Tag Archive | pain-free birth

“Laborland” and the art of letting go of resistance to contractions

“Laborland” is a place doulas, midwives and mothers talk about when they refer to the mental and emotional state of labor. It is a state unlike anything in normal, everyday life. It was the journey to this state of mind that I found so fascinating when reflecting on the birth of my children.

It felt like a journey to a place deep inside myself. That was one of the reasons for the name “The Prenatal Journey”. It seemed that labor felt very irritating when people were disturbing me, talking to me, taking blood pressure and so on. When I closed myself off from everyone and went inside myself, I found the stillness in the eye of the storm. I didn’t feel much “pain” anymore. The further into labor I went, the deeper into the state I was.

I was inspired to write this post after reading an article by Nancy Salgueiro called Getting To Labor Land.

“In labor the mother needs to be in control of what is happening around her, who is there and what they are doing.  This needs to be dictated before she goes into labor and she needs to know that she can trust her desires are going to be respected so that she can completely let go of that control while in labor.

If she feels safe and knows the people around her will honor her requests and desires she will be able to let go of those things outside herself.

She needs to be able to completely surrender to her body and the sensations without conscious thinking.  This is how she will be able to go to what is called “labor land”.

Labor land is like a deep meditative state. It is like an out of body experience except that it occurs so internally, totally within your body and in the meditative part of your mind.  Being in this state allows the mom to get into the rhythm of her contractions and to develop a routine of what works for her to stay on top of the intensity of her labor.

It is important that no one tries to talk to her or pull her into her conscious mind when she is in labor land.  This can take her out of her zone and make it more difficult for her to deal with the sensations she is experiencing.”

To read the rest of the article go to Getting to Labor Land.

I noticed that when I was in laborland, my sense perception was different. I couldn’t actually hear or see very well. If someone was more than a meter away talking to me, I couldn’t quite focus on what they were saying. I also couldn’t hear most of the music or see the candles by the time I got to active labor. That’s why the doula who was so fantastic at my birth spoke to me right next to my ear. I could focus on that.

Another thing I noticed was that I had a heightened perception of other people’s emotions. Even though I couldn’t see or hear them clearly, I could sense what people in the room were feeling even if they were far away. It was helpful when they were feeling caring, supportive and believing in my ability. But when they were worried on my behalf or focused on mundane discussions with other people, it shook my confidence and focus.

The reason for this shift in mental/emotional states

There is a reason for this shift in awareness. Birth, like other instinctive functions, is programmed into the lower mammalian brain. There are different parts of the human brain, some of which we share with other animals. The highly developed neo-cortex is where all the conscious thinking, speech, language, sight and sound is processed. But birth requires the use of the mammalian part of the brain. All mammals instinctively know how to give birth. they don’t have to read books, attend prenatal classes or watch other females of their species to learn. It is instinctive. Human females have the same part of the brain and the sooner they leave the neo-cortex the sooner they will labor from their primitive brain.

It can be difficult to do that sometimes, especially with a lot of distractions pulling us back into conscious thought. And also our own lack of trust in our instincts and natural abilities.

It may be easier to understand if we think about the emotional / mental state of a similarly instinctively programmed function – sex. Sex is very similar to birth in more reasons than just one being the beginning and the other the end product. Sex is a function that is programmed into our mammalian brains for the survival of the species. But we can probably remember times when we had sex with our attention in the conscious, cerebral part of the brain. Compare that with how it feels the times we have sex while not in our conscious thoughts, but acting from pure animal instinct. That’s very similar to birth. You can birth from the neo-cortex and think your way through, and probably have a harder and more painful time, or you can surrender to your natural instinctual self and know that it knows what to do and it will do it well. Deep within you, you are programmed to give birth and know exactly what to do at every point in the journey.




Question : Generally speaking, does giving birth have to be painful?

Cassandra Wilson from  Healing Horizon for Emotional Energy Healing asks, “Does giving birth have to be painful?”

The simple answer is, “NO, but for most women it is.”

No one actually knows why labor feels painful. There are many theories. It’s sort of like what causes period cramps and why do some women feel period cramps and others not?

The part of labor that is mostly “painful” is the contractions of the uterus which pull back on the cervix to dilate it. The uterus is the strongest muscle in the human body so when it gets going, it’s pretty powerful. The brain interprets these intense sensations as pain.

Some women either naturally don’t feel pain at all or deliberately work to mentally and physically relieve the pressure and interpret the sensations positively instead of as pain. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do. You can’t just say ‘mind over matter’. It’s a lot deeper than that. Some women feel so overwhelmed with positive emotions and endorphins and love that they have an orgasmic birth.

The majority of women however, do feel pain, but let me separate the “good” pain from the “bad” pain. If you think of the natural process of birth ie. animals, tribal people, people who give birth in their home surroundings, the pain is never more than they can handle. A bit of pain can be useful. “Pain with a purpose.”

A bit of pain sends a signal to the brain to produce corticosteroids, which is the hormone that stimulates the baby’s lungs to produce surfactant. Surfactant coats the lungs so that the baby can breathe air when it’s born. Babies born by scheduled cesarean without labor tend to have a slightly higher risk of respiratory problems because they don’t have enough surfactants. Also, a bit of pain can be useful  in evolution for letting the mom know something big is happening so she needs to move to a safe place.

The other kind of pain is what I call “bad” pain. It is the kind of pain that is useful in letting us know that something is wrong, you need to do something about it. Think about when you have gotten a massage. The massage therapist presses on a sore point to relieve the pressure. It feels a bit painful, but it feels like a good pain. Then maybe she presses with her nails, or presses on a new injury. That feels like a something-is-wrong pain. You tell her to stop. Or like if you put your hand on a stove. The pain tells you to move. If you didn’t feel the pain, you wouldn’t know to move.

Labor is like that. There’s the normal intense sensation, and then there’s the something-is-wrong pain. The trouble is, as a culture, we have been programmed to believe that labor is supposed to be the most painful thing ever, so we don’t know what to do with that overwhelming intense pain. We just think, get an epidural.

There are a few factors which produce that kind of pain :

1. Being in a not so great position. Lying on your back is probably the most painful position to be in. It’s also the least optimal for the baby’s descent and rotation. In all tribal cultures studied, not a single woman labored on he back. The problem is, that’s the position we always see women giving birth in on TV. And hospitals tend to ask women to labor or birth lying back because the fetal heart monitor works best that way, and it is convenient for the hospital staff. If a woman is listening to the pain as  information from her body, she would lie down, say, “oh that’s too painful,” then change to a different position. Some other more comfortable positions might be sitting, kneeling, standing or even lying on the side.

2. Another factor is having a labor that is induced or augmented with artificial oxytocin or prostaglandins. These can make contractions more intense than natural labor, and the uterus may not relax as much in between contractions. Other kinds of interventions can also restrict mom’s movement, disturb her from fully relaxing in between contractions and being able to go inside herself, breathe and focus while she is having contractions. These can cause a greater perception of pain.

3. Another huge factor is what is called the fear-pain cycle. When mothers feel safe, and supported, they’re bodies produce oxytocin effectively and when labor gets going, they produce endorphins. But when moms feel anxious, disturbed, unsafe, stressed or fearful, they produce adrenalins, which inhibit oxytocin, endorphins, and make the sensation of pain feel much more intense. This is telling the body that something is wrong. Mom doesn’t feel safe. This is when labor feels like unbearable pain. Knowing this, Mom and the people supporting her can help reduce her anxiety and help her feel safe and supported.

A lot of research has been done on having a Doula (professional, non-medical labor support) in childbirth. They found that doulas help reduce the need for epidurals, cesareans and instrumental deliveries by about half. The reason for this is that doulas are trained, and focused on reducing moms fear and stress as it comes up, and helping her feel safe, supported and confident in her own abilities. This doesn`t just make for a more pleasant experience. Moms`emotions in labor affect the hormones she produces, which affect the amount of pain she feels as well as whether labor will be smooth or complicated.

I teach a whole in-depth class on how to have less pain in labor, or even no pain, so It can`t be summarized effectively in a post. Let me know if you want to find out about pain-free birth. 604 809 3288.