The start of labour pains does not necessarily mean that childbirth will occur soon thereafter. Some women may only be in labour for a few hours while for others the ordeal can last for one to two days. Labour pains are a natural part of childbirth but it is challenging for any women. Modern drugs have proven to be useful in this regard but it is not always advisable for a prolonged labour. Instead other measures to comfort the mother and ease the early labour pains should be considered.
Some women have a higher pain threshold and are able to contend with labour pain for a longer period without any intervention. For most women however, simple conservative measures may be sufficient until drugs are feasible to use. Easing early labour pains should involve the partner as simple reassurance and support may be sufficient to make the experience tolerable. Even soothing music may help some women stay calm and deal with the pain.
However, more definitive measures are required at some point before opting for drugs. Various techniques have been explored and while the results may vary, all of these measures are safe options for easing early labour pains. Breathing, massage and heat or cold therapy are some of the more widely preferred options. These non-invasive techniques do not pose any risk to the baby and may in fact be helpful – if the mother unable to handle the pain, the stress response can affect the baby.
Heat therapy has been used throughout time as a means of treating various ailments. It is safe to use in most instances and pregnancy is no different. Although expectant mothers are often afraid of utilising any drug or therapy while pregnant, heat therapy is relatively safe in this regard. If used appropriately, a wheat bag or heat pad can relieve discomfort, strain and pain during pregnancy.
Avoid Hot Water Baths
Not all forms of heat therapy may be safe. Immersing in a hot bath is one form of heat therapy but may not be suitable for pregnancy. Heat causes the blood vessels in the skin to dilate. This increases superficial blood flow. When heat therapy is used on a small area of the body like with a wheat bag or heat pad then it is not a problem.
However, immersing in a hot bath causes vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels) throughout most of the skin on the body. Blood rushes to the surface and this alters the blood pressure. It also means that normal internal blood flow to the baby can be affected which is not optimal during pregnancy. Therefore pregnant mothers who need to apply heat to an area should rather use a wheat bag or heat pad rather than soaking in a hot water bath.
Advantages of Wheat Bags and Heat Pads
A wheat bag or heat pad has distinct advantages over other forms of heat therapy. It does not become overheated like water or change form like when water converts into steam. It does not hold any risk in terms of electricity with the use of an electric heat pad. It can be easily placed and take the shape of any part of the body thereby focussing the heat on specific areas. However, no heat application, not even a wheat bag or heat pad, should be placed on the abdomen during pregnancy.
Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) occurs as a result of a hormone called relaxin (which also makes your feet bigger in pregnancy). This hormone allows the usually taut ligaments that connect the three bones of your pelvis, to relax and make way for baby. While this added flexibility is useful during birthing, it can cause pain during pregnancy in the form of SPD.
Symptoms include pains or aches in the pelvic area that radiates to the lower back, hips, buttocks and down the legs. You may also experience pain with movements such as getting out of bed or a car and other positions where one leg drops down in a scissor-like movement. Walking and other weight-bearing activities can increase pain.
- Stand symmetrically, with your weight evenly distributed through both legs.
- Sit down to get dressed, especially when putting on underwear or trousers.
- Keep your legs close together and move symmetrically and slowly. Avoid “straddle” movements.
- Swing your legs together as a unit when getting in and out of cars. Use something slippery on the car seat e.g. bin liner, to help you enter car backwards and then turn your legs as a unit.
- Avoid heavy lifting or pushing.
- When climbing stairs, step up with your best leg and then bring your other leg to meet it.
- Acupuncture may reduce pain levels.
- Movement and strengthening therapies like the Alexander Technique and Pilates may help. The Alexander Technique helps retrain more efficient and better muscle usage. Pilates works on strengthening the core muscle areas e.g. abs, back, etc.
- Physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic may help.
- Use a pillow between your legs when sleeping and/or use a pillow under baby.
- Keep your legs and hips as symmetrical as possible when moving in bed. You may find it helpful to have your partner stabilize your hips when adjusting position.
- Silk/satin sheets and nighties may make it easier to turn over in bed.
- Performing regular pelvic floor exercises and lower abdominal exercises can help to reduce pelvic strain. To perform a lower abdominal exercise, get down onto your hands and knees and level your back so that it is roughly flat. Breathe in and as you breathe out, perform a pelvic floor exercise and at the same time pull your belly button in and up. Hold this for 5-10 seconds without holding your breath and without moving your back. Relax the muscles slowly at the end of the exercise.
- Back pain can be helped by resting backwards over a birth ball.
- Water aerobics may be helpful.
Finally some general advice which might help. Ask a partner to massage your lower back. If their hands get tired, they could use a rolling pin or tennis ball. If you prefer hard pressure on this area, get on your hands and knees and arch your back a bit, then have your partner put their elbow against the area and rub in small circles.
A chilled wheat bag may feel soothing and help reduce inflammation in the pubic area. Wheat bags warmed in the microwave before using, feel really nice on the back!