Transitional Labor: 5 Tips to Help You Cope

My doula helps me relax in the tub during McKay's birth.

My doula helps me relax in the tub during McKay’s birth.

When I tell McKay’s birth story, I always mention that every surge, from the first to the last, felt like transition. Kaisa’s labor was long (22 hours), but gradually increased in intensity from almost nothing. Labor with my middle boys was much faster (thank goodness!) but also started out more slowly. McKay’s hit me out of nowhere and I needed to use some of my best coping tips right away.

Every woman experiences labor differently, and what works for me may not work for others. However, as a doula I do find patterns in how women cope. Chances are, at least one of these tips will work for you. So what do I do to deal with hard labor? Here are 5 tips that I have found helpful at some point during each of my births.

1. Get in the tub.

You’ve probably heard this before, and that’s because it WORKS! Being suspended in water helps relieve some of the pressure you are feeling in your back, hips, and lower pelvic area. It allows you to adopt a wide variety of positions and change positions quickly as your body tells you to. The warmth of the water is soothing and relaxing, making it easier for you to let your birthing muscles open. If you are laboring well and suddenly have a hard time relaxing, have your doula or birth companion draw you a warm bath and get in.

A couple of tricks for making the tub more comfortable:

  • Check the temperature before you get in to make sure it is just right.
  • Use a rolled up towel or an old pillow behind your head and neck or under your arms. Better yet, invest in an inflatable waterproof pillow like this one.
  • Have a cup handy so that your doula or birth companion can pour warm water over your belly (which will likely still be above the water level).
  • If your tub is not very deep, keep warm by getting a towel wet and pulling it over your exposed body parts.
  • If modesty is a concern, purchase a bikini top or sports bra to wear in the tub.
  • Some women like to have a spa wrap or bath robe handy so they have something dry to put on when they get out.
  • If your tub has jets, be sure they are cleaned before your birth so you can use them to enhance your comfort.

2. Ask for counter pressure.

If you’ve hired a doula, this step is easy. Simply tell her that you’d like to try some counter pressure to see if it helps with the intensity of the surges. If you aren’t hiring a doula (and even if you are), attend a good childbirth class with your birth partner where he will learn how to apply different types of counter pressure during surges. I teach dads how to do this in my classes so that they will be prepared if mom requests it.

The most common type of counter pressure I use as a doula is “hip squeezes.” To perform this, your birth companion will need to find your hip bones and apply firm pressure on both bones as if he were trying to push them together. This results in a slight opening of the pelvic outlet, relieving some of the pressure of the surge. It works like magic!

Other types of counter pressure that can be helpful are pressure on the lower back, shoulders, and bottom of the feet. Have your doula or birth companion play around with some different types of pressure until you find the right one for you.

3. Make noise.

Yes, it’s okay to make noise! It may take your birth companion by surprise if this is the first time he has seen you give birth, but to everyone else in the room, it’s nothing they haven’t heard before. Vocalizing is something we often do during an intense physical experience (like lovemaking or bodybuilding) and it’s often a natural way to cope with hard labor.

For me, I like to open my mouth as I exhale and let out a long, low moaning sound. This is also known as “vocal toning” and can deepen relaxation. If you prefer to keep your mouth closed, you can let out a low “hum.” You can also use words and phrases like “relax” or “ride the wave.” Say them to yourself like a mantra. It really works!

4. Change positions often.

If you listen to your body, it will let you know what positions will be most helpful to you during transitional labor. Hint: it will probably NOT be lying on your back! Don’t be afraid to move around the room. Try standing, kneeling, sitting on a birth ball, squatting, side lying, or even lunging. The baby does a lot of moving during the last part of labor, and when you adopt a variety of positions that feel good to you, it’s usually also the best way to facilitate the movements your baby needs to make to descend and be born.

5. Use visualizations.

In my HypnoBirthing classes, I teach some different visualizations mothers can use to help them cope with labor. One of the most common ones is the “rosebud visualization,” in which you imagine that your cervix is opening outward, just like a rose as it blooms. I used this one a LOT during McKay’s birth because I could feel my pelvis opening wide during each surge.

You can use any visualization that is relaxing and helpful to you. Some women like to visualize their favorite place in nature, or a room in which they feel safe and happy. Draw on your past experiences to help you. Think of times when you have been the most comfortable and content, and practice visualizing yourself there. When labor gets hard, use that visualization to help you feel more relaxed and comfortable.

I’ll be honest: labor isn’t a walk in the park. In fact, it will probably be one of the most intense physical experiences you will ever have. However, if you are prepared with coping mechanisms, you CAN get through it! Your body was designed to give birth, and all you have to do is get out of the way and let it do its job. Hopefully these 5 tips will help you do just that.

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