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