I don’t believe that birth is formulaic. What works for one woman may not work for another.
Birth is as unique as your fingerprint.In saying that, there are simple things that many women agree worked for them. Anecdotally, these are things that some women have endorsed as being helpful for them to feel less tense, anxious, overwhelmed and stressed during birth, and perhaps before during pregnancy too. You may wish to start practising these tools in the prenatal phase to first see how you experience them, how they feel, and whether you resonate with any of them energetically. Most of these practices are energetic in nature, it may be that we do something physical with our body, or voice, etc, but the effect of the practice is energetic in that it can shift tense energy and help to move stangnat chi/prana/life force energy through the energy body. This is also impacting us physiologically because the practice may also have the effect of soothing your nervous system. Here are some tools that may support you to feel more relaxed and less tense (in birth, or anytime!) that you may wish to try on for size.
1 / Soften your jaw.The jaw is the oldest evolutionary joint, and has the strongest muscles out of any other part of your body! We unconsciously hold incredible amounts of emotional tension in this old strong joint and the associated muscles. Ina May Gaskin advocated for women loosening their mouths and jaws during birth. She coined the term Sphincter Law as she saw a correlation during the many births she attended of women who had a tight “lock” jaw/mouth having restriction in the opening of their cervix and vagina, and women who had a relaxed open jaw opened more easefully. Ina May acknowledges that the cervix, vagina and anus are muscles that do not respond well to commands. Women need a safe atmosphere of privacy for these sphincter muscles to open. The sphincter can close up on threat too. Ina May observed over and over that the state of relaxation of the jaw and mouth of the birthing woman directly correlated to the ability of her cervix to fully open. This one is so easy to practice. Notice whether softening your jaw and releasing tension by wiggling it around increases your sense of relaxation? You can also massage the jaw joint in a firm circular motion using your index and middle finger and perhaps a calming essential oil such as Lavender or Frankincense. You can combine this with any of the other techniques in this list for supercharged relaxo vibes.
2 / Breathing.Close your eyes. Breathe DEEPLY and FULLY. Slowing down your inhale and exhale. Drawing the breath down to your belly and pelvis and elongating your exhale so it’s a count or two longer than your inhale. A longer exhalation reduces our ‘fight or flight’ impulse and maintains healthy amounts of carbon dioxide in the blood, to help you to relax. You can initially watch or witness the in and out rhythm of your breath. Then begin to merge with your breath. So you become the breath and travel with it as one. Becoming an oceanic wave.
3 / Unclench your fists and focus on your hands.Bringing awareness to the softness in your fingers and hands is really powerful. This might be one you do in between surges, or it could be the thing you focus on during them instead of white knuckling it! Before birth though, you can sit, or lie down comfortably and rest the back of your hands on your legs or the ground so the palms are facing upwards. Then bring your awareness into the palms of your hands and notice the air circulating around the palms. Become acutely aware of the what your palms are sensing – heat, cool, tingling etc. Keep your attention with your palms, allowing tension to dissolve away from your fingers. If this results in you feeling more relaxed, try it with some of the other techniques such as 1 and 2 above.
4 / Humming-bee breath otherwise known as Brahmari (sanskrit word that means bee).I love this one! The vibration and sound is soothing for an overwhelmed, anxious or spinning mind. The practice lengthens the exhalation without excessive strain. How to do it? You can lie comfortably, or sit. I like to use a yoga bolster which I hug into my chest in childs pose on the floor. With your head turned to one side on the bolster, take a normal full inhale and on the exhale breath make a humming noise with your lips gently together, like a bee would sound. Tell me this isn’t relaxing?!
5 / Stand on the earth, and sway.This isn’t something I did in my birth, although I wish I did. It is something that I do endeavour to do daily now, and I find it incredibly beneficial and grounding for my energy. I’m unsure whether women who have earthed themselves during birth felt more relaxed, but there is a ‘birthing in nature’ movement out there. You Tube ‘woman birthing in creek’ and you’ll find evidence of it. ‘Grounding’ or ‘earthing’ is a practice whereby you simply connect with the earth by standing on her (with bare feet), or touching her with your body. There’s a heap of research on the benefits of absorbing the vast supply of electrons from the earth’s surface. Modern life generally separates us from this contact. The research suggests that this disconnect may be a major contributor to physiological dysfunction and unwellness. Reconnection with the Earth’s electrons has been found to promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being. Earthing (or grounding) refers to the discovery of benefits—including better sleep and reduced pain—from walking barefoot outside or sitting, working, or sleeping indoors connected to conductive systems that transfer the Earth’s electrons from the ground into the body. So, this could indeed be worth a shot during birth! Couple it with some of the other practices in this blog for supercharged relaxation. My suggestion is to stand with your feet at least hip width distance, all four corners of your feet firmly rooting down and visualise your feet sinking deep into the earth, like quick sand. Keep the knees soft with a little bend and if it feels good sway the hips, move instinctually, stomp your feet. The key here is to anchor into the earth in whatever way is resonant for you. You may visualise drawing the the boundless energy of mama earth up through your feet into your body – she’s literally supplying you with precious restorative electrons. This tool is likely to be one for the earlier stages of labour when you may be more active and mobile.
6 / Sounding / toning – aaaaahhhhhhh, oooooohhhhhhhh.If your mouth and jaw are relaxed – you’re relaxed – see number 1 above. Add some primal sounds with the mouth relaxed for added support. Many women do this instinctually during birth, low, vibratory sounds are the types of tones that can be most supportive. Sounds such as ohhhhh, owwww, aaaahhhh, hhhaaaaa, ooommmmm, roaring, howling, swearing even! Making the natural primal noises you need to express as you move through challenging moments helps to decrease pain sensations as you’re allowing the free expression of sound and releasing energy to move through pain. If you’re making sounds, there’s a vibration moving through your body which is also therapeutic and said to relax the muscles by carrying tension from the body, improving circulation and maximizing energy flow within the body. This leads to us circling back to Sphincter Law. If we understand that there is a neuro-muscular connection between the throat and the pelvic muscles and openings it makes sense that when our throat is choked from fear, pain or unexpressed emotion, it can effect your pelvic region and in the example of birth, the dilation of the cervix, potentially slowing birth. Using your voice in birth with toning can be empowering. It leaves no room for doubt, fear or self-pity as it is an active way of moving through the productive pain you may experience and supports you to move into a deeper more embodied space with your body and your mind. Giving sound to your feelings during birth results in you opening not only your mouth, but also your body as the cervix is able to relax and open as well. You might feel uncomfortable making low, gutteral, earthy, sounds like this at first – it’s not surprising as we are very domesticated and generally taught to be lady-like and quiet as women, so we need to unravel some of the conditioning and let rip! Expressing the sounds that come naturally to you during birth also opens the throat chakra which is connected to the root chakra where you birth from and the sacral chakra – the womb space. Start practising toning during pregnancy to see how it genuinely feels, if you feel self-conscious, do it in the car when you’re alone. Know that you won’t be the first person to roar during birth, and certainly not the last. Practice with your birth partner so that you feel less inhibited when it comes to the actual birth and they know what to expect. You could even have them join in to add powerful support for your momentum during labor. This short list is by no means exhaustive! These are just some of the more common ideas and tools that I share and practise with women in my prenatal yoga classes. There are unlimited ways that you could encourage relaxation during birth. Just a few others that come to mind, massage, music, lighting, ambiance, support people with you, essential oils, dancing – you see – there’s many more that you may be able to think of too.
Whatever works for you – do that!Photo credit: Brianna Lynch Photography @_briannalynch_
Clancy Allen is a Certified Doula, Kinesiologist & Yoga teacher specialising in pre-natal yoga. Clancy provides birthing services around Newcastle & the Central Coast, NSW. Clancy is passionate about birth being experienced as a rite of passage where women experience and know their power.