Comfort in Labour: 4 Ways to Nourish Mama

As you prepare for birth, take some time to think about what comfort in labour might look for you.

How will you meet the demands of labour, no matter how long it takes? What essentials will  you bring to the birth to keep up your energy and cope with contractions? How will you remain supported, focused and encouraged?  So many questions.

There is so much to think about, especially if it’s your first baby.  It’s exciting and overwhelming and nerve wracking all at the same time. 

There’s more to giving birth than packing a hospital bag and writing out a birth plan. Part of your preparation for birth should focus on one simple theme: nourishing mama during labour. 

When we think of nourishment what immediately comes to mind is food. But humans are complex beings and we need more than just food for our bodies. We rely on many things for our mental sustenance and emotional wellbeing. 

Here we have included 4 simple options to provide comfort in labour for mama: water, food, support and sensory. You can pick and choose the options that will work best for you and include these ideas for your baby’s birth.

#1: Water as comfort in labour

The source of life, the essential building block of life. Human bodies consist of up to 60% water so it’s no wonder we find it a source of nourishment.

During labour, your body works hard and uses up a lot of energy. It’s important to keep hydrated, to support your body’s efforts to give birth. 

Drink small amounts of water often. Sucking or chewing ice cubes prevents taking in too much too quickly, which can cause nausea or vomiting. Using straws to drink liquids is preferable.

Water can be used in the form of hot and cold packs to ease pain and discomfort. Cool face washers or a spray bottle with a fine mist can be refreshing.

Water also offers comfort in labour in the form of the bath or shower. This can make you feel refreshed, cleansed, warm or cool. Taking a bath or having a shower can be relaxing and a form of pain relief, easing tension and backache during labour. Birthing in water is a popular option for some women.

#2: Food as comfort in labour

Lindy Cook, Naturopath at Nurtured Birth, offers the following advice when it comes to the food we should eat during labour for the best nourishment.

“Your best bet is to make sure you have plenty of snacks on hand that are super hydrating, highly nutritious, high in protein and easy to digest. As with the rest of your pregnancy, it’s best to stick with healthy foods that will provide your body with the energy and nutrients needed while giving birth to your baby.”

Research shows restricting nutrition and fluids during labour can make them more painful and last longer. If you are having a c-section you will be given specific guidelines on food and fluid intake. 

In early labour, have regular snacks so you’re building your energy reserves. Eat foods that are easy to digest and give you a more consistent release of energy. Lindy suggests the following options for your labour:

  • Granola bars, protein balls, dried fruit and nut mix
  • Wholegrain toast or crackers with nut butter or avocado
  • Low fat yoghurt, add berries for sweetness
  • Apples or bananas, frozen grapes or berries
  • Smoothies – fruit or vegetable or green with added protein powder
  • Quinoa and avocado, or brown rice and an organic egg
  • Mini frittata with spinach, carrot and goats cheese
  • Drinks – coconut water, raspberry leaf tea, diluted cloudy apple juice, homemade labour aid. Sometimes other drinks are managed better than water. Avoid drinks high in sugar or caffeine
  • Clear soup such as bone broth or miso soup
  • If feeling like a sweet hit – spoonful of honey or piece of dark chocolate
  • Avoid fatty, rich or spicy foods, & strong smelling foods – this includes your support person too.

#3: Support in labour

Comfort in labour can come in the form of support, which might be emotional and physical. Who you have to support you during labour can impact your birth experience, either in a positive or negative sense. Studies show that women with good support have shorter, less painful labours, with less medical intervention. 

Think carefully about who could offer you the support you need to feel comfort in labour. There will be moments you will feel very vulnerable, afraid, or even lost. You may need someone to ask questions, draw out information and make sure your wishes are being heard and honoured.

Choose someone who nourishes you in your daily life. Your partner, your children, your mum, your sister, a friend. You could also choose an independent midwife or doula to guide you through the experience of childbirth.

Sarah Goldberg, founding Director of Nurtured Birth, is a doula and she has shared some tips for support as comfort in labour:

  • Touch – simple and firm, holding the space, calming and soothing you, holding your hands.
  • Massage – of the back, shoulders and neck, legs. Especially the lower back and sacral region to reduce muscle tension and distract from contractions.
  • Encouragement – emotional support is key. A labouring woman needs to stay focused as she works hard to birth her baby. At times it’s normal to feel really confronted and tired. Encouragement and attention help you feel held, cared for and safe. This promotes the production of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the love hormone and needed in peak levels to cause contractions which open the cervix and bringing the baby down and out. 
  • Environment – create a loving, relaxed space with the right team of people, where you can laugh and feel joy, and aim to make it a precious memorable life experience. 
  • Physical support – helps to make you physically comfortable, stay connected to your breath,  help you to stay active, perhaps even dancing, support in upright & active positions, encourage you to try new positions. 
  • Support people – let others take on practical tasks, like getting heat packs or cool washers, making sure you are sipping water and nibbling food that will keep you going. Running a bath, hanging out in the shower, making sure the lights are low, adjusting music or  applying tens machine.  

#4: Sensory comfort 

Our human spirit needs nourishment and encouragement, especially in challenging moments during labour. What lifts your spirit, affects you positively and fills up your cup? Bring those special elements into your birth space to provide comfort in labour.

Some sensory comfort in labour ideas you might like to explore:

  • Visual stimuli – pictures or photographs that evoke emotions, assist focus and meditation, affirmations practiced during pregnancy.
  • Breathing – practice deep breathing techniques during pregnancy to create a habit of using this in labour, to promote deep relaxation during labour.
  • Encouragement – appropriate encouragement in words or touch that is nurturing, supportive and strengthening.
  • Music – sound can be a good distraction and very relaxing, or uplifting to promote energy. 
  • Rest and sleep – allow your body and mind to rest in between contractions, especially in the first active stage of labour, to build up energy reserves.
  • Scents – essential oils can offer support and calm, assisting you through each stage of labour, providing nurture, strength and positivity. 
  • Pain management techniques – coping with contraction pain can be assisted with the use of a tens machine, acupuncture or acupressure.
  • Comfort items – these might be special to you, such as a blanket, clothes, warm socks, a favourite throw rug, your own pillow.

Make sure your time in labour is a positive experience by surrounding yourself with all forms of nourishment. Comfort in labour can be found with one or many of these 4 simple ways to nourish yourself.

If you need help in finding what are the right choices for you, consider some childbirth education classes. Nurtured Birth offers private birth education sessions in the comfort of your own home or via online conferencing. Please contact us for more information. 

Written by Sharon Clarke, Remedial Therapist at Nurtured Birth

Does Pregnancy Make You Feel Touched Out?

During pregnancy it’s not uncommon for women to feel touched out at some point.

Pregnancy can be a very exciting time and brings many changes, some of which are new, confusing and completely unexpected. 

You might discover you can’t eat your favourite ice cream; you cry at the drop of a hat; or have incredibly vivid dreams. 

There are many wonderful and unexpected changes going on in your body during pregnancy. One of them you might find very surprising is to find you really dislike being touched. 

It can range from not wanting to be touched by strangers to avoiding certain forms of intimacy (like a kiss on the cheek). Some women feel physically ill in the presence of certain people. 

Other pregnant women find they become intolerant to certain people, including their partner. You might find this aversion to touch can heighten your interactions with people, leaving you feeling tense and anxious. 

 The difficulty is people are drawn to pregnant bellies and their desire to touch is often well intentioned. Often pregnant women think they’re being silly or feel guilty about not liking being touched. 

pregnancy touched out

It doesn’t help when people use language that makes you feel you’re public property. Family might say things such as ‘it’s not just your baby in there, it’s our grandchild’. A friend might say ‘but I never minded it when people touched my belly’. Strangers might comment on your size, their own pregnancy experience, or tell you horror stories about birth.

This increases your anxiety about allowing those people into your personal space. It’s ok to not like being touched but many of us never really question what’s behind this aversion during pregnancy.  

Why do I feel touched out during pregnancy? 

It’s believed your amazing pregnancy hormones change the way your brain deals with information. Feeling touched out during pregnancy can last weeks and months. 

Aversion is your primal instinct saying ‘no thanks, I don’t want that, I don’t like it’. It protects you from harm. Even though it doesn’t seem rational a person touching your belly could cause you harm, pregnancy hormones do fascinating things with deep feelings. 

Women are conditioned to accept certain behaviour is normal when they’re pregnant, and feel guilty that they don’t like it. Your response is a signal from a primal level in your body and mind.

Whether it’s a physical or emotional signal being triggered, spend some time honestly exploring your response to being touched. This can help you to connect with yourself on a deeper level, paving the way for more positive interactions. 

Here are 6 of the more common reasons why women feel touched out during pregnancy. 

#1: The lioness instinct

Many women feel very protective of their body and baby when they’re pregnant. You’re creating another human being and while that’s exciting, there’s also a lot of anxiety about doing it ‘right’. 

Should you be eating this? Is it safe to go to that place? Will you make a good mother? Are your needs being met? Do you have underlying fears about pregnancy or birth? You might be overwhelmed by information and advice, or feeling incredibly unsupported by those around you. 

Feeling on guard and anxious can heighten your lion mama heart. Seeing a hand stretching out to touch your belly can trigger a sense of protectiveness towards your baby. 

#2: Unresolved feelings

When there’s one person in particular who makes you recoil, it’s likely there are unresolved deeper issues and feelings with that person. This might be your partner, a close family member or friend. 

In a recent interview, Sarah says “Be observant about what’s happening…If you’re feeling really triggered, think what’s going on behind that reaction — there might be underlying emotional stuff that needs to be addressed.”

Going deeper into those feelings and working through them can benefit you. Carrying negative feelings during pregnancy creates tension in your muscles, disrupts your mind-body connection, and can show up during labour and birth.

#3: Past trauma and aversions

We know there’s a link between past experiences of trauma or abuse and touch aversion. This is something that may have happened long ago and is triggered by feeling vulnerable and anxious about being in control of your body during pregnancy.  

There may also be a buried memory of a personal or observed experience that has been linked to being touched during pregnancy. This can be triggered by a smell, a sound or feeling judged. Some women are body conscious, stemming from their early childhood experiences; which triggers an intense aversion to being touched.  

#4: You are still you

You may feel having your belly touched makes you feel less like a person and more like an incubator. Pregnant women are still women, yet there are people who think body autonomy doesn’t apply when a pregnant belly is involved. 

There is also the sense you’re not being seen for yourself as a pregnant woman. This can have a significant impact on your emotional wellbeing. Many new mamas feel they are forgotten in the excitement around the baby. This can lead to feeling isolated and without support, triggering a protectiveness or physical dislike to being touched. 

#5: Cultural differences

Different cultures have their own beliefs and traditions relating to pregnancy. When someone automatically reaches out to touch a pregnancy belly, they are ignoring the potential cultural differences.

In certain cultures there are customs and traditions about touching a pregnant belly that have negative consequences for the mother or the baby. Or strangers touching your belly can cause disapproval from your community. 

This can leave you feeling incredibly protective about being touched and possibly anxious about having to prevent it happening. 

#6: Sensory overwhelm

Even if this is your first baby and you don’t have other children constantly


grabbing you, there’s a baby inside of you and this can lead to feeling touched all the time. 

Often it’s a beautiful feeling, knowing you’re never alone. But pregnancy can make you feel super sensitive to sensations and touch. This is commonly known as feeling touched out. 

Feeling touched out often happens when too much is going on, your senses are overwhelmed. A person rubbing your belly can be the last straw andtrigger a physical feeling of aversion. 

What can I do about feeling touched out?

We’re hardwired to want contact with other human beings. Being pregnant doesn’t make this less so, rather it increases our need to be connected with our community. 

Talking about it to your partner, family and friends can help them to understand it’s not about them. Feeling touched out during pregnancy is usually temporary. Their respectful and sensitive understanding can help you to feel connected and safe. 

If overwhelm is a trigger, bring some awareness on how you can take care of yourself. This can be simply getting enough sleep, eating well and spending some mindful time in the fresh air and sunshine. 

You may need to learn to ask for and accept help when you need it. Self care or self love is a common phrase we hear today, but it’s an important reminder to prioritise meeting our own needs. 

Overwhelm can be a sign of something deeper. Having a trusted support person such as a doula can help you explore and create space for working through concerns, such as fear around birth or anxiety about your baby’s wellbeing. Therapies such as yoga and massage can also help you restore a positive connection with your body. 

You don’t owe strangers free access to your body, under any circumstances. The way you feel about being touched might not change. Being aware of your aversion to touch can empower you to respond to someone’s intention to touch you without feeling guilty or ashamed that you don’t like it. 

Find out more about Nurtured Birth and the services we offer that may support you through pregnancy here.

Author: Sam McCulloch, Wordsmith at Nurtured Birth