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12 tips to make you more comfortable during early labour

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling

Dr Christine Catling, a midwife for over 25 years, is the Director of Midwifery Studies at UTS. She believes research, innovation and good quality midwifery are pivotal to the well-being of mothers and young families. Christine has extensive experience in antenatal education, policy development and research, and has published on workforce issues, homebirth, vaginal birth...
Created on Oct 10, 2023 · 4 mins read

Unfortunately, there’s no sugarcoating it: labour is painful. Sure there are some mums out there who say it wasn’t that bad (and hopefully you’ll be one of them!) but chances are, for you, like most mums, the pain will be intense. But just remember this: it is pain for a purpose. Your body is doing what it was intended to do and what it needs to do to get your baby out. And most importantly, it will be over soon. Whether it’s your first pregnancy or not, it’s a great idea to enrol in antenatal classes, if you can. These classes provide a wealth of knowledge around what to expect during the different stages of labour and can also provide tips on how to navigate the pain. These classes can also be really helpful to partners as they delve into the things they can do to best help the birthing parent throughout the process. Additionally, there are courses such as Calmbirth which are aimed to equip you with specific techniques to manage the pain of childbirth. During those early stages of labour, often when you’re still at home there are a number of positions and tricks you can try to manage the pain and make yourself more comfortable.

1. Get up and walk around

A light walk outside or even just around the house can work wonders. Walking and movement both stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving hormones. These endorphins can help counteract the sensations of labour pain and provide a sense of relief and well-being. Moving around and focusing on the physical act of walking can also act as a distraction from the intensity of contractions. It can help shift your attention away from the pain and create a sense of relaxation.

2. Lying in bed

If you are in bed or lying down try lying on your side, or sitting upright or even kneeling – just don’t lie flat on your back. Try and make sure your hips aren’t higher than your knees – you want to work with gravity to get your baby down into the best position for birth.

3. Leaning forward

Leaning forward a wall, over a chair or kneeling over an exercise ball can help alleviate pressure on the lower back and relieve discomfort during contractions. It can also shift the weight of the baby away from the mother’s spine, reducing strain and providing relief from back pain. It can also induce a sense of relaxation by helping to release tension in the muscles and promote a state of calmness, which is pretty beneficial during labour!

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4. Sitting on an exercise ball

Exercise balls can be great as they take the weight off your legs and allow you to rock, sway, bounce – whatever works for you! Just be careful not to lose your balance and fall off…

5. Dancing

No, we’re not suggesting that labour is a good time to hit up the club! We’re talking about slow dancing or swaying from side to side – use your partner or support person to hold on to.

6. Relax through the contractions and try not to tense up

Try and remember not to tense up when the contractions come on, but focus on working through it. Practice relaxation methods like visualisation, guided imagery, or listening to calming music or guided meditation during labour. These techniques can help divert your focus from the pain and promote relaxation.

7. Breathing

Breathing can be hugely effective when dealing with contractions, focus on your breathing either long and deep or short and fast, whatever works for you. Practicing deep breathing exercises can help you stay relaxed and manage pain during contractions. Various breathing techniques, such as slow breathing, patterned breathing, or focused breathing, can be learned in pregnancy and applied during labour.

8. Hot or cold compresses

Some women find one or the other more effective, it’s personal preference, but often a warm compress on the lower back can work a treat.

9. Warm shower or bath

Further to that, a warm bath or shower may help ease some discomfort, just be sure to get someone to help you in and out. You could even consider using a birthing pool (if your doctor or midwife gives you the okay to) or try taking a warm shower, or using a warm compress on your lower abdomen or lower back.

10. Massage

Get your partner or support person to give you a gentle massage, rubbing the lower back during contractions can be soothing and can also help alleviate discomfort. Gentle massages, particularly on the lower back, hips, or shoulders, can provide pain relief. Your birth partner or doula can be trained in specific massage techniques for labour.

11. Lying on your side with knees up at your chest

Bringing your knees up (or one at a time) close to your chest can be comforting.

12. Lunges

Gently lunging forward on one leg may provide some relief, just be careful not to spread your legs too far apart, and use your partner or a chair to hold on to for balance.

Ultimately, what works for everyone will be different, so listen to your body and try a range of different things to find what works best for you.

When you are in these early stages of labour make sure you don’t overdo it and get plenty of rest (and even sleep if possible). Try and eat some healthy foods that will give you long-lasting energy if you can manage it, and keep your fluids up. You’re going to need all the energy and help you can get when active labour starts (some of these tips may also be useful during active labour too).

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The best positions during labour
How will I know when I’m in labour?
10 good things that happen during labour

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