How To Naturally Combat Pain In Labour

Labour can be uncomfortable because it’s new. Often just knowing what to expect can take the pain out of labour. It’s uncertainty that’s really hard to bear. But if you can know what to anticipate, then you can prepare yourself mentally and thus, when you’re in the moment you can trust and relax deeper into the moment.

Traditionally, birth is broken into three stages. I find this unhelpful. Instead, I’ve split the stages of childbirth into five distinct phases. In this article, I’ll talk through what each step looks like.

Early Labour

🙌🏽 ~1-4 cm dilated
⏰ ~ 4-10 minute gap between contractions
📏 ~ 20-45 seconds long
• Talking normally + fully dressed
• Strong desire to prepare space
• Contractions don’t require her full attention
• Short & light (regular or irregular) contractions
• Aware of others, excited, uncertain, chatty
• Needs to poo, may lose the mucus plug
• Prefers to rock back-to-front

In early labour, you’ll usually have short and light contractions. They may come regularly or be random. Movement, distraction and rest are the best remedies for this phase. This is the step where you’ll be most cognitive and with it. You’ll be able to do tasks and consciously process your feelings and thoughts. You may find a birth ball, light walking, sexy touch, spooning, napping or netflix’ing useful during early labour. Try exercises that open the pelvic inlet, like a deep supported squat to help your baby engage.

Active Labour

🙌🏽 ~5-7cm dilated
⏰ 3-6 minutes apart
📏 60-75 seconds long
• No longer chatty, seeks to cocoon w/ partner or alone
• Surges frequent, longer & more intense (requires full focus)
• Eyes closed, may remove clothing
• Enjoys leaning forward position
• Rocks side-to-side
• One word replies to questions
• Mucus plugin undies
• May make deep sounds (e.g. moaning) to focus energy
• Noises are lower & lower in tone
🙌🏽 ~8-9cm dilated
⏰ 2 to 3 minutes apart
📏 60-75 seconds long
• Fully “within herself” and focused
• May sleep between contractions
• Buries face, grabs hands for support
• Changes positions to seek comfort
• Membranes often rupture
• Lots of pressure in the bum
• Feels like “needs to poop”
• May say or think “I can’t do this anymore”
• Seeks stability/encouragement from midwife/partner
• May make deep sounds (e.g. moaning) to focus energy
• Begins involuntarily pushing

Next, you’ll move into active labour. This phase is the last one before your baby starts coming out, so naturally, it has two gears of intensity. When you first move from early labour into active labour you’ll stop being chatty and will seek to be cocooned. You’ll probably have your eyes closed, making rocking movements side-to-side.

In early labour, you can use special breathing patterns or relaxation techniques to stay focused on the experience. When you get into active labour, however, you’ll stop following formulas and slip into unprompted rhythms. This is the instinctive capacity of every woman to birth and it’s beautiful when you realise you’re doing it.

The tell-tale sign of active labour is that contractions now require your full attention. You’ll have less capacity to interact with others in your birth space, usually only offering one-word replies to questions and suggestions. This is where an in-tune birth time becomes an asset—they can anticipate your needs before you can verbalise them.

As active labour continues to ramp up your dilation will increase and so will the frequency of contractions. You’ll become fully within yourself, your water may break and you may also feel yourself getting to your breaking point.

To reduce pain and discomfort during active labour, I want to encourage you to trust your instincts. You’ll find the best way for you to manage—whether it’s a position, a location, a type of breathing, a type of partner touch. This will happen spontaneously in the moment. You don’t need to over-prepare or anticipate this—it will happen. Just watch for when this happens. This is personal to you but always has a rhythm to it. This unprompted rhythm is one reason I say to women that they already know how to give birth, even if they never have.

Now I want to share with you some thoughts to pass onto your partner. If he follows these steps when you’re in active labour it will make the process smoother for you and more structured for him.

Your birth partner needs to remember 3 simple things:

Don’t interrupt: Avoid interrupting your birthing partner’s spontaneous rhythm with changes to the environment or the five senses. For example: avoid lighting changes, coffee breath, questions, directions, requests, etc.

Participate: Enter into your partner’s rhythm. For example: Hold her, sway, stroke, look at her and acknowledge her with head-nodding etc.)

Uplift: There may be moments when she struggles to keep her rhythm. This is when she may need others to encourage her and build her up. To help her regain her rhythm you may need to take charge. Only use this in labour if your partner hits an emotional low where she seems very tense, can’t seem to relax, feels like she can’t keep going, cries out or is in despair or feels defeated. You’ll know what this looks like—she’ll simply look like she isn’t coping well anymore.

If she reaches a mental wall or breaking point, follow these three steps.

1. Remain Calm: Your atmosphere of peace and calm is important for helping to re-stabilise her. On a heart level, her heart rhythm may have slipped into a disorganised heart rhythm. By breathing yourself, and not overreacting, you can affect change in her. Your voice should be calm and encouraging.

2. Be an Anchor: Stay close by her side physically with your face near her face. Hold her firmly and confidently in your arms, or make some form of confident physical contact. Make eye contact with her.

3. Words of Affirmation: This is a bit like coaching her through a contraction. It’s about using the truth and your presence to carry her burdens. Calmly and kindly tell her to breathe with you. Breathe with me…that’s the way…you’re doing it…good…stay with it…look at me…stay with me….good… it’s going away…good…now just rest. Then, you can talk to her in between contractions too, to keep her focused and her energy buoyant, so she can willingly anticipate the next moment because she knows that you’re supporting her through it. Remaining a calm, dependable presence is the most important thing. Remind her of her baby and that she is so close. It’s easy to forget the goal when you’re in the midst of everything.

Giving Birth

🙌🏽 ~10cm dilated
⏰ 2 to 3 minutes apart
📏 60-75 seconds long
• Naked (or just a bra)
• Body involuntarily “pushing”
• Adrenaline boost, suddenly more aware & awake
• Head down, eyes closed, knees bent
• ‘Purple line’ appears between buttocks indicating birth is imminent
• “I need to push” or “baby is coming”
• Seeks hands to hold/desires the “reassurance of the room”
• Guttural sounds (deep, rough, loud)
• Births in kneeling, supported-standing, side-lying position, may want a birth pool
• Reaches to feel baby’s head (instinctual pacing)

Next, we have the birth! Hooray, the moment you’ve been working towards for ten months.

When giving birth, you’ll usually be naked or have just a bra on. You’ll start to feel your body pushing involuntarily. Focus is your biggest tool during this time. You’ll want the room to be as still and quiet physically (and emotionally). After you’ve read this, you might like to read How To Naturally Prevent Tearing in Birth. It goes through step-by-step on how to use this phase to keep yourself in one piece. 😉

Back to birth. So, you may be silent, but more likely you’ll be making noises at this point. They can be loud and guttural in nature. Noise can help women focus their energy. You may suddenly be more aware and awake, after being in a very internal world during active labour. You may like to position yourself kneeling, standing, side-lying. Again, this will be all spontaneous in the moment.

Most women I’ve surveyed indicate that this phase of birth is easier than labour and they enjoy it more. It feels like you make quick progress. Comfort during this stage will be about feeling the “reassurance of the room” and finding a position that feels right. Women often seek water at this point and then birth in the birth pool.

After some time passes, your baby will be born. As I mentioned above, I go through the 6 steps that happen between “I can feel heaps of pressure in my bum” to “my baby is here” (read the steps in How To Naturally Prevent Tearing in Birth).

Directly After Birth

⏰ 0 to 5 minutes after• The first embrace
• May feel relief, shock, overwhelmed, overjoyed, etc.

Then, we have the moments directly after birth. The baby will be passed on your naked skin, and it is the most wonderful sensation in the world to have that slippery, crawling, one-of-a-kind, tiny baby, on your chest. This phase covers the first 5 minutes and includes a lot of emotions and mental recalibration (wait, what…my baby!). And often, tears! The warmth and relief and presence in the room is at such a height. The oxytocin is flowing!

A Little While After Birth

⏰ 5 to 60 minutes after• Few more contractions bring placenta out ~5 to 20 minutes after birth (flops out like a wet tampon when mother kneels or is helped to stand)
• Washes off and goes to the toilet
• Starts to learn how to breastfeed baby (alert babies may ‘crawl’ to find the breast)
• Wants food and/or drink
• Tired
• May feel ongoing relief, shock, etc.
• Jumps into bed to sleep with a baby to nap

Then, a little while after birth the placenta comes out. It may happen directly after birth. But more likely, it’ll happen 5 to 20 minutes afterwards.

You may like to get up for a quick wee and shower, while dad holds your baby. You’ll probably realise you’re starving and want some food to nourish you. Your midwife will help you engage in breastfeeding. You’ll probably have an ongoing sense of mental recalibration, otherwise known as “huh, what, whoa, wow…baby”.

This phase usually concludes with everyone having a nap. And what a good way to end this process and start the beginning of a wonderful journey together.