Pain in labour - 7 things that can make it WORSE!

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At some point in your pregnancy you start to think of the inevitability of the baby coming out, and how that might feel. To many women that causes a little worry, or maybe quite a lot of worry, and often some fear, or a lot of fear. I get it. We are conditioned by what we’re seen and heard our entire lives - and what most of us have seen and heard is stories of labour and birth as something ‘to be endured’, something terrible, something dramatic, something undignified, something to be scared of. So it is unsurprising then that when we are pregnant we can feel really fearful of birth, and expect it to be painful. It’s absolutely not your fault you feel this way. And the great news is that you can CHANGE how you feel about birth, and you can do so much to help you manage the sensations of birth (some women actually don’t describe it as ‘pain’ at all). That is what Hypnobirthing is all about (and what I teach you on my hypnobirthing & antenatal courses), challenging what you think about birth and helping you to find what is actually REAL, and what birth could be for you - using knowledge, science and research about birth. So you can approach birth confidently, calmly and positively.

There are many things that can make labour feel more intense, more uncomfortable, more painful. And I don’t know anyone who wants a more painful labour! So learning what those things are, and how you can avoid them is so valuable in pregnancy - and that’s what this blog post is all about. It’s all about knowing how your body works in birth, how the delicate birth hormone balance can be interrupted, how fear can make birth more painful and how birth environment can have a huge influence on your experience of birth and how it feels.

My 7 things NOT to do in labour (that can make labour pain worse)

So here we go, here are 7 things I would really recommend you avoid to help you have a more comfortable labour and birth:

1. Lying on your back in labour

There are a number or reasons why lying on your back on a bed is basically the worst position for most women to labour and birth in. First of all lying on your back puts all of the weight of the baby and your uterus on your back - this is not great for blood and oxygen supply - which your hard working uterus and baby both need in labour. Think of why you are not supposed to sleep on your back in pregnancy - so why would this be a good idea in labour?

In addition to this, when you’re on your back, you’re not working with gravity – you’re working against it. So your surges (contractions) are having to work so much harder (and therefore labour could take longer - and that’s not something you want either, is it?).

Lying your back is not an instinctive position a woman generally take in labour (lying on your side perhaps to rest, but not on your back). A labouring woman - if she feels she can follow her birth instincts, and is uninhibited by her birth environment, or what she feels is ‘expected’ of her, will move around and change positions. See more about this on number 6 below about moving freely in birth and having an ‘active birth’.

Instead of lying down, it’s best to choose ‘UFO’ positions where possible:

  • upright

  • forward-leaning

  • open hip positions where possible.

It is absolutely fine to rest and lie down in labour if you need a break (and if you can sleep, DO) – but just keep off your back (on your left side is best)

2. Having a stressful birth environment

How you feel in labour effects your birth hormones, which in turn effect how labour progresses - how quickly or slowly, and how comfortable/painful it feels too (read more about the fear-tension-pain cycle here. Your birth space really effects how you feel in labour. A stressful environment can really hinder birth and is best avoided! I’ve written w whole separate blog post just about creating the perfect birth space here.

If you have a home birth then you have much more control over the environment that you labour and birth in of course. BUT there are lots of things you can do to make a labour room in a hospital more conducive to the physiological process of birth and not disrupt the delicate hormone balance that’s SO vital for birth to progress and be comfortable. Unfortunately, labour wards aren’t set up for the most optimal birthing experience, which means comfort can be compromised. But with a little knowledge (hence this blog!) you can change that simply, positively and effectively. So here are my top tips for removing stressful and unhelpful elements from your birth space - wherever you birth your baby.

  • Is someone is in the birth room that you don’t want to be there? Then ask them to leave. You only want positive, supportive folk in the room.

  • Is the midwife or doctor upsetting you with their bedside manner, or lots of questions? Then ask to change midwife - you totally CAN do this.

  • Is too much is going on around you? Beeping machines, or chatting staff? Then ask them to quieten down, or if you can turn the beep off.

  • Is it too noisy or do you keep being interrupted? Then let your birth partner field questions so you don’t get interupted. Play relaxing music or your hypnobirhting relaxation MP3’s - either in earphones or via a portable speaker

  • Do your support team seem relaxed and confident? If not then ask to change anyone you’re not comfortable with.

These sorts of things can all make you stressed during labour. And even a low level of stress hormones in your bloodstream in labour can disrupt the delicate hormone balance required for birth. So the more stress you can remove the better. As I mentioned above, stress causes tension in the body which in turn causes pain.

3. Unaware of natural pain relief choices

Many women I teach on my hypnobirthing courses want to try to labour and birth with natural pain relief options rather than medical ones, as some pharmacological pain relief can have effects on mum and on baby too that they would like to avoid. I often hear that what helped my clients best cope with the discomfort or pain of labour are super simply things. I’ve been told countless times how the breathing techniques I teach make a HUGE difference (this both relaxes the body - removing that tension, helps to supply oxygen to baby and to the working-hard uterus in surges, and gives the labouring woman something to focus on).

There are many options of natural pain relief, these are the ones I hear amazing thing about from my clients and that I cover on my hypnobirthing courses:

  • hypnobirthing breathing

  • hypnobirthing deep relaxation

  • visualisations

  • aromatherapy

  • massage techniques

  • water (bath, shower, birth pool)

  • repeating a mantra or positive affirmation

  • movement

  • TENS machine

You can use these options on their own, or in combination with others, or with drugs too. But if you don’t know what these methods are and how to use them, then you limit your choices to the drugs - and these have side effects to consider. I absolutely DO cover the drugs on on hypnobirthing & Birth preparation courses too (from gas & air to epidurals) - you need to know all the options you have so you can make the right choice for you and for baby.

You may be surprised – many natural options are effective enough to get women through the harder parts of labour – but if you don’t know your options then you don’t have any. So get informed - knowledge is power!

4. Fear

So fear and pain - this is REALLY important to know about in labour and birth. When we are fearful, our body tenses up. And when we’re tense, we don’t breathe deeply, our body is tight, the layers of muscles in the uterus don’t work as effectively together to open the cervix, we produce adrenaline which inhibits the birth hormone Oxytocin and the natural pain killers produced by the body in labour - endorphons. All of this means we feel more pain. Noooooo! See my previous blog post all about the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle in labour here.

So, how can you remove the fear? Well I believe the best things a woman can do for herself (and for her birth partner) to help prevent fear during labour is get informed and educated with good quality information about birth and all your birth options, and to surround yourself with great support.

This could be by:

  • Attending a top quality birth preparation course with your birth partner

  • Reading quality books that give you great information and positive stories (let me know if you want a great reading list)

  • Hiring a doula or independent/homebirth midwife

  • Considering where to give birth, and where you will feel most relaxed and least fearful (hospital, home, birth centre)

  • Look into Hypnobirthing courses as your birth preparation (so you cover ALL the options, and have actual practical techniques to use)

  • Join pregnancy or birth groups that are supportive of you and your choices.

  • Be around supportive pregnant women, or those who have had the kind of experience you want

  • Watch positive birth video’s and listen only to positive birth stories - this is a great website. And don’t listen to the negative stories and avoid negative people too.

5. Posterior positioned baby

A posterior baby (also called a ‘back-to-back’ baby) means a baby that has their spine against the mothers spine. A back-to-back labour can be more challenging than a baby that starts labour in an anterior (front) position (babys spine to your tummy). This is because on top of normal labour sensations, you feel strong back pain. But good news, there are a number of things you can do about this:

In pregnancy you can try preventative things, and look into optimal fetal positioning (see the website, which can help encourage baby into an anterior position.

Optimal Fetal Positioning involves simple positioning activities and tools and tricks, including:

  • when you sit, sit in a way that your hips are above your knees, which changes the position of the pelvis. A birth ball is great to sit on, or put a folded blanket under your hips to tilt your pelvis forward.

  • Keep active in pregnancy and try to walk each day for maybe 20 minutes. This helps to keep your psoas muscle flexible and baby lots of room to move around into the best position.

  • Go to a pregnancy yoga class and learn some positions to keep moving safely in pregnancy, and help to give baby the freedom to move around. You’ll also practice postions and spend some time in positions that help to move baby to have their spine to your tummy.

  • Go swimming, as the front lying postion helps baby move their spine around to the front of your body.

Keep active in your pregnancy as best you can, even a 30 minute walk every day at your own pace will help your body, mind and your birth. Keeping active during labour, changing positions and working with your pelvis will help to keep baby turning and moving until he or she is ready to be born.

Acupuncture is also a great option for turning babies, as well as general pregnancy wellbeing and birth preparation. Osteopathic check ups can also be worthwhile to make sure your body is aligned and primed for birth. Its definitely worth booking yourself in with experienced practitioners to prepare you for the best birth possible.

6. Not able to move freely

A labouring woman will naturally move around throughout the birth process. Sometimes being still, sometimes walking or stamping around, sometimes swaying. It’s not a prescriptive thing, it’s instinctive. If you feel you can follow your birth instincts, and are uninhibited by your birth environment, or what you feels is ‘expected’ of you, will move around and change positions through labour. You may squat, be on all-fours, lean against a wall, sit on the toilet (yes really!), sway or circle yout hips - and all of this movement will help the dance of labour and baby to position itself in the pelvis and help labour to progress along. If you’ve been going to a pregnancy yoga class then many of the movements and positions you’ve been doing in class will be super helpful in labour. This moving around rather than feeling you should be static on a bed is called ‘active birth’ (and we talk about this in much more details on my Hypnobirthing & Birth Preparation Courses - it’s really important stuff).

Here’s some examples of ‘active birth positions’ and within these positions you may also move and sway. It’s all about having the confidence to do what instinctively feels ‘right’, and tapping into your inner wisdom and your baby so you can work together to bring baby into the world effectively with the surges (contractions)


7. Being dehydrated

Not drinking enough water and being dehydrated can cause problems in labour, because when you’re dehydrated, your uterus doesn’t contract as efficiently. Every single cell in your body relies on water to function properly, and when you don’t have enough, things start to break down – even your energy levels, concentration and focus can suffer when you’re dehydrated, no matter if you’re in labour or not.

You don’t have to throw back a heap of water, little sips often are ideal. Make sure you have bendy straws in your birth bag, so your support team can offer you drinks easily without you having to hold the cup. If you put a piece of tape across the cup to hold the straw in place, this can help stop the straw from moving around while mama is trying to drink. The little things make a big difference.

Also get your birth partner to remind you to pee too! As a full uretha can cause baby difficultly moving down to be born.

So they are my 7 things to AVOID in labour, as they can make labour pain more uncomfortable and potentially labour longer too. Plus some ideas of positive things to DO too.

I really hope that you have found this article useful. I don’t know anyone who wants a more painful labour! Do let me know in the comments, or drop me an email And of course if you want to get ALL the knowledge, techniques and feel really positive and confident about labour and birth then get yourself booked onto one of my Hypnobirthing & Birth Preparation Courses in York. It’s all round birth preparation, based in biology, neuroscience and psychology as well as super practical techniques to use on the day to really help you. It will really prepare you for birth, help you become a real ‘birthing dream team’ and to enjoy your pregnancy too.

Susan xx