Natural Labor Management
Merriam-Webster defines labor as expenditure of physical or mental effort, especially when difficult or compulsory. Labor is an expenditure of that primal force in women that allows her and her body to know exactly what to do, when to do it and connect with her own divinity to bring a new life into this world. Doulas have the pleasure of witnessing this miracle over and over again, and helping women connect with that primal force. They see it done in hospitals, in birth centers and in homes. The setting isn’t as important as the support a woman receives during labor.
A doula is a trained professional who provides guidance, information, emotional support and physical comfort to a mother before, during and just after childbirth. The word “doula” comes from a Greek word that means “a woman who serves”. They provide excellent support and education to the mother-to-be, but do not perform medical procedures. A March 2017 study from Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that the presence of a doula in the birthing space results in a decrease in the use of Pitocin, a 20.4 percent rate of a C-section versus 34.2 percent without a doula and a decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience.
Coping with the expenditure of labor is a matter that the doula will discuss with the mother-to-be. When they are informed and empowered, they are more aware of the choices they have in childbirth. The coping skills a doula teaches can be used to create that perfect space.
Breathing and Vocalizing. We’ve all heard “take a deep breath and hold it”. That’s effective when we need to ground ourselves, but it’s important to breathe through the contractions. Each breath gives oxygen, which in turn gives energy. Vocalizing is a good way to cope as well. Any vocalizing, as guided as singing, or as primal as moaning and grunting, is a proven method of pain management.
Affirmations. In recent years, the trend of adult coloring books has led the way to pregnancy-centered books filled with images of birthing women surrounded by words of affirmation. Before labor, a woman can get one of these books, spend some time coloring with their partner and have a doula hang them around the birthing space as a reference for those times when they feel that they can’t go another minute.
Physical Nourishment. Gone are the days when eating during natural labor was considered a no-no. As with any feat of great physical exertion, it’s important to keep up nutrient intake. Small, nutrient-dense snacks, honey sticks and teas are all good sources of physical nourishment.
Emotional Nourishment. This is probably one of the most invaluable tools a doula can provide. Knowing that labor is progressing, being told that they are loved and that they are doing an amazing job are ways the doula and the partner are providing this nourishment to the mother.
Visualizing and Imagery. Many people find using a focal point to be invaluable in focusing their energies in places other than the sometimes unbearable nature of their contractions. Having a photo of a loved one, a religious icon or even just that one annoying dot on the hospital ceiling are all good places to focus energy to cope with the contractions.
Listening. Listening to music in the labor room can be soothing, or it can be just the thing needed to get out of bed and dance that baby down and out. Play something familiar that invokes a particular emotion. To relax and be soothed, playing nature sounds or Enya is perfect.
Moving and Positioning. The hospital staff and doula are trained to provide support to keep the mother moving during labor and finding the right position for laboring in bed—whether that is a desire or a necessity as labor progresses. Movement is important to keep the baby in the optimal position for delivery, and to stay comfortable for the journey.
Touch and Massage. Some people don’t like to be touched, and that is okay. Some people love the feeling of touch, and that is okay. Touch and massage during labor can be reassuring, and it can help to ease the aching muscles that are working overtime.
Catherine Rivera is a trained labor doula, aromatherapist and herbalist, serving Lancaster and all surrounding counties. Connect at 717-606-9989 or BirthCraftPA.com.
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