How Will You Cope In Labor?

woman using a TENS unit in labor

Photo @onemamamidwife


Ever wonder how will you cope in labor? What will you do when you go into active labor? Will you have a spontaneous natural birth? Will you want or need the epidural? How far will you get before it gets hard?

Much of coping in labor depends on how well you are prepared, techniques for pain management, your support team, and your own thoughts and experiences with pain.  After trying this quick and easy trick you will get an idea of how you will cope in labor with contractions.

Learn your tolerance.

The ice cube exercise is a very simple way to practice labor contractions.  

No matter what kind of birth you’re planning or will have it’s likely some intense sensations will be involved. Those sensations have many names: pain, contractions, surges, and waves. No matter what you call them, each person needs the skill to cope in labor.

The Ice Cube Exercise, from the book Birthing from Within, is a great way to prep for the intensity of labor.  Every 60 seconds you hold the ice cube represents a 60-second contraction. 

1)   Take a bowl of ice and a small towel. Set a timer for one minute or 60 seconds.

2)   Scoop up an ice cube in your right hand. Hold until the timer goes off (60 seconds). 

What were you thinking? Did it go like this OMG, will I be the worst laborer ever? I am such a wuss if this is hard. This ice pain is nothing like the pain to come.” Now try it again.

Remember that thrashing about, complaining, and self-berating only makes the pain worse, it hinders how you will cope in labor.  Instead, try to sit with it and focus on something else like a TENS unit on your back as you breathe.  Remember that slow, deep breathing goes a long way toward diffusing tension and pain. Try to visualize your breath like a balloon, inflating and deflating.

Consider not looking at your count down timer. Did that help or what is better to count down your time?

If that was easy or after you have practiced, step it up a notch:

1)   Take a bowl of ice and a small towel. Set a timer for one minute or 60 seconds. Then 90 seconds.

2)   Scoop up a handful of ice in your right hand. Hold until the timer goes off (60 seconds).

3)  Submerge both hands in ice water so there is more surface area

How well did you fare? Was it easy or hard? Which technique or combination of techniques makes it bearable?  


Consider how distractions, slow deep breaths, and distractions can be effective. Directing your attention away from the pain in your hands and toward something else will cause it to hurt less. Less sensation, less pain.

Learn skills to improve coping.

Do it frequently, trying different techniques that you learned in your birth class: distraction, movement, counterpressure, music, conversation, breathing work, TENS, rebozo sifting, etc.  Then discuss with your doula which techniques worked and where you will speculate you will need assistance. 

Remember the old adage by Haruki Murakami “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional”? It holds true for childbirth. Labor is called labor because it is not easy rather it takes effort. You have the ability and control to make this birth easier or harder. But I can promise you, labor is worth it!


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