How much will the birthing process hurt? Is labour really painful, and if so, how much? Will I be able to cope?
Coping strategies for birth
In my Pregnancy Yoga and Birth Preparation classes, I encourage women to amass a rich collection of coping strategies for birth. I stress that birth – and especially a first birth – can take many hours, and so lots of different tools may prove useful. A warm bath or pool may be great for a few hours, but later chanting, dancing or massage might work better.
Handling ice cubes
One of my favourite birth preparation activities is handling ice cubes. This is a safe way playfully to experiment with strong physical sensations.
I give each woman a towel, and place a couple of large ice cubes on it. I explain that labour contractions generally last about a minute. They tend not to last much longer than that. And there is usually a pain-free rest of two or three minutes between contractions.
One minute of intense sensation
Once we are all ready, I start the timer. Everyone holds an ice cube in her right hand for exactly one minute. The sensation is intense. Some would even call it painful! By the end of the minute, most people and grimacing and shaking their hands. Everyone puts down her ice cube with a big sigh of relief.
After that, we repeat the experience (using the other hand), but this time we practice a coping strategy. Earlier in the class I will have introduced a simple breath counting meditation. Now we count our breaths while holding the ice. Most women say counting their breaths makes the discomfort easier to manage. Or at least the minute seems to pass much more quickly.
Then we try holding ice cubes while chanting “Om” . This encourages a slow out breath and a soft, relaxed jaw. It’s a popular option.
Lavender essential oil is a natural analgesic. Next and we try inhaling lavender oil from a tissue while holding the ice. This is some people’s favourite strategy. Most women add lavender oil to their birth bag list.
We also try focusing on the cold sensation, as a direct mindfulness exercise. Then I may help the women deal with the ice by reading them a calming visualisation or relaxation script.
Playful and fun
The ice class is playful and fun. Holding an ice cube is not the same as experiencing a labour contraction. But the experience helps women realise that they can cope with uncomfortable physical feelings. When we discover that the cold feels different when we smell lavender or hum loudly, we find our own power to control our experience.
Learning that we are strong
Birth is strong and intense. Birth can feel overwhelming at times. But we don’t need to be afraid of birth. By practising and preparing for birth in a supportive environment, we learn that we are strong. Coping with birth is a reality. This is why I love the ice class.
Karen Lawrence teaches Pregnancy Yoga and Birth Preparation classes in Billericay, Essex. She is a Mother of seven, former Midwife, Reflexologist, and specialist Pregnancy Yoga instructor.
You can learn more about Karen’s classes at her website, www.thecalmspace.co uk