Understanding and managing pain

The pain of labour is unique and serves a specific purpose. It signals the start of the opening process that will lead to the birth of your baby. These changes take place inside your body. They happen gradually. A rhythm develops and the intensity of the pain increases over time. For some women the start of labour is hardest; for others it may be when it is time to push. The pain is stronger during contractions while the period between contractions gives you time to recover.

There are methods to help women and couples better understand the pain and prepare themselves during pregnancy. This preparation can also help the father become more involved and active during the delivery.

Essential information to remember For many women, being in water helps manage the pain.

Photo: Renée Desroches

For example, some learn techniques that involve breathing, relaxation, visualization, yoga, self-hypnosis, acupressure, or other approaches. Massage can also help reduce anxiety and make the pain easier to bear.

Most hospitals and birthing centres offer moms in delivery the option of taking a bath or shower. They also have large physio balls on which you can sit and move at the same time. If they are not offered, don’t hesitate to ask for one.

If there comes a time when your pain management methods are no longer working or you have the impression you can no longer bear the pain, it can be relieved with drugs. In most cases you will be offered an epidural. There are also other drugs if the epidural is not available or if it is not appropriate for you (see Epidurals and analgesic drugs).

Tips for managing childbirth pain

  • Have someone with you—the baby’s father, your Partner, a family member, friend, or birth companion (doula).
  • Create a warm, calm, and intimate atmosphere.
  • Stay warm.
  • Trust yourself and your instincts.
  • Stay in the moment.
  • Visualize what is happening inside of you.
  • Move and change positions as needed (do not remain in bed)—walk around between contractions.
  • Relax.
  • Breathe slowly.
  • Take a shower or bath.
  • Eat and drink as needed.
  • Make noise.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for whatever would make you feel good.
  • Have someone encourage and comfort you through their words and actions.
  • Have someone touch you, massage you, or simply hold your hand.
  • Have someone sponge you with a wet compress.

Positions during labour

Throughout labour, you can try different positions to help the cervix dilate and help you relax between contractions. Lying flat is often the least comfortable position.

The following page shows examples of the various positions you can try during labour.

Illustrations: Maurice Gervais