Pain Relief Techniques for Labor

close photo of woman's back

How can mothers find relief from labor pain? Find out the most effective pain relief techniques as well as comfort measures to keep her relaxed.

Effective Pain Relief Techniques/Comfort Measures for Labor

Here are some of the most effective comfort measures for labor as well as why they work so well to relax mom or reduce her pain:

1. Massage – especially firm massage to the lower back or achy arms, legs, neck is a great comfort measure to relieve contraction discomfort as well as aches and pains from tension and long hours of labor. If the mother tenses up during labor, lactic acid builds up in her muscles. This can cause more pain both during labor as well as the first few days after birth.

Light or fingertip massage on the mother’s back or abdomen, also called effleurage, may be preferable over deep massage for some women. Effleurage stimulates nerve endings called “meissner’s corpuscles” which travel faster across the body than the signal of pain, thereby “blocking” the pain signal from reaching the brain so quickly.

2. Counterpressure – firm pressure using the heel of the hand to mother’s lower back during contractions is an excellent pain relief technique that can help reduce the sensation of pain and the transmission of the pain impulses to the brain.

3. Pressure on hands, feet and lips – Women often like pressure on hands, feet and even kissing since the nerve endings found in these parts of the body also help to block the pain signals. This is a reason why women often prefer standing rather than lying down during labor! Foot massages can be a relaxing comfort measure as well as very effective to reduce pain.

4. Hydrotherapy – through showering or laboring in a tub is a very effective pain relief technique to relax mother and provide comfort to her back or lower abdomen. It is a good idea to wait until active labor (preferably 4-5 cm) to use a tub since getting into water too early can slow labor.

5. Breathing Patterns can be a helpful distraction tool as well as keeping mother from hyperventilating or holding her breath during contractions. Patterns can consist of deep, abdominal breaths or shallower breaths. All breathing patterns should be rhythmic.

6..Heat/Cold Packs – heat or cold packs are a great comfort measure for mother’s lower back. Cool cloths are great for mom’s forehead in active labor through pushing.

7. Position Changes are recommended for comfort throughout labor as well as to help labor progress. Some positions helpful for pain relief are hands-knees, walking, standing and leaning on labor partners, side-lying and straddling while seated on a birth ball. Mother should continue to change positions during pushing as well.

8. Relaxation Techniques can be helpful between contractions or during if mother desires. Use relaxation techniques in rhythm to the mother’s breathing pattern.

9. Music, focal points, photos, etc. are a nice way to brighten the birthing environment and give mother something else to concentrate on. Some mothers like music with a slower, more relaxing rhythm in early labor and something more peppy or energetic as labor progresses.

10. Aromatherapy can be used to ease tension and enhance relaxation. Use one drop of essential oil in a cup of warm water to fill the room with a pleasant aroma. Aromatherapy is also effective in pre-mixed massage lotions.

Use caution when handling essential oils since they can be toxic. Also do not use oils in the water if you plan to give birth in the tub. Scents that are popular for labor include lavender, clary sage, jasmine, neroli, rose, geramium and lemon. For more information, read Aromatherapy for Mother & Baby by Allison England and for information about lavender, read Lavendar’s Healing Properties

11. Fluid and/or Light Foods – although not directly effective as pain relief techniques, hydration and light nourishment throughout labor can prevent fatigue and allow mothers the energy to get through a long labor. For more information about the benefits of eating as well as a list of comfort foods to eat during labor, read Eating During Labor?

12. Birth Doulas can be a great resource of encouragement, emotional support and physical comfort for the entire family while the mother is in labor. In addition to knowledge about pain relief techniques, doulas provide continuous emotional support, answer questions about labor and provide support to the partner or father. For more information about doulas, see Top Ten Questions to Ask a Doula and Birth Doulas or Postpartum Doulas.

To locate a doula near you, visit DONA International

13. Acupressure Points can be used to induce labor or provide pain relief.

What pain relief techniques worked for you? Tell us about them.