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Easing discomfort in early labor
Q: Do you have any good tips for reducing my wife's pain during early labor at home? She wants to stay at home as long as possible before we go to the hospital, and I'd like to know how to help her.
A: I'm delighted to see that you're thinking about this ahead of time. Some of the suggestions in my article on being a labor coach, which you'll find on this website, may work well during early labor. If you're at home, there are a number of techniques you can try to ease her discomfort, and some homemade props you can employ.

  • Run a warm shower or bath for your wife and allow her to soak up the benefits.
  • Encourage your wife to be in motion or have her try out different positions.
  • She can walk around the house, sway on a rocking chair, dance gently to music or lie on her side in bed. Some women find being on all fours is more comfortable than sitting or lying down.
  • Invest in an exercise/birthing ball. These large, flexible balls have become popular for exercising and can help during labor. A laboring woman can sit on it and rock her pelvis during contractions. Alternatively, she can kneel over the ball and use it for support. When she leans against it, you can place counter-pressure on her lower back or provide a welcome massage while she sits.
  • If low back pain is a problem, massage or pressure may help. Massage her lower back with your hands using circular motions. Or, place two tennis balls in a tube sock, tie off the end and use this to put pressure on her lower back. Alternatively, you can suggest that your wife lean against a wall, placing the tennis balls between her lower back and the wall.
  • Some women find relief with heat. You can make a warm pack at home by filling a tube sock with uncooked rice. Close the end of the sock, and place the filled sock in the microwave for two or three minutes. When the sock is warm it can be used to relieve aching neck and shoulder muscles or to reduce cramping along the lower abdomen.
  • If she prefers something cold to cope with low back discomfort, the rice sock can be used as a cold pack if placed in the freezer for a few hours. Also, cool compresses can be used on her face or the back of her neck during labor.
  • I recommend preparing the tennis ball sock and a couple of rice socks (one cold, and one for heat) ahead of time, and purchasing the exercise ball if this appeals to you. Your wife will let you know what feels the best on the actual day of labor.

Good luck!

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist