Labor And Birth Practice: Learning To Be With Pain

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  • February 11, 2015
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Labor And Birth Practice: Learning To Be With Pain

Did you ever hear the analogy between childbirth and a marathon run? Many of us are familiar with this analogy, but I wonder what comes to mind when you hear it, or think about it: Is it the many hours of physical strains? Is it being in pain? Maybe you focus on the emotional challenge and the inner strength it takes to run a marathon?

I relate to this analogy from the point of view of the practice toward the big day. It sure takes a lot of practice before running a marathon, sometimes years of practice. How about giving birth? When we talk about natural birth, it seems almost contradictory to invest in labor and birth practice. Why practice for something that is in my nature? Something that is as natural as any other bodily function?

From a coaching perspective, I believe that there is nothing natural in the event of giving birth for the modern woman, therefore the proposition ‘natural birth’ by itself presents women with a dilemma; yes, giving birth is part of nature, this is how we recreate as species on earth, but as an occurrence, as an event in the life of modern western women, there is nothing ‘natural’ about birth.  It is a long lasting process which demands physical and emotional performance. It demands strength and stamina which the modern woman who drives her car, uses elevators, sits in a perfectly air-conditioned office, uses washing machines and dishwashers, and does not squat down the river every day, absolutely lost.  Childbirth demands that birthing mothers will perform in a new way, differently from their everyday lives, in more than one aspect.  The one I will focus on here is being with pain. When you are born and raised in the era of alleviating pain, if you wish to have a natural birth, you are taking the commitment to be with labor pain. Do you know how to be with pain? Did anyone ever teach you skills and strategies for coping with pain? Did you have a chance to develop these skills? Did you take the time to practice these tools and strategies so that they became your habitual response for labor pain?

Our habitual response to pain is to become alert and concerned about it. This is a good survival mechanism sometimes referred to as the Fear-Tension-Pain syndrome . Neglecting the pain might lead to a serious threat to our survival.  Therefore, we react with fear and alertness, and physiologically, we activate our Fight-Or-Flighresponse, a remaining instinct from our evolution, and the number one cause of tension and stress. The fight-or-flight response is a set of physiological actions, designed to enable us to fight a source of danger or flee from it. Both these reactions lead to increased adrenalin, shallow breathing, tightening of the muscles, fast heart rate, and an alert somatic system.

Now going back to the birth experience, when we react to the pain of contraction with the habitual instincts described above, we are in the way of a good healthy birth.  The uterus works on two kinds of “fuels”: oxytocin and oxygen, both are in needed for effective contractions. In the presence of high levels of adrenalin, the release of oxytocin is inhibited, and our contractions don’t get stronger and closer together, which might result in failure to progress.  We can summarize it this way:  

 Going back to the practice of labor support tools, I want to point out the similarity between practicing for a marathon run and practicing labor support tools.  Labor support tools are new strategies and skills for being with a new experience, the experience of childbirth, and performing well through it. They are designed in order to allow the birthing mother to cope with labor pains and strains and to progress in her birth. In other words, they allow her to perform well throughout her childbirth.  Ongoing Practice is a core principal in coaching. People hire coaches in different areas of performance, like sports, voice, acting, career, relationship, and executive coaching.  The role of the coach is to inspire and lead the individual to better perform in the field, or to make a change. After clarifying the goals of the coachee, her context around the area of change, and her belief system, and after looking into different optional changes and path ways to the change, comes the time to practice new skills and habits. We call this the GROW model of coaching,  where G stands for Goals, R stands for Reality check, O stands for Options, and W stands for Will power. The will power of the coachee is measured by her level of commitment to engage in actions and do what she needs to do to perform better, or in a new way, in order to create the desired change. The coach role is to assign an area of practice that will bring the coachee closer to her goals and to hold her accountable to her practice.

   Practicing labor support tools on a regular basis during the third trimester of your pregnancy is how you become accountable to your wish for healthy and active birth. It can lead to great results during childbirth. Among these tools you can find a variety of positions, breathing techniques, visualizations, relaxations and massage techniques. These tools are related to the physiology and anatomy of birth since they allow the mother to de-activate the fight-or-flight syndrome, and by practicing them, the mother is suppressing the release of adrenalin, increasing the release of oxytocin and the flow of oxygen to her uterus, and reacting to her contractions with acceptance.  The regular practice is also a wonderful opening for couple to talk about the nearing childbirth, and relate to it from different aspects. It also bares a great potential to bring the couple closer together physically and emotionally.

To your healthy and active birth!


Neri Life-Choma (M.A) is a certified Birth Doula and Childbirth Educator, a certified Hypnotherapist and a Life Coach. Neri works and resides with her family in San Jose, CA. During her 16 years of practice, Neri founded a doula support program in a major hospital, and a birth resource center, and directed two birth resource centers. She led hundreds of childbirth education classes and workshops, and1. http://mamacenter.us

In November 2012 Neri launched her DVD, Practicing for an Active Birth, the Most Comprehensive Hands-on Guide to a Healthy and Active Birth, in her efforts to encourage expectant couples to practice labor support tools. The DVD is sold on Amazon and through Neri’s website with great reviews. You are invited to visit Neris website at www.birthcoachmethod.com, where you can also read her blog posts

*Photo by Kimbah Anne


  1. supported hundreds of couples through their birth 

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