Inside: Are you pregnant and terrified of giving birth? Learn how to calm your mind and body to overcome your fear of labor and delivery pains. Plus grab a FREE set of birth affirmations I share with you later in this post to help you focus on what really matters.
As I prepared for baby’s arrival, during the third trimester of my very first pregnancy, I couldn’t stop thinking about what labor and birth would actually feel like. The birthing process has been described in so many different ways…from pushing something the size of a watermelon out of something the size of a lemon, to stomach cramps and even a “ring of fire” type pain.
I couldn’t help but grow more and more anxious as my due date approached…wondering what the first experience would truly be like!
Of course, I knew that each and every pregnancy and experience is quite unique, and I didn’t doubt this was true since a number of factors play a key role, including things like:
- how far along you are
- baby’s size
- whether or not you opt for an epidural
But I still thought that being aware of some of the signature pains and symptoms would somehow prepare me for what was to come…if only mentally. I was also a worrier by nature, so I knew that now would be a good time to practice some sort of labor relaxation techniques.
What does labor feel like?
To better prepare myself, I just had to do research to find some of the general similarities women may experience during labor.
I think for any pregnant woman looking to understand what a contraction feels like, it’s important to actually understand what a contraction even is. Because there are various types including:
Although they may feel like the real thing, practice contractions or Braxton Hicks, prepare your body for delivery — but they don’t actually cause cervical dilation or effacement. These types of contractions also subside as you move positions.
Then there are false contractions or irregular contractions that don’t increase in severity or frequency. Similar to practice contractions, these subside with different positions.
True Labor Contractions
These are the real contractions that occur in the weeks before birth that tend to be much more intense and more frequent. They can last about 30-70 seconds and intensify as active labor approaches and do not ease up as you change positions.
Labor contractions may be accompanied by an upset stomach, diarrhea or cramps and can include a bloody show.
What a contraction feels like
From contraction pains to the pains experienced during active labor, below are the top ways labor and birth pains have been described by real moms:
- Very bad menstrual cramps
- Tightening muscles and severe stomach pains
- Stabbing sensations
- Really bad gas pains
- Extreme lower back and lower abdominal pains
- Tightening across your belly
- The feeling of your stomach stretching in all directions
My contractions felt like intense tugging on the stomach — including the tightening muscles and gas…but also the urge to poop! I wasn’t sure if I actually had to go or if it was labor. But turns out it definitely was labor, with “back labor” and lower back pain taking over.
Crowning during birth occurs when the baby’s head begins to pass through the vaginal opening, during the pushing phase. It has been described by moms as:
- Intense burning sensation or “ring of fire”
- Really intense bowel movements
- Possible tearing or ripping sensations
I never experienced crowning myself, as my 12 hours of labor ended with an emergency c-section due to baby’s breech position, so I can’t speak to this too much. What I can say, is that many mom friends have described it as painful but much shorter than the hours of labor contractions.
Tips for Managing Labor and Delivery Pains
Now if you’re looking to manage pain during labor — there are two main areas that are involved: the obvious physical pains that accompany labor and also the mental struggles that keep us from staying calm and managing our fears. Our minds and thoughts can have a major effect on our overall ability to cope with or better manage pain.
“What if the labor pain is more than I can handle?” or “What if I experience vaginal tearing?”
These are just some of the major thoughts that fill our minds as the big day approaches. Of course, it’s natural to worry about all the scary labor things you hear…but rest assured there are indeed effective ways to handle the pain.
Women have been giving birth for centuries. Someone put things in great perspective for me when they shared a piece of wisdom.
“If labor and delivery were so terribly unbearable, we would NOT continue to do it year after year.”
It is truly a great question to ponder on. Because while there is sure to be some pain, the end results…a baby…makes it all worthwhile.
How to reduce labor pains during pregnancy
Below are some effective ways you can learn to stay calm and overcome your biggest labor and delivery pains:
Talk to your doctor
Whether you are going the traditional route with a doctor in the hospital or planning for a home birth or doula, bring all your concerns to your birth team. Make sure you are on the same page and feel supported. It is incredibly important to feel good about the team that will be helping to deliver your baby to allay your fears.
With a plan of action, you’ll feel more confident as the day draws nearer. However, it’s important to have a back-up plan in mind in case your birth plan doesn’t pan out because, in reality, the best preparation for labor is to have the tools in mind to prepare for the unexpected.
Know your options
Another big piece of pain management is knowing your options. Talk to your doctor about how you can make labor less painful. Epidurals are a popular solution most pregnant women turn to. Ask all the questions pertinent to the subject including how effective it is, is it possible to receive in all cases and any other medical concerns you have. Include an epidural use in your birth plan to get you mentally prepared for labor.
Practice relaxation techniques
The best way to handle fear, in general, is to learn to relax and stay calm in the face of fear. Try to think of things that have helped you relax in general. For fear in pregnancy, hypnosis or visualization can work wonders in helping you engage your sense and decrease your awareness of pain.
For physical pain, have your partner or nurse massage your back, shoulders or arms to send a calming sensation throughout your body. You can also play soothing music, take a warm shower or keep moving to find a more comfortable laboring position. It may take a bit of trial and error to find what works best for your body.
Learn breathing techniques
Whether you opt for a Lamaze class through your hospital, an online birthing class or simply practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques at home, breathing can do wonders for helping you relax and stay calm before and during labor.
Birth It Up is a wonderful online birth preparation class for moms looking to go the natural route. It was created by a labor and delivery nurse as an affordable option for moms-to-be.
The class includes tips for remaining calm during labor and educating yourself on what to expect to make the process much more tolerable. If your birth plan includes going natural or avoiding a c-section, this class is the way to go!
Is another option for those who want to have an epidural during labor.
In the video course, the instructor educates you about the birth process and what to expect during labor. She’ll also dig deep into how to get through early labor, exactly what an epidural entails, what your partner needs to know and what to do if you go too fast during labor!
Focus on the positive
Last but not least, is a technique I used during my labor process. Even though I ended up with a c-section I wasn’t expected, practicing deep breathing and focusing on nothing else but the beautiful end result of my laboring (a new baby!) I was able to relax my body and handle all the contraction pains. I’d recommend you find something to focus on to help you get in a positive breathing routine and know that the pain is only temporary.
You can download and print these FREE Birthing Affirmation Cards to help you stay calm and overcome all of the labor & delivery fears that creep into your mind.
Ana, a mom to three rambunctious little boys, has supported thousands of women throughout their pregnancy and motherhood journey since 2012 as a prenatal and postpartum educator at MommysBundle.com.