There are all sorts of ways to manage pain during labour and childbirth, and as a midwife I’m always fascinated by natural techniques that women can use to work with their body as much as possible. So much of early pain management during labour can be managed by physical and mental approaches and one such one is the concept of having a relaxed jaw. By removing the tension and stress in your face and jaw, you can divert your physical energies more productively. Holding tension in a clenched jaw makes it more difficult for your labour to progress, but how does this work, and what do you need to know if you’re interested in applying the idea of jaw relaxation in your own labour?
It’s long been established that there is a direct link between the jaw and the pelvis, which is particularly relevant for pregnant women to be mindful of. Tension is the result of stress being stored up in your body – it’s why we get knots in our shoulders or aching backs. You may not even realise how much physical stress you carry in your body until you consciously and actively focus on letting it go.
Yoga is a very useful practice during pregnancy and can make you much more aware of the benefits of relaxing your muscles – all of them – from your facial muscles to your jaw to your spine. If you’re a regular attendee at a yoga class you may have already heard about how relaxing your jaw can help open up your pelvis and there’s certainly a lot of truth in this.
In fact, many birth professionals and forward-thinking medical professionals agree that there’s a direct relationship between having a relaxed state for your mouth and jaw, to the ability of your pelvis to relax.
During labour, your cervix gradually opens as your baby’s head pushes onto it, and in order for this process to happen smoothly, the pelvis also needs to be able to ‘open’ as much as possible. You could even say the connection between a relaxed jaw and having a relaxed pelvis also helps with the opening of the cervix.
It’s a good idea to practice relaxing your muscles ahead of labour. To do this at home, simply lie on your back – supported by cushions, or sit upright in a chair with your legs uncrossed. Keep your feet flat on the floor and draw your attention to your breathing. Each time you breathe out, focus on releasing of all of your muscles, one by one. In particular let your jaw fall gently away – don’t clench your teeth and just allow your jaw to hang.
Throughout your pregnancy, pay attention to the moments in the day when your jaw starts to tense up. Whenever you notice this, take a moment to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth,§ consciously relaxing your jaw as you breathe out. You may even want to sigh as you do. Becoming more mindful of the tension in your jaw in your daily life, will make it more natural for you to think about it during labour.
When you are in active labour, you want to focus as much of your energy as possible on helping your cervix to open. Fighting against contractions, panicking and screaming are all very common reactions during labour, but aiming for a more relaxed approach can be very beneficial. If you are able to hire a private midwife or doula for your labour, it can be helpful for them to remind you to keep your jaw relaxed during movements, different positions and breathing techniques. Even when you’re not giving birth, you can be surprised at just how often you clench your jaw. It’s a habit most of us have, and one that needs to be actively worked against during labour to allow for the opening of the pelvis. Simply put, less jaw tension can ease pressure on your perineum and can help facilitate the smooth delivery of your baby.
In labour, transition refers to the final stage of labour when the baby starts to descend. It’s at this moment during childbirth, where women can often change their behaviour or feel like they can’t go on. This is where I’ve found using vocal work to be very helpful. Using the voice to relax the jaw, can have incredible results. Whenever I’m working with a mother whose cervix is stuck at eight to nine centimetres, I get her to make deep voiced groaning sounds on each outbreath – it very often works to help open up the cervix those last few centimetres. It can be tempting to yell, but high pitched noises keep the jaw tense and keep tension locked into your body, whereas a low groan or moan (or moo – it can often sound like mooing!) can help release pain and tension and will keep the jaw loose. These strange mooing sounds can help relax the pelvis and open the birth canal so you can say hello to your baby a little more quickly.
No one said giving birth was easy – it isn’t. But that’s not to say you need to flood your body with stress and tightness. Unnecessary tension fights against contractions, making them less effective, that’s why it’s so important to relax as much as you can. As well as loosening your jaw, relax your hands and fingers, relax your face, your eyes, your brow. Putting your focus into these active relaxations, coupled with guided breathing, will help divert your mind from the pain but will also serve to enhance the efficacy of your contractions – allowing them to work much harder for you.
Of course, it’s easy to read a hundred books and articles on birth, but the most important thing you can do is practice useful techniques, so they become second nature. Unfortunately you just can’t predict the type of labour you will have, but preparing well and practicing techniques for coping with labour pain will allow you to feel more confident when your due day finally arrives.
It may sound bizarre to practice relaxing, but this is certainly something I advise all expectant mums. Relaxing your jaw is important, but also relaxing your other muscles and in particular, your mind, can all assist with making you feel more secure and more calm about giving birth.
Even when your baby is here and you’re in the midst of motherhood, remembering to relax your jaw and release tension is good practice to help avoid stress headaches, and importantly, to feel more in tune with your body and more in control.
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