Your delivery will be as comfortable as possible with these low-tech strategies for easing the pain.

By Tricia O'Brien

It's called labor for a reason. Those hours of huffing, puffing, and pushing are sure to be hard work. But with some education and planning, you can make the process easier. "You wouldn't run a marathon without training," says Laura De Pasquale, a certified doula in Chatham, New Jersey. The same holds true for labor. Check out these techniques to help you shape up for birth.

Breathe easy

This tried-and-true method is essential to relaxation during childbirth. "Focused, deep breathing can calm you down in the first stage of labor," says Cindy Barnett, a childbirth educator in Austin, Texas. Most childbirth preparation classes, such as Lamaze and the Bradley Method, teach women how to slow their breathing early in labor and then adjust the tempo of their breathing as necessary to help them get through labor.

Visualize less pain

Creating a mental picture of your birth ahead of time -- and thinking through any fears you have about delivery -- can help you handle pain, De Pasquale says. Women can also use visualization during labor. For instance, you might imagine you're in the ocean riding waves, timing their ebb and flow with your contractions. "Instead of thinking, 'I've been in labor for 18 hours,' a woman can fill her mind with positive images that may help her relax," De Pasquale says.

Tune in

According to a study in Pain Management Nursing, you can alleviate the pain and emotional distress of labor by listening to music. "Soothing tunes can delay the need for pain medication," says Marion Good, Ph.D., R.N., an associate professor of nursing at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland. Some women prefer to start with calming music, and then switch to more up-beat tunes as labor progresses. "What's important is that the music distracts you from the pain," Dr. Good says. Be sure to ask whether you need to bring headphones to the hospital.

Seek support

Many hospitals and birthing centers host prenatal support groups that can boost a mom-to-be's confidence about childbirth. At Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, for example, expectant moms can attend ten two-hour sessions run by doctors. Some of the benefits: help with nutrition, labor preparation, and relaxation techniques; and the camaraderie and support of other pregnant women. What's more, a recent nationwide study in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that infants who were born to moms in such programs weighed more than those whose mothers received individual prenatal care. To find a group in your area, visit

Get on the ball

One of the greatest comfort tools you can call on during labor is a birthing ball (you may have seen these at the gym; they're often used for physical therapy). "The ball gets women into positions that help labor progress," De Pasquale says. For instance, rocking your hips back and forth on the ball (which should be somewhat underinflated) can help the baby descend into your pelvis during early labor. This can also ease the pain of contractions. Many women even find that sitting on the ball is more comfortable than lying down in bed. A doula or childbirth-prep instructor can teach you ball basics, or you can learn them on your own with help from a book. Ask your hospital whether it provides birthing balls. If not, you can buy one at medical supply, sporting goods, or specialty massage stores; they cost between $25 and $35.

Get in the zone

Using hypnosis during labor can help women achieve a deep state of relaxation, and therefore feel less discomfort. "Tension and fear can get in the way of labor and prevent it from running smoothly," says Marie Mongan, founder of the HypnoBirthing Institute in Chichester, New Hampshire. How? When a laboring woman is frightened, oxygenated blood goes to tense muscles, rather than to the uterus, which really needs it. Hypnosis, which is typically taught to moms-to-be and their partners in a series of classes, can help alleviate anxiety during childbirth. It also may shorten labor significantly: When your uterus is relaxed, it can function more efficiently, Mongan says. At the very least, it creates a time distortion so your labor will seem to go more quickly. For more information, visit

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Copyright©: 2004. Reprinted with permission from the July 2004 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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