When people think about giving birth, most go straight to the pain (damn movies!). Some feel confident in their ability to cope. Others are flat out terrified or at the very least unsure about their ability to manage. Whether your preference is to go natural or medicated, learning different ways to be with the painful parts and find comfort and even pleasure in the process will serve you.

There are many comfort measures that women can employ to manage the intensity of labor. These are my top 5 must-haves to infuse your birth with the comfort and support you’ll need to have a positive experience regardless of your birth plan.

  1. Birth ball. Birth balls are the same as exercise balls, and many women find them to be an extremely useful tool during labor. First, they are comfortable to sit on as they are soft and easy to move around on. Movement is a huge comfort measure, not to mention often quite helpful in assisting in the progress of labor. I mean, everyone wants all the help they can get with things moving along, right? Providing a perfect seat for bouncing or making hip circles, this can help women better manage the stronger sensations of labor as well as making space in a woman’s pelvis for babies to descend.Birth balls are also one of the most comfortable things to lean on in labor. If you end up not wanting to sit on it, you may just want to use it as a tall pillow! Since forward leaning is such a helpful and comfortable position for most women in labor, having something soft to hug while kneeling can make resting between contractions quite accessible. It is also more supportive than putting pressure on your wrists for a hands and knees position.
  1. Warm Compresses. Another great comfort during labor is the use of heat or warm compresses. Warmth has the ability to soften and relax muscles and release tension — hence the popularity of hot showers and baths in labor. Many women already know the power of warmth for comfort from when they had menstrual cramps. This is a common cure. In particular, I recommend using Thermacare wraps. They are disposable heat wraps that have a velcro adhesive (not the ones that stick on) and can be purchased at most pharmacies. The warmth is initiated when exposed to air and lasts 8-12 hours. I tell people to get the low back-hip one in L-XL so it’s big enough to wrap around a pregnant belly. During labor, you can wear it around your waist with the heated side facing your belly for frontal pain or swing it around to your back if you’re experiencing back labor. Every time you have a contraction, you or your partner can place your hands on the hot spot to drive the warmth deeper into your body. It can really melt you.The reason I prefer these wraps is because of their portability. Since you can wear it, it can come with you on walks, in transition to the hospital from home, etc. A electric heating pad will work too, but it bounds you to the nearest outlet. Microwaveable heating pads and hot water bottles are also options, though these too may be impractical in action.
  1. Washcloths for ice water. Temperature shifts are common in labor. While warmth may be desirable at certain points, especially toward the end of labor, women tend toward feeling really hot. Active labor is hard work. When the sweating and stripping off of clothing starts, that’s your cue. Having washcloths handy will be softer and more functional than most other linens the hospital or birth center will have.Fill a pitcher or bowl with ice water from the pantry and soak your washcloths in them. I usually like to have 2 or 3 cloths rotating at a time so one of them is always fresh and cold. Strain off any excess water so it doesn’t drip too much and use this as a cool compress for her forehead and brow, to wipe sweat off her face or simply to rest on her neck, upper back or chest. Not every woman likes this but many do, so it’s definitely worth a try.
  1. Rebozo. A rebozo is the Mexican name for a long shawl often used in childbirth. As such, any long and wide scarf or even bedsheet will do the trick. There are many things you can do with this tool in labor, many of which provide an easy way to lift up the weight and pressure of a woman’s pregnant belly. What a gift it is to take the weight of a woman’s weight off her body! In prenatal visits and classes, I often show people a few simple ways to use this fabric to support a woman during labor. An example can be viewed here, but you can find even more resources online if you look for them.
  1. A birth doula. This cannot be said too often. In my opinion, a doula is an essential member of any birth care team. Their role is to provide physical, emotional and informational support for women and families during birth. They are specially trained in numerous comfort measures and able to offer both a hands-on comforting touch as well as suggestions for things you can do on your own that might ease your pain and discomfort. Doulas meet with clients prenatally to discuss their concerns and preferences in advance of labor, often discussing the wide variety of options available for comfort during labor. They help you identify the techniques you are most apt to appreciate during labor and thus can be trusted to anticipate the best ways to support you when the big day arrives.

While this may scratch the surface of all the ways a woman can find comfort in labor, I do think these are the most essential tools to have with you on this most special day. If you want to learn more about comfort measures during labor and birth, check Yiska’s workshop, Comforting Touch in Birth.