We talk about relaxation like it’s so simple to achieve. “Just relax!” But for many of us, relaxing is not so simple. Whether it’s due to a busy schedule or an inclination towards anxiety, figuring out how to relax can be a challenge. Relaxing can take practice, and since it is such an important part of truly enjoying and coping with your labor, I definitely encourage students and clients to begin that practice as early in pregnancy as possible. What does it even mean to be relaxed? Is it possible to relax during labor? How do we practice relaxation?
Relaxation is a state within your muscles AND your mind. Each component of the PROS package is intertwined. We are better able to relax when we are in a state of comfort or pleasure, and feeling secure and loved. (Keep reading the series to learn more about the other components!)
I spend time in each class of the Prepared for Birth series leading my students and their partners through various relaxation techniques that can be practiced further at home to prepare for use in labor. In the first class, we enjoy a simple but effective head to toe tension release exercise. This is something you can do on your own, or can have a partner talk you through, or you can even download tracks with guided relaxation scripts. (What are some tracks you enjoy for relaxation? Please share them in the comments!) The purpose of starting the series with this technique is to really help folks understand exactly how their bodies feel when relaxed. How do muscles feel? What is the pace and depth of the breath when we are relaxed? What does it sound like in our thoughts once we’ve taken the time to relax? All of these bits of information are helpful in letting us know what state we can rest in to between labor contractions (and for some folks, even during contractions.)
We also practice a similar exercise with the simple addition of touch (after gaining consent). Partners can gently massage or rub the tensed muscle group to show pregnant people where to release. In labor especially, touch can be a more direct and effective way to support relaxation. You can easily practice this at home as well. Just sit face to face with a partner and have them pay attention to where you are tensing your body, and then to use their hands to help you relax that area. Discuss with your labor support team what areas of your body tend to hold tension when you are experiencing pain or stress so that they can be on the lookout for how best to care for you. Some common tension spots in labor are the jaw and brow, shoulders, hands, and lower back and bottom. You can also talk to your team about what kind of massage pressure or touch you enjoy (as well as what to avoid!)
A final tip I like to share is that we can add in our favorite sensory pleasures (discovered from the first post in this series) whenever we practice relaxing, so that our subconscious can begin to connect
the experience of being relaxed with these sense details. For example, if you are lying on the couch practicing deep breathing, turn on your labor play list and your essential oil diffuser. Then, when you are in labor, starting that same music and scent combination will trigger an automatic relaxation response, as if your brain is saying, “Hey, I know what to do when I hear and smell that! I relax!”
Obviously, relaxation can be much more complicated than can be summarized in just a few paragraphs. For more information and support in adding relaxation techniques to your labor tool box, you can join me for an upcoming series of Prepared for Birth. You can also hire a doula to join your team for active guidance during your labor. Learn more about my classes and services here.
Keep reading the series to learn more about how our magic love hormone Oxytocin is part of this great dance!