Learning to Use Relaxation for Labor
Since relaxation holds the key to managing pain in labor, it is important that you take the necessary time to learn and master techniques to relax your body, and to keep it relaxed during contractions. Relaxing through pain takes practice. Even if you have tried relaxation methods in the past, chances are your first response to pain (headaches, muscle cramps, stubbing your toe) is to tense the offending part of your body.
The information contained in this page is meant to help you learn to relax. Do not rush this process. Try each exercise for a week or more before moving on to the next. Practice in various situations, in different positions. Try it when you have a headache or other pain to see if you are able to concentrate enough to relax through the pain.
Start slow. Active muscular relaxation takes practice. If you are the average American woman, sitting still for five minutes will be a difficult task for you, as we are constantly on the go. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend in relaxation daily until you have the concentration necessary to relax for at least half an hour. During labor, your contractions will be 60 to 90 seconds long at their most intense, but you may desire to continue relaxation between contractions when the labor nears transition.
Learn What Tension Feels Like
Your first job will be to learn to recognize tension in your body. Quite possibly your body is carrying a lot of tension right now, only you are so used to feeling it that you don't even recognize that you are tense! Understanding the difference between a tensed and a relaxed muscle is key to being able to relax on demand.
Begin this exercise by assuming a comfortable position lying on your side, whichever side is most comfortable to you, with the top leg bent forward reaching past the bottom leg. The actual position you choose will be personal to you and your bodies intricacies. For some women, a pillow under the knee of the top leg will improve comfort. For other women, a pillow under the head. Do not be too concerned about the placement of your arms, do what feels comfortable.
This side-lying position will be the basis for most of your relaxation exercises. That is because it is one of only two positions that allow you to relax every muscle in your body as much as possible. You see, every muscle in your body has an opposing muscle so that you can move the parts of your body in many different directions. When one muscle is fully relaxed, its opposing muscle is fully tensed! For that reason, straight legs and arms should be an indication to you that your muscles are not as relaxed as they should be.
Lying on your side will allow you to bend your joints half way, without putting too much pressure on any muscle group. Allowing your muscles to be as relaxed as possible to start helps you achieve the most relaxation possible.
In your comfortable side-lying position, choose a part of your body and tense it as much as possible. For example, if you chose your shoulders, lift them high to your ears really crunching your neck. Feel the discomfort and tightness in these muscles. Recognize how the tightness carries to neighboring muscles.
Then, after holding that tension for about ten seconds, release the muscles, letting the body part go limp or get soft. Remember not to take the muscles into the opposite tensed position yet, we are trying to learn the difference between tensed and relaxed, not between the two possible tensions for each body part. Feel the looseness in the muscle, and the difference in comfort. Repeat the tensing and relaxing a few more times, trying to achieve a deeper relaxation of the muscle each time.
After you have tensed and relaxed that muscle group in one direction a few times, switch to the other direction. For the shoulder example, you will now press your shoulders down toward your waist, as if you were trying to stretch your arms to reach something low without bending over. Feel the tension that is created by the muscle this way, and the difference between the tensed position and the relaxed position.
There may be other directions you can try with certain muscle groups. For example the shoulders can be tensed forward or backward, each time tensing a different set of muscles. Become as familiar as possible with the feeling of tension in your muscles. Once you have explored all possibilities with a muscle group, move on to a different group. Don't forget to do your face and neck, back and buttocks, chest and stomach.
What you will find during the week or two that you practice this exercise is that some muscles will come under your control very easily, and you will be able to relax them without tensing them first. That is good, in fact that is what you ultimately want to achieve. You will also find that there are muscles that seem resistant to your desire to have them relax. That is ok, you need to know what muscles you need help relaxing so your coaches will know where to concentrate efforts.
Many women find that doing these exercises before they go to bed helps them achieve a more restful nights sleep. That should not be surprising to us, as experts have been telling us that stress in our lives affects our sleep for years. Relaxation is a way to alleviate some of the stress your body is feeling. It will not remove the source of your stress, but it can help you manage it more effectively.