14 ways to have an easier labour

Mother and Baby
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Dreading giving birth? Of course you are! But you've come to the right place for top tips to help make labour shorter and less painful.

The thought of going into labour can be a scary prospect. But there's no need to pass out before you've even had your first contraction we have 14 ways to help your labour go as smoothly as possible.

Don't be a couch potato
Tempting though it is to curl up on the sofa in the late days of your pregnancy, be aware that slumping won't help get your baby into the best position for the birth (called optimal fetal positioning or OFP).

Getting down on all fours may encourage your baby to move into the right position to enter the birth canal. Try keeping your pelvis raised above your knees while you're watching TV. If your baby gets into the 'wrong' position (called occipito posterior or back-to-back) this can result in a long and painful 'backache' labour and increase your chances of assisted delivery or caesarean.

Why it works
OFP encourages your baby to be head down with her front facing your back and chin tucked in so the narrowest part of her head is facing the birth canal (a head diameter of 9.5cm as opposed to 11.5cm at its widest part).

Time to study up
Learn as much as your can about birth by reading M&B, pregnancy books and attending antenatal classes

Why it works
Research shows that understanding what's happening to you helps to take away the fear. Knowing what to expect can make your muscles less tense and more able to contract effectively.

Make yourself at home
A scary clinical hospital environment can slow down your labour. A 2005 report by the National Childbirth Trust in the UK found that nine out of 10 women feel their physical environment can affect how easy or difficult the birth is.

It helps if you've done a tour of the hospital in advance, so you know what to expect. If your think anything is lacking, take some home comforts, such as plump pillows, a birthing ball, fluffy towels and some drinks and snacks. Or consider booking a home birth or going to a birth centre.

Why it works
If you're scared, your body produces stress hormones such as adrenaline. This can interfere with the physiological process of labour, case your muscles to tense up and make labour more painful.

Remember your breathing
Controlled deep breathing really can help you on to stay clam in labour and stop your uterus being starved of the oxygen it needs to contract and push your baby out.

Why it works
The deeper your breathing, the more oxygen circulates around the body, helping your muscles re

lax. The calmer you stay, the more relaxed your body is, and the less likely you are to suffer pain.

Walk this way
Okay, you might not be able to actually walk around the room, but staying upright definitely helps. Studies show that women who stay active generally have a shorter, less complicated labour.

Try sitting on a chair, leaning against a wall or your partner, or perching on a birthing ball.

Why it works
It's the law of gravity. You're upright, your baby's head is pressing down with more force and your cervix should dilate quicker. The worst thing you can do is lie on your back.

Massage: the facts
Getting your partner to massage your back and limbs can often help you cope better during labour. A recent stuffy found 80 per cent of women who had massage during labour needed no pain relief or just used gas and air.

Why it works
Touch impulses reach the brain faster than pain impulses and help close the pain gate. Some women also enjoy having someone attending to their needs.

Smell the lavender
Using essential oils during labour can help to ease pain and relax you. Lavender is a particularly good choice for pain relief, relaxation and for lowering your blood pressure.

Clary sage is effect for enhancing contractions that are slow to get going but don't use it in late pregnancy or you're already in established labour, as it can have powerful effects. Mix with carrier oil and get your partner to massage you.

Why it works
Essential oils contain a group of chemical called terpenes which are know to have both pain relieving and relaxing properties.

Clary sage is known to affect the uterus, although the exact mechanism is not fully understood.

Be a water baby
Warm water has a soothing and calming effect in labour, and contractions don't feel as painful. Research also shows that women who use birthing pools are less likely to need epidurals.

Try getting in a warm bath when you're in established labour (about 5cm dilated), book into a hospital with a birthing pool, or hire or buy your own for a home water birth (try simplybirth.com.au)

Why it works
Sitting in warm water stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that strengthens contractions and speeds up labour. It also stimulates the release of endorphins, the body's own natural painkillers.

Friend, midwife, birth partner
Knowing the midwife who looks after you during labour has been shown to result in lower rates of intervention and higher patient satisfaction levels. Some hospitals have team midwifery practices where you're cared for by a team of midwives.

Another way to have a familiar face is to book a home birth with an independent midwife or hire a doula (a specifically trained birth partner) Visit findadoula.com.au

Why it works
All the research suggests that having someone you now looking after you boosts your confidence and eases your fears.

Count to TENS
TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It's a device which produces electrical pulses to block pain messages. You strap electrodes to your back and these are connected by wires to a control box. You can then control the strength and frequency of impulses.

It works best if your wear it during early labour and build up the strength of the pulses as your contractions get stronger.

Why it works
The electrical impulses block pain messages to the brain and stimulate the release of endorphins.

Snack on carbs
Eating during labour used to be considered a no-no. But it's now considered fine to have an easy to digest, carbohydrate-based snack in early labour. Avoid fatty foods and snack on bananas, dry toast or pasta.

Why it works
Labour is strenuous and requires a lot of energy, so carbohydrates can prove a useful source of slow-release glucose.

Distract yourself
Anything which distracts you from the pain is good, be it a TENS machine, CDs, a portable DVD player or a few last-minute jobs around the house!

Why it works
It just gives you something else to think about and takes your mind off the pain.

Try gas and air
Otherwise known as entonox, this mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide is one of the most commonly used forms of pain relief. It's popular as it takes the edge off the pain without affecting the baby, and its effects are temporary.

Why it works
Entonox is an analgesic (painkiller) which enters the blood stream and takes up to 60 seconds to reach its greatest effect, so you must start breathing it in the second you feel a contraction beginning.

Keep an open mind
How can you know what pain relief you'll need in labour if you've never experienced it? Don't beat yourself up if all the natural pain relief methods don't help, and you feel the need for drugs or an epidural. And don't hold back on asking for them they were invented for good reason.

Why it works
If you stick rigidly to a birth plan that isn't working for you, you may become stressed and tense, and this will slow down labour and make you feel distressed. Being flexible and willing to go with the flow will make things much easier.

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