What if contractions weren't about pain after all?
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.
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.