As of this weekend, we’re now battle station ready in case gyermek should decide to come two weeks early (well, almost ready – the hospital bag is mostly packed, but the birth plan is finally with the hospital). Although I am not convinced that he/she will come early – out of four of us, two have had babies early and one five days late, so mine should also be late, right? Ha ha, let’s see.
This weekend, Husband and I started a betting pool on when gyermek will arrive. He’s going for 1 May, the day before the due date, but I’m sure that’s only because he thinks gyermek will come at the most inconvenient time, and 1 May is Labour Day here an a huge public holiday, meaning that getting a taxi to take us to the hospital will be an interesting challenge. I, on the other hand, am betting on 5 May, a few days over just to keep me on my toes but not too late (I am guessing here that gyermek takes more after Husband rather than me on this front – my birth came around three weeks after the midwife had said I’d be born…).
Anyway, back to what I was planning to write about. As we approach the big day, I thought I could share some of what I’ve learned about pain relief options from our birth class and from what I’ve read.
- Movement: In the first phase of birth, movement is recommended as a way to block out the pain of contractions. In Birth Skills, Juju Sundin suggests concentrating on moving your feet in a rhythm or rubbing the soles together when a contraction comes. She writes that any form of rhythmic movement that diverts your attention away from the contraction can be used – for example, rocking and swaying your hips, marching, pacing, rhythmic steps, sliding your back up and down the wall, bouncing on the fitness ball and even stomping in shallow water.
- Massage: As part of our lamaze/childbirth class, we learned different massage techniques that partners can use to help us to relax, as massage releases endorphins (“happy” hormones) in the body. Those of you who read Swedish can check this out (from page 10), and those who cannot might get some benefit from the drawings or can read about them in English here.
- Acupuncture: I’m afraid that this is not an area that I have investigated too thoroughly as I really cannot stand needles. But one thing I can say is that midwives in Sweden also have training in acupuncture and so you can take advantage of that as a pain relief and relaxation technique in Swedish birth units. This article tells you a little more about the advantages (allows movement, can be used with other forms of pain relief, can be used for home births) and disadvantages (it might not work for you, you might find it too stimulating and irritating) of acupuncture during labour.
- Warm water: Standing in a shower of warm running water is relaxing enough at any time and can be especially so during labour. Again, this can prompt your body to release endorphins.
- TENS: This little machine has had mixed reviews – some love it, some cannot feel much effect from it. TENS works by passing small electronic vibrations to pads that you attach to your back. Its advantages are that it can be used with other forms of pain relief (except those involving water!) and that it releases endorphins. It’s a good idea to try out the machine beforehand (despite having borrowed a TENS machine nearly four weeks ago, I haven’t yet tried it out – time is ticking!).
- Lamaze breathing and relaxation: Although you can read about Lamaze breathing techniques online, I think it is best to sign up for a class (generally taken about six to eight weeks before your due date) as then you really get a chance to practice the breathing properly. In Stockholm, you can sign up for a class in English called Lamaze & Active Childbirth, which I highly recommend. One of the great advantages of Lamaze breathing is that you and your partner work on and practice the techniques together – we really found that it both interesting and fun to learn.
- Laughing gas: This gas is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide that can be used during labour. An advantage of the gas is that if you don’t get along with it, then you just stop using it and it leaves your body almost straight away. On the other hand, you need to time your contractions well and get that mask on in time as it takes around 20-30 seconds to feel the effect of the gas. I’ve used it once before, at the dentist for fillings – my dentist said beforehand that it feels like being at a party and having had one glass of wine too many. And without the subsequent hangover! However, it can make some feel nauseous.
- Epidural (EDA): An epidural into the spine blocks pain and sensation from the waist down. The anesthesiologist first gives a local anesthetic at the base of the spine and then inserts a catheter into the epidural space. In Sweden, walking epidurals are generally given, which allow you to move a certain distance from the equipment, rather than having to lie on the bed. Again, I’m afraid, this is not an area that I have investigated too much – needles and all that…
- Sterile water injections (trialled in Sweden): This form of pain relief seems mainly to be used to combat severe back pain during labour. For me, the main problem with this is that the injections are said to hurt… a lot. In fact, I’ve heard of women having to use Lamaze breathing to be able to have the injections! You can read some more about them here in English and Swedish. The effect of the injections is said to last for one to two hours.
- Paracervical block (Västerviksmetoden): A paracervical block of two injections into the cervix can be used to combat pain in the early labour stages but unfortunately does not have much effect later on in labour. It does not seem to be used much in Sweden nowadays.
Well, there we go – some different pain relief options to think about.