them with you during labor), check out this childbirth skills course – it's comprehensive childbirth education so you get skills that will help you relax and stay in control during labor.
- Visualization for Childbirth (this technique works for Olympic champions… and birthing mothers!)
- Natural Pain Relief in Labor Series (get comfortable AND keep labor moving)
- Waterbirth – labor tubs and even warm showers can help you relax and birth naturally
Photo by pixydust8605