A lot of women worry about coping with labour when they feel tired.  They hear of births that go through, not only one night, but even two or three.  How in the world does a woman do that and stick to her resolve for birthing how she had hoped to?

It is possible!  I have been with many women in labour through the night and helped them fall asleep.  They have continued on to have positive, healthy births and feel super proud of their efforts, albeit ready for a good sleep afterwards!

It can start in early labour when women can get tired from pacing the halls because “that’s the only way I can get through the contractions”.  Yet time and again, 20 minutes after arriving to be with them, they are sleeping blissfully between them.

So how do you get from vertical to horizontal and feel able to manage the pain? How can you pass hours of contractions from the comfort of your bed? ……

For normal, natural labour to go smoothly we need contractions to get longer, stronger and closer together, enough so that your cervix fully dilates and your baby descends and is born.

To manage labour a woman needs to manage her energy input with her energy output, otherwise fatigue can cause problems.  She also needs to understand what happens in normal physiological birth so that she can work with/relax into the sensations she feels and not resist them.   This is important for the birthing team to be on board with also.

It’s understandable that she may not like the feeling of labour. But if she can be aware of the value of her labouring efforts, then she may drop into a place of trust, rhythm and flow to support the physiological process.

Even so, most labouring woman will hit a psychological wall at some point in the labour and doubt her birthing ability.   So anticipate it, prepare for it and realize it’s a sign that she needs support to help her through this stage. Encouraging her and having pain relief techniques to use in these moments helps enormously.

If in her efforts to work with the labour she has come to a place of doubt or stuckness, a place where she can’t see how to change from the thing she is doing, eg walking the halls through the night, or leaning over the hospital bed on her achy knees, I offer a few suggestions to help re energise her body and mind:

  • Realize that transition from one position to another will make the pain feel different, maybe worse for a moment, but have faith that her body can find a new rhythm to relax better and sleep easier.
  • In my experience, finding a new rhythm that works takes a few contractions of extra support, trust, encouragement and pain relief techniques.  Use relaxation techniques to help her release tension and soon fall asleep.  The birth preparation techniques learned and practiced through pregnancy need to come into action here.  Whether that be through breath, massage, visualizations, music, smell, warmth etc the list goes on.
  • Think about the fact that she is trading the new 45-60 sec contraction discomfort for 2 min of blissful, recharging sleep.
  • Understand that the pain of a new position could be the best thing to help her labour progress.  The baby is rotating through her pelvis and needs regular position changes to help.
  • Play around with positions before labour to practice where she can be comfortable.  You may find other places than the bedroom can also work eg the bath, propped up with pillows in the lounge room etc.
  • Recognize that in later stages of labour, near full dilation, the hormones of oxytocin and endorphines can make her feel very tired and tranced out, which are an encouraging sign of progress.

These tips and ideas are not exhaustive and you should always talk to your care provider if you are concerned about the health and wellbeing of the labouring woman or her baby.  If you are reading this and are expecting….now is the time to be prepared for birth so you will feel more confident and able to navigate your birth.  Do bodywork, learn birthing with hypnosis, do an independent active birthing workshop and encourage your support person to join you.

If fatigue does begin to overcome you, and you don’t feel ready to go to the hospital or you wish to delay going into hospital until you are in strong active labour,  then call the hospital midwives for advise, talk to a knowledgeable friend or a skilled Birthready doula to help you through.

By Erika Munton

Birth Works offers Birthready active birthing classes and Birthready doula’s.  We  offer guidance, support and education to help expectant parents plan, prepare and experience birth in a more joyful and empowering way.

Birthready doula’s are usually booked during the pregnancy but requesting a doula during labour is also possible.