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3 Ways to Rethink Contractions

What if contractions weren't about pain after all?

3 Ways to Rethink Contractions

There are many things about labor that are totally scary. We don’t know when it is going to start; we don’t know what it is going to feel like; we don’t know how we are going to react… There’s a lot we can’t plan for, but we can prep ourselves by examining our fears and learning some tools to slip back into labor’s flow instead of getting stuck in a place of being afraid.

One of the biggest fears that come up is the pain of contractions -- and understandably so. But here’s the thing about labor: while the sensations and emotions that arise are certainly intense, the body has an entire system of defense mechanisms in place to help support you through the process. The strong sensations (the bleeding, the vomiting, the shaking, the heat rushes) are actually all signs of things being very right -- signs that your body is working with you and for you so that you can finally meet your baby.

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So while being scared during labor is very normal and we want you to feel all the feels, fear can have a very strong impact on how labor unfolds. If it takes over, it can activate the the fight or flight response, causing that beautiful orchestra of hormones to be disrupted, our defense mechanisms in place to break down and the progression of labor to slow. So it’s actually the fear of the contractions that we want to resist, not the contractions themselves.

To help you prepare mentally and emotionally for labor, here are 3 ways to rethink contractions and stop fear from taking over.

1. What you are feeling is not actually pain. Those who have given birth before may want to throw something at us for saying this, but hear us out. We definitely aren't saying the sensation isn't intense -- in fact, it may hurt like hell. But you are totally equip to handle it. It is essential to note that, unless fear and stress take over, contractions don’t signal a pain response in the body. Instead, they initiate a very intricately designed orchestra of hormones to keep contractions going (Oxytocin), to keep the pelvis limber so baby’s head fits through (Relaxin), and to give you some natural painkillers to cope with the sensation (Endorphins). What you feel during a contraction is a mix of three sensations: tightening, pressure and stretching. And calling it as such instead of “pain” can be very helpful in reminding you that you are not in danger; that the sensation is actually happening for you, not to you, so you can bring baby earth side and finally meet him.

2. The sensation is very productive! What's actually happening during a contraction? You have two main muscle groups at work: vertical muscles and circular muscles, both of which congregate tightly down by the cervix. The tightening you feel during a contraction is the vertical muscles shimmying and lifting the circular muscles up and out of the way, so that the cervix can open. At the same time, the circular muscles are helping to rotate baby’s head so that the most optimal part can hopefully press against the cervix for some extra umph! The stretching sensation is your cervix slowly starting to soften, thin and open. Sometimes, if you release into the contraction, really allow it to come, and actually focus on going deeper into the sensation, you can actually feel your cervix opening.

3. It's teamwork! Throughout labor, you and baby are working very hard together to meet one another. Sure, your body is very busy. But your baby is laboring too. For example, the pressure that you feel is your baby's head pressing on different points of the pelvis and the cervix to come closer and closer to the birth canal. Baby’s head is rotating (with the help of your uterus) to find the most optimal position to come out. The sensation isn’t just to torture you! It’s you and your baby joined in the most powerful of forces for the ultimate teamwork.

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    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

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    Do your best to filter the air.

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    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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