Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Comfort Measures ~ a vital role in childbirth education!

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As you learn more and more about labor and the birth process, you will be fascinated by the number of comfort measures available to you. Each comfort measure is unique and designed to support you either physically or emotionally. You may not find complete information about all comfort measures in one place, however many of the most reliable measures are listed here.

Faith in the process, faith in the providers of care, and faith in your ability to make informed decisions about your care
Just as a marathon runner would not wait until the last moment to prepare for a major run, expectant parents should not wait either to be as prepared as possible. Emotional and physical preparation takes time and with time, comes faith in the knowledge and information you have received. You have the ability to make informed decisions based on the knowledge you have of alternatives. And carefully choosing care providers also enables you to trust in critical moments.

Active relaxation
There is definitely a difference between relaxation and sleeping. You can be tense and still fall asleep. Relaxation is a combination of rhythmic breathing and allowing tension to go out of your muscles. For some, relaxation techniques are not enough to get them to fully relax. Music therapy, massage and guided imagery may also be useful to get the expectant mother to relax.
Why is relaxation so important? More oxygen travels to both the laboring uterus and to the baby when a mother is relaxed. Also, the tension hormone, adrenaline, has the ability to slow or stop labor - depending on its level in the body. Reducing the tension in Mom can reduce the adrenaline, therefore enhancing labor!

Breathing techniques
Techniques vary based on the education and training from a childbirth instructor. Basically, breathing techniques keep you focused, maintain oxygen to both you and your baby, and give you something to concentrate on rather than the discomfort generated by the contractions. There is no one perfect set of techniques - rather it is the basic philosophy that works!
Whether you take childbirth classes, do extensive reading, watch a variety of birth videos or obtain information from your care provider or, ideally, a combination of all, you should become educated as to the labor and birth process. Many mothers say that they are extremely frightened of the birth process, but that their fear and anxiety was greatly reduced with information!

Using a Trained Labor Support Person
Childbirth assistants or doulas can bring to your birth many emotional and physical advantages. These advantages include more comfort measures for your specific needs, a familiar face that stays beyond shift changes, comfort from a woman who has experienced childbirth ~ someone who can anticipate you and your coach's needs before you realize they are your needs. These women never take the place of the coach unless an expectant woman has no coach. Before choosing a doula, interview them and ask them about their experience and their philosophy of birth.

Birth ball in use Using Gravity to Enhance Labor
Try these helpful positions to keep labor moving right along!

  • upright positions
  • walking
  • hands and knees
  • using a Birthing Ball
  • squatting
  • supported lunge
  • swaying or dancing with partner
  • pelvic rocking
  • sitting in a rocking chair

Hot and Cold Therapy
Warm rice socks or ice pack can make lower abdominal or back labor more comfortable.

Music Therapy
Soft and quite relaxation CD's and tapes enhance relaxation at home and when you go to the hospital. Take along a CD player if one is not provided by the hospital.

Frequent urination
Emptying the bladder often reduces the discomfort of a full bladder and also reduces the blockage of the birth canal often made as the bladder increases in fluid.

Counter pressure
To help with the discomforts associated with true back labor, counter pressure is often the comfort measure of choice. Your childbirth educator or doula can help you with the specific positions for counter pressure and some interesting alternatives to just pressing with the palm of the hand!

Since the touch fibers in our bodies are larger than the pain fibers, messages travel faster from the area being touched to our brains. And since our brains can only process so much information, massage can help reduce the amount of pain our brain senses. How can this be? What happens when you stub your toe? You instinctively massage it and the pain magically becomes managable. This same principle can be used during labor. Massage is also a great way of reducing the tension in the body during labor.

Fresh cut grass reminds me of Saturday afternoons as a child; certain perfumes remind us of certain people. Pick a scent that will trigger pleasant thoughts and help you maintain relaxation during labor. Lavender and Chamomile are two scents that many expectant mothers prefer.

Water Therapies
Shower and the Labor Tub make use of heat therapy. And the Labor Tub uses hydrostatic pressure to reduce the feelings of discomfort brought about by increasingly intense contraction and the movement of the baby down into the pelvis. This increases relaxation and facilitates labor!

A focal point: stuffed animal, photo, coach's face etc can help you keep focused on labor and relaxation, especially if you've practiced with it for months. Then it becomes a conditioned response to relax when looking at this object.

Guided Visual Imagery
Have someone read a very descriptive paragraph or story to you that could help you relax. Oddly enough, television is a form of guided imagery in that it takes us mentally from the place we are and transports us to different places. However, television does end and has commercials and this tends to break concentration.

  1. Bobak, I., Jensen, M. Maternity & Gynecologic Care: The Nurse and the Family. (1989) St. Louis: Mosby Publishers.
  2. Nichols, F., Humenick, S. Childbirth Education: Practice, Research & Theory (2000) Saunders & Co.
  3. Livingston, C. The Birth Ball Source Book.  4th edition. 2011.  Perinatal Education Associates.
  4. Reeder, S., Martin, L., and Koniak-Griffin, D. Maternity Nursing: Family, Newborn, and Women's Health Care. (1997) Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company.
  5. Sprague, A. Water Labour., Water Birth. 4th Edition. 2011. Amazon & Kindle Editions.
  6. Simkin and Ancheta. The Labor Progress Handbook: Early Interventions to Prevent and Treat Dystocia. 2nd Edition 2011. Wiley-Blackwell Publishers. Amazon/Kindle Editions.

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