Breathing and relaxation techniques are an essential part of preparing for labour. It’s important to be familiar with the techniques – even if you are sure that you want to use additional methods of pain relief.
Breathing and relaxation techniques:
• Will help you cope with early labour discomforts at home.
• May delay your admission to the hospital.
• Are essential if your other, preferred labour coping methods are delayed or become unavailable.
A warm shower can be taken at home or in the hospital and can be soothing for the mother. You may want to have a non-slip stool or chair for your comfort and safety. Studies have shown that women who use tub therapy report higher comfort levels and have less need for pain relief.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
TENS works by delivering nerve stimuli to the surface of your belly and back, which interferes with transmission of deeper pain impulses. Electrodes are taped on specific locations on your back, and the stimuli are given using a small, hand-held machine. TENS therapy must be arranged ahead of time through the physiotherapy department of your hospital. You operate the device yourself so it is a good idea to practice using the unit ahead of time.
Nitrous Oxide/Entonox (‘Laughing Gas’)
You may be familiar with this pain relief option from the dental office. The nitrous oxide gas is inhaled through a mask. It provides short-term pain relief. Women report coping better with their contractions. Nitrous oxide is often used for rapid labours when delivery is soon expected.
Narcotics are sometimes given to women in early labour to provide pain relief and
rest. This is usually given in the form ofan injection or through an intravenous medication. Women say that narcotics do not eliminate the pain completely. Since the medicine can cross over to the baby and can slow down the baby’s breathing after delivery, the timing of administering these drugs is very important.
An epidural provides pain relief by freezing the nerves that bring pain sensation from the uterus. This is done by administering a small amount of medicine (local anesthetic and narcotic) into the epidural space. This medicine is given through a tube that is inserted into the lower back with a needle. You will be asked to sit or lie on your side and curl up. Most women have complete pain relief with an epidural. Most women have good muscle control in their legs and can move about as they wish. If you are concerned, ask your practitioner during your pregnancy. When considering any of the options above, ask your caregiver questions you may have or voice your concerns.
Roseanne Hickey works at Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre as a nurse in labour and delivery and has taught prenatal classes for many years.