Anatomy of a Painless Labor

by Giuditta Tornetta

Anatomy of a Painless Labor

Every book I have ever read on labor stresses the need for preparation. Unanimously, professional on both side of the fence (medical solution to pain-management and those who suggest a more natural approach) preach the importance of informed decisions. Fact is we do not know why women feel what they feel during labor and delivery, nor why some women feel more, some less.

Consciousness, self-knowledge, and an understanding of what to expect all contribute to an easier and joyful experience.

Finally in one of the latest books on labor I picked up I saw the following quote: “Did you know? Only one percent of women report experiencing no pain during childbirth.” (Easy Labor by William Camann, MD and Kathryn J. Alexander, MA.) I was so excited at this quote, because it means different things depending on how you look at it (is the glass half empty or half full? But more importantly look there is a glass!) In this declaration what I’d take away would be the word “only” and I’d place a big Yeah! One percent of women do indeed experience a painless childbirth, as all statistics one percent can be raised to whatever number human can extend themselves to. The fact that doctors had noticed that we (the painless child birthing women) existed really gave me hope. In United States there are around four million of births each year so according to the above mentioned study as many as 40,000 women do experience a painless childbirth! Why not you!

There are three keywords that coincide with the three stages of labor: distraction in early labor, concentration in active labor and surrender during transition. Then we combine purposeful action and concentration during the pushing phase and exhaustion, elation and ecstasy as you hold the fruit of your loins.

Early labor
It can start many hours before the actual birth; it can be as short as a few hours or can last days. Often in these hours we get so wrapped up in our desire to hold the baby in our arms that we can easily become discouraged and often exhausted because of the long wait. In the early part of labor we try to distract ourselves, that is being distracted from the sensations that our body is feeling. So in early labor, we go on walks, watch a funny movie, listen to music, dance, cook some yummy food, finish up a small project (like a photo album or the crib in the baby’s nursery,) call on some friends any activity we can conjure up not to focus on what is to come. The point is to distract our selves from looking at the watch and expect something to happen according to a time schedule.

Many women as soon as they feel the early signs of labor run to the hospital expecting that once there something is going to happen. The only thing that will happen if you go to the hospital too soon is either they will send you home, or they’ll talk you into getting induced. Best is to make peace with the fact that there might be a long day ahead of you and that, if you have prepared for this, you will have already thought of several activities you will do during this wonderful part of labor. This is great time for bonding with your partner and spend one last day as a couple, before you become a triumvirate. I remember I spend the early part of my labor with my first son, cleaning up my home, creating a birthing altar, choosing music for the birth and eating foods that reminded me of my home in Italy. With my daughter I slept during most of early labor, which is another way to distract oneself.

Active Labor
When the labor comes on strong in the active phase, the contractions have a different quality to their rhythm and we need to concentrate on managing the waves one at the time one minute at the time. Many of my clients find it very useful to have their partner remind them where in the minute they are, as a workout coach would do at the gym. Something like “You are at fifteen seconds, doing good. Thirty seconds, you are half way there. Forty-five seconds, you are almost done. That’s it almost done, almost done.” It is very important that the coach does not announce when he/she thinks the contraction is done and arbitrarily abandons the laboring mom. The coach allows the mom to let him know when she is ready to be on her own. Coaches should not concentrate on a precision time watch, but rather focus in supporting the mommy-to-be physically and emotionally. It is very helpful during this phase that the mom continues walking a bit, change positions frequently, take a warm bath or shower, and keeps hydrated. With the help of hypnosis, I have had several clients able to actually take little naps during all phases of labor. This obviously is very important as at times these phases last a long time and women get easily exhausted. I suggest a CD called “Painless Childbirth” which will help you nap and relax as exhaustion is the number one cause for giving up and asking for painkillers once at the hospital.


Finally the stage called transition comes on with its strong waves and little time in between. This phase can be the most challenging one but the good news is that it can also be the quickest one. This is the time to surrender. The coach here best spends his/her time reminding the woman of the time in between contraction so that she realizes she has some respite. We encourage her to take advantage of this time and relax completely and even close her eyes and try to rest. Many women cannot lie down during transition, but relaxing does not have to be in a reclining position. We can use our coaches and doulas, (to learn more about doula visit www.joyinbirthing.com)our family members to hold our body as we let go and relax in their steady arms. Often I will coach a woman to breathe deeply and say “Yes and AHHH” as she exhale, this declaration of surrender works opposite of her desire to tense up, fight against the contractions and say “Oh No!”