The second phase of labor is called active labor. During active labor, contractions are about three to five minutes apart and last from 30 to 40 seconds. As they become stronger, you may feel them in your back, upper thighs and/or above your pubic bone as well as in your abdomen. Most doctors advise leaving for the hospital when “active labor” begins. Your doctor or someone on his or her staff will call the hospital to prepare them for your arrival.
Use your relaxation techniques
As your labor progresses and your contractions grow more intense, you may feel anxious about what is happening and what is to come. If you can remain calm and in control, your contractions will be more manageable. The words “calm” and “control” may not seem to fit with the words “labor” and “pain,” but various relaxation, focusing and breathing techniques really do help. These techniques are taught in childbirth-preparation classes, and practicing them helps you to be more prepared when the time comes.
Relaxation is one of the most important skills you can learn to reduce the pain and discomfort of labor. When under stress, most people are unaware of how tense their neck, shoulders, arms, etc. really are. The less your body has to “work” in these areas, the more progress it can make during each contraction. Although you won’t have a lot of time between contractions, you should try to rest and relax as much as possible between each one.
Find a focus
Focusing on something other than contractions helps many women cope with labor. Some women prefer an internal focus. They visualize their bodies working for them, or mentally “remove” themselves to a pleasant and peaceful place. Others prefer an external focus. Concentrating on an object or a face, listening to taped music or soothing sounds of nature, or movement such as swaying, dancing or massage help many women cope.
Breathing techniques help by calming and relaxing you as labor contractions intensify. The Lamaze and Bradley methods are often taught in childbirth-preparation classes and are described in a number of books on childbirth. Each method uses a set of patterned breathing techniques that change as labor progresses.
Pain-relief is available
Pain medications are available to ease the stress of labor if you want or need them. Depending on your wishes and how quickly your labor is progressing, your doctor may suggest an analgesic, which works by reducing pain and promoting relaxation between contractions. Or your doctor may suggest a type of anesthesia called an epidural block. This involves an injection near the spinal cord, and works by blocking sensations in the abdomen, back, buttocks, perineum and legs.
Because various pain-relief options have their own unique benefits, side effects and risks, we recommend thoroughly discussing the topic of pain relief during labor with your doctor prior to coming to the hospital. It is also important to note that there is an additional fee charged for the specialized services of an anesthesiologist. You may want to check with your insurance company to find out if any restrictions apply.
The benefits of labor support
A labor support partner can provide tremendous support during all phases of labor and childbirth. Your support partner can encourage you, help you with breathing and relaxation techniques, and keep you up-to-date on your progress. He or she can rub your back or apply hot packs, give you ice chips and apply a cold washcloth to your forehead. Your support partner can also help you change positions, shower or walk around the room.
Childbirth-preparation classes can help prepare your labor support partner for what to expect during labor, but because every woman is different, it’s impossible to know exactly what your needs will be. Many labor support partners, particularly husbands and partners, find themselves feeling helpless and unsure of what to do at different times. Talking about this in advance can help. It’s helpful for both of you to understand, for example, that even though you may have practiced massage techniques, you may find that you don’t want to be touched at all during labor. Your support partner’s job is to be there for the woman in labor. In turn, your nurse is there for both of you, and will provide expert guidance and support.
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Amazingly, her twin boys were born three weeks apart.