10 Ways to Make Labor Less Painful

By Safrir Neuwirth, MD

Can a peanut ball prevent a C-section?

While it may sound like a new type of Girl Scout cookie, it’s one of several tools designed to make labor shorter and more comfortable for women.

Peanut balls are inflatable birthing balls shaped like, you guessed it, a peanut. Peanut balls are useful during labor after women have received epidural anesthesia. They come in a variety of sizes to help women find the most comfortable position.

The ball is placed between the woman’s legs to help move her into the optimum position for labor and open the pelvic outlet. This positioning gives the baby more room to rotate and descend to the birth canal, which can greatly speed the birthing process.

This is especially helpful if labor has slowed. In fact, a recent study involving 200 pregnant women found that peanut balls decreased the first stage of labor by 90 minutes, the second stage by 20 minutes and reduced the need for a C-section by 12 percent. To put this into perspective, Stage 1, the longest stage of labor, starts with the dilation of the cervix and mild contractions and ends when the cervix is fully dilated at 10 centimeters with stronger contractions. It typically lasts about 12 hours. Stage 2, the pushing stage, begins once the cervix is fully dilated and typically lasts one to three hours.

I’ve seen the benefits of using a peanut ball in my own practice. Recently, my patient had been pushing for nearly three hours and wasn’t making much progress. A nurse instructed the future mom how to get into position using the ball, and shortly thereafter we saw the baby’s head crown. Without the peanut ball, the patient probably would’ve needed a C-section.

The older sister to the peanut ball, a birthing ball is a round, exercise ball that you can sit on to apply pressure to your perineum to decrease the sensation of pain, or kneel and lean over the ball for support and relax your pelvic floor. A recent study found that using a birthing ball can reduce patients’ perceived pain one point on a pain scale from one to 10.


The soothing properties of a warm whirlpool tub can help relax expectant mothers and decrease the need for pain medication. And if you use candles or essential oils to destress at home, consider using aromatherapy, like lavender oil, during labor to reap the same benefits.

Changing your position also can help move labor along. Whether it’s sitting, walking or switching sides, before receiving an epidural, try to change your position often to ensure labor progresses.

Audio analgesia, or using music, white noise or environmental sounds like waves crashing, boosts mood, reduces anxiety and stress, and can lessen pain during labor. Remember to load some soothing sounds on your smartphone in preparation.

You’ve seen them in nearly every comedy featuring a pregnancy plot but breathing techniques actually do relieve tension and provide a helpful distraction during labor. Use rhythmic breathing like Lamaze exercises during contractions to lessen your pain.

Don’t fear the needle. Some patients are concerned that having an epidural means that they won’t have a vaginal delivery. The reality is that that type of anesthesia doesn’t increase your risk of having a C-section and can lead to a much less uncomfortable labor.

Go into the birthing experience with an open mind. A birth plan details an ideal order of events, but it isn’t a script. Sometimes circumstances change, so it’s important to be flexible and trust that your care team will accommodate your wishes as much as possible.

Last but certainly not least is having a helpful, caring support system in the room with you. An attentive spouse, partner, friend, doula or family member will help you feel more at ease and provide reassurance that you will, indeed, get through this.

All of the above-mentioned techniques to make labor less painful are practiced at the First Impressions Maternity Center at CentraState Medical Center.  Staffed by board-certified OB/GYNs, neonatologists and anesthesiologists, the center offers private labor and delivery rooms. To schedule a maternity tour, call (732) 308-0570.

Safrir Neuwirth, MD, is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist on staff at CentraState Medical Center. He has been in practice for 19 years with Women’s Physicians and Surgeons, which has offices in Freehold, Matawan, Manalapan and Monroe. He can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.


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