Pain during labor and delivery are big concerns for expectant moms. Epidurals are always an option in the United States, where according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61 percent of women who give birth vaginally have an epidural or spinal anesthesia. But around the globe, these medical marvels are not necessarily as popular for preventing pain as they are in the land of the free and the home of the brave, laboring moms.
As you gear up to go into the delivery room, consider incorporating some of these natural labor and delivery pain management tricks moms and health care practitioners around the world rely on.
In Sweden, the same love that put your little bun in the oven is relied on to help bring him or her out. Couples there are encouraged to kiss during contractions in order to distract a woman from the pain of the contraction. Making out a little is also thought to help moms-to-be (and their partners) relax.
Swedes think this approach makes the most sense because the Swedish name for cervix if “moderum,” or mother’s mouth. American midwife Ina May Gaskin says this is an effective way to help eliminate unwanted pain during contractions and help the body “open up.” “First, kissing or other intimate acts do help produce the love hormone oxytocin. This helps strengthen uterine contractions and relax the body.”
Of course, being with one you love and feeling relaxed enough to be intimate helps the birthing mom feel safe in her environment. “This is incredibly helpful in birth and pain control,” says Gaskin.
Sit up for baby
Most hospitals in the United States park a laboring mom flat on her back in a hospital bed. However, there’s no reason to take labor pains lying down!
In parts of Asia, Africa and Central and South America women move through various upright positions or squat while in labor, according to the World Health Organization. And research says that’s not a bad idea. Studies have found that sitting, standing and kneeling during labor can shorten early labor and reduce the odds you’ll be begging for an epidural.
I want candy!
In Japan, women give birth in a variety of places including freestanding birthing clinics, private clinics and hospital maternity wards. But despite the differences in their surroundings, there’s usually one constant in their pain management approach: candy.
Not wanting to complicate delivery with Western interventions like epidurals and other pain management medicines, when contractions and delivery pains become intense, midwives pop a piece of chewy candy into expectant moms’ mouths. The need to focus on chewing coupled with the unexpected pleasure of the sweetness is believed to distract moms while also providing a burst of energy needed to push during delivery.
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“Honey sticks or candy can give mom this burst of energy when she needs it most,” says Donna Ryan, founder and president, Birth Boot Camp, Inc. “The uterus is a muscle, and it needs fuel. Not only could eating candy or something sweet in labor help her with the energy she needs, but there is also a pressure point at the roof of the mouth that can stimulate contractions.”
Nothing but needles
Acupuncture originated in ancient China thousands of years ago. But this therapeutic art used to relieve everything from migraines and joint pain to stop smoking or ease symptoms of menopause is heavily relied on in Norway to ease pain experienced in labor and delivery.
“I have certainly seen the value of acupuncture during pregnancy for my childbirth students over the years,” says Ryan. “It can help with an amazing variety of things such as helping with optimal positioning of the baby before birth to relieving pregnancy symptoms that are not so pleasant.”
Could it work for labor pain? “That is a possibility and would have a lower risk than many childbirth interventions or pharmacological pain management techniques that we consider normal,” says Ryan.
Wrap it up
In Iceland a cloth called a rebozo, or birth scarf, is wrapped around a laboring woman’s hips and bottom. The cloth is wiggled back and forth during contractions to support the mom and ease her contractions.
“A birth scarf can be wrapped or used in countless ways to help mom,” says Ryan.
Some midwives and doulas use rebozos to “shake” out some of the tension in a laboring woman’s hips. “It can also be helpful if draped over the mom to help her feel safe and protected, which can be a wonderful and very low intervention and safe tool for easing labor pain.”
Laugh at the pain
Canadian women have a pain management tool they rely on almost as much as their counterparts to the South. Instead of looking to an epidural to block the pain, mums in the Great White North laugh it off with the help of nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas.” And Canadians aren’t the only ones inhaling laughing gas through a mask to distract them from the pain of contractions and pushing.
An estimated 60 percent of women in the United Kingdom, and up to half of laboring women in Australia, Finland and Canada use nitrous oxide, according to a 2012 review by the Cochrane group. Even though it’s largely considered a safe option, it might not catch on in hospitals on this side of the pond. Most U.S. hospitals and birthing centers lack the equipment and ventilation required to administer laughing gas. Although, if you can talk your dentist into allowing you and your doula to use one of his rooms, it might be an option as many dental care professionals still use nitrous oxide to ease pain during oral procedures.