A pregnant woman lies against a bushel of hay.
Positive thoughts go a long way in helping you cope with labor pains. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

The mind plays an important role in pain relief.

Let’s take a closer look at this idea to understand how the mind can help us cope with the demands of labor and delivery.

There are many ways we can use our mind to deal with the pains of labor: positive thinking, redirecting our focus, using our imagination and teaching our mind to take control of our body.

Here’s a closer look at these concepts:


Affirmations help more than you think.

What are they? Quite simply, they’re short and positive little sentences.

Here’s one of my favorites: “The day you give birth, there are going to be 350,000 to 420,000 other women in the world giving birth.”

Amazing, right? This can help serve as a reminder that you can do it; you can get through labor.

Another favorite: “Your body knows how to birth a baby.”

It truly does!


I won’t lie, my labor was painful.

But I had a choice. I could panic, and I could get paranoid in my mind about how it hurt, and I could think about how much longer it would go on.

And if I wanted to, I could think, “I can’t do this!”

Or, I could focus. I could say to myself, “My job right now is to (fill in the blank).”

That fill-in task could be “breathe, or “bounce on the ball,” or “count,” or “listen to music.” The list goes on, but the point is, the task demanded an ability to focus.

By choosing to take each contraction one at a time, and focusing on getting through the experience, it made a huge difference. It helped me manage and get through labor.

For some, it helps to focus on something in the room.

One of our educators, nurse Sharon Ruiter, RN, told a class how she remembers staring at the red outlet in the room and concentrating on breathing to handle the contractions.


This may sound like a strange approach, but imagery is in fact very powerful.

We know imagery works best when you include all of your senses: sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste.

In class, we do an exercise with this. I’ll ask the group members to close their eyes and picture in their minds that we are all at Lake Michigan on a beautiful, hot summer day.

The yellow sun is beating down as we unfold our towels onto the sand and sit down.

After we sit, we take their toes and dig down into the cool sand below the top layer. Can you feel the coolness?  Listen as the waves come rolling in and the seagull cries overhead.  Did you hear them?

Oh, and there’s the wonderful smell of the sand and water. But wait, did you see that ice cream cone that child has? Oh yummy! I think I’ll go get one of those. What’s your favorite type of ice cream?

You can continue on with the story. Any storyline will work, as long as it includes all your senses. Music in the background can be helpful, too.

Relaxation breathing

At the dentist’s office, I always feel myself getting tense when I’m just sitting in the chair. I take a relaxation breath to really focus on relaxing, and I imagine a favorite vacation my family has been on.

I take that breath in and, as I exhale, I focus deeply on relaxing my body. I take another breath and relax even more.

I actually use imagery in conjunction with relaxation breaths when I’m at the dentist’s office. (Sorry to say, it’s not my favorite place.)

Progressive relaxation

You can use this method however you want, but one way is to think of your body as five zones. Zone 1 is your head, zone 5 is your toes.

You focus on relaxing zone 1, then zone 2, progressing down to zone 5 when your whole body is relaxed.

You can usually incorporate relaxation breaths as you move to each new zone.