For some women, relaxation is sufficient for dealing with the sensations of labor. Others need additional coping strategies. This subsection will cover specific breathing patterns. The following subsection will present additional tools that con provide comfort during labor. To be properly prepared, you should learn all of these techniques. Then you can use those tools that you need during your unique labor situation, modifying them as you desire.
Breathing in a rhythmical pattern maintains a constant, balanced exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide to warn off hyperventilation and to ensure a good oxygen supply to the working uterus, the placenta, and the baby. In addition, the focusing required to maintain slow or patterned breathing techniques may reduce your perception of pain. According to the gate control theory, pain sensations must travel up to the brain through a limited number of pathways.
If the laboring woman keeps her mind busy with concentrating on a specific breathing pattern, focal point, or visualization, the gate closes, allowing fewer pain sensations to reach the brain. Thus, the perception of the contractions will be diminished. In other words, you distract yourself from perceiving the intensity of the pain. It is an experience similar to having a headache but for getting about it while watching an exciting or engrossing movie. When then movie ends, the headache returns. Athletes frequently continue to play through an injury, and do not perceive the intensity of the pain until the game is over and they begin to focus on it.
Another method of utilizing the gate control mechanism is to physically simulate specific points on the body. Examples of this include the use of heat, cold, massage, and acupressure, which will be discussed in the following subsection in this section.
Several elements are the same for all the breathing patterns presented in the following pages. They are:
• As each contraction begins and ends, you should take in a smooth, deep breath through your nose, then let the air out like a sigh through your mouth. This is known as a relaxing breath, and it is your cue to relax your body. This breath gives you a good boost of oxygen for the baby and for the uterus at the start of the contraction, and it is a signal to your labor partner that the contraction has begus or ended.
• You can focus your eyes on some object or spot in the room for the duration of the contraction. This object or spot is called your focal point. If you practice at home with a particularly pleasing object—such as a picture of a baby, a pleasant scene, a religious symbol, or the object that you visualize in your Special Place—take it with you to the birthing room. A focal point gives you something outside of yourself on which to concentrate and thus helps to lessen your awareness of the strength of your contractions.
Some women prefer to keep their eyes closed during contractions because it helps them to be in tune with their bodies. It also helps them to block out their surroundings when performing a visualization.
• When practicing a breathing pattern, have your partner give you the verbal cues “Contraction begins” and “Contraction ends”. During labor, you will automatically transfer your practiced responses from the verbal cues to the physical sensations of the uterine contractions.
• Have your partner call out the passing seconds in 15-second intervals. This will help you gauge the duration of each contraction when you are in labor.
The practice steps for the breathing patterns are:
- Have your labor partner say, “Contraction begins”.
- Take a relaxing breath and release the tension from your body.
- Concentrate on a focal point, if desired.
- Begin the breathing pattern.
- Have your partner “time the contraction” by calling out in 15-second intervals.
- Have your partner say, “Contraction ends”.
- Take a relaxing breath and totally relax your body.
Rest for a few seconds, then repeat the steps.