Why Relaxation Can Help You Have an Easier Childbirth
Many of the childbirth methods that originated in the middle 1900s stressed the importance of the mother relaxing during labor. Dr. Grantly Dick-Read introduced what is known as the “Fear-Tension-Pain” cycle. He observed that when a laboring woman experienced fear during labor, it caused her to tense up, thereby increasing her level of pain. The pain then became a trigger for increasing the mother’s fear and then the fear-tension-pain cycle continued.
The result of Dick-Read’s research began the movement of childbirth education across multiple continents. Experts developed courses to prepare parents to give birth, to reduce their fear and teach women to relax during labor. What experts have discovered since then is that relaxation during labor does have a number of benefits.
Relaxation Helps to Conserve Energy
If a mother is tensing during labor, her body is working twice as hard as it needs to in order to give birth. Her uterus needs to contract in order to dilate her cervix and move her baby down through her pelvis and birth canal. If she is tensing up the rest of her body as well, it causes her body to have to work unnecessarily by causing the blood to flow to those working “non-labor” muscles. Tension then causes more fatigue and less blood flow to the labor-related muscles. When the mother relaxes, she can allow her labor muscles to be doing all of the work.
Relaxation Reduces Labor Pain
As we saw in the fear-tension-pain cycle, relaxing the non-labor muscles during and in between contractions can help the mother reduce labor pain. You can easily see how tension would increase your pain if you tensed up your arm before a nurse gave you a shot. The pain you would experience would be much greater than if your arm was relaxed.
Relaxation Helps Labor Progress
If your non-labor muscles are relaxed during labor, then your labor-related muscles are free to work more efficiently and effectively. One way to prove this concept is to see what happens when a mother, who has been tensing up during labor, gets into a tub and finally relaxes. It is not unusual to see labor progress rapidly when the mother’s body is allowed to work without the rest of her muscles tensing up.
Not All Mothers Relax in the Same Way
As a result of Dick-Read’s research, birth experts have encouraged childbirth education classes and relaxation as ways to reduce pain. However it was also assumed that mothers should relax by lying down, breathing slowly and remaining still. Now experts and mothers alike are recognizing that how mothers relax can vary from woman to woman and from labor to labor. The good news is that many of the ways to find relaxation now are ways to relax during labor.
Mothers May Prefer Movement to Lying Still for Relaxation
Early methods of Lamaze and Bradley childbirth taught parents that relaxation is best achieved by lying still and using deep breathing. However now these same methods encourage mothers to move about freely and change positions in order to relax better. Many birth doulas have discovered that mothers generally cope better with labor when they have mobility. Parents may discover that their childbirth classes now include a segment on practicing slow dancing or swaying during contractions in addition to relaxation exercises while lying down.
Identify Tension and Relaxation Before Labor
How best do you relax? Where does your tension go? It can be helpful to know before you go into labor how your body reacts to stress (i.e. what body parts become tense?) as well as how best do you relax so that you know what areas to focus on during labor.