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Keys to relaxation

Physical environment

Your environment should be conducive to relaxation. Realistically, however, labour wards can be very active and noisy. You need to be flexible and adapt to your circumstances.

5 mins to read Nov 29, 2017

Frame of mind

You must be positive and accept your situation in order to relax. One of the most difficult aspects of relaxation is controlling the effect your mind has on your body. Avoid negative thoughts and images, which block relaxation. Positive, peaceful, happy thoughts and images can significantly decrease body tension and are powerful relaxation tools.

Body awareness

Body awareness is a requirement for learning to relax. You need to recognise this and let go of tension. Muscle tensing and relaxing exercises enable you to feel the difference between soft, relaxed muscles and hard tense muscles.

It is useful to practice with your partner so that he, too, can recognise your tension and help you relax appropriately.

Breathing awareness

Under stress, your tension increases, as does your rate of breathing. When relaxed, your breathing slows down as you release muscle and mental tension.

Body comfort

Comfortable body positions are essential when trying to relax. Begin practising relaxation by lying on either side or semi-sitting, using pillows or a ball to fully support your body.

  • Keep all joints flexed, as this relieves tension.
  • Once you have mastered relaxing in these positions, practice in different positions.

During a normal labour it seems instinctive for a woman to want to move around, changing position from time to time. Your position should be determined by what is most comfortable for you. No matter what position you use, try to remain as relaxed as possible to conserve as much energy as you can.


Positions for the first stage of labour
 Positions Advantages Disadvantages
  • Walking.
  • Standing, supported by partner.
  • Leaning forward onto a bed or wall.

Pregnancy relaxation exercise: Standing, supported by partner.

  • Gravity may assist with
    descent of baby into
    pelvis, and dilation of
  • Contractions more
  • May speed up labour.
  • Leaning forward relieves
  • Standing may
    prove tiring.
  •  Sitting upright.
  • Semi-sitting.

Pregnancy relaxation exercise: Semi-sitting, leaning her back on her partner.

  • Same gravity advantages as above.
  • Good resting position.
  • Less inhibiting.
  • Easier for listening to or monitoring the baby’s heartbeat.
  • Can increase
  • Can slow down
    progress of labour
    if used for extended
  • Kneeling on all fours.

Pregnancy relaxation exercise: Kneeling on the floor with arms on a pilates ball, in a rest position.

  • Relieves backache.
  • Good for back massage.
  • Takes pressure off uterus and major blood vessels, and reduces possibility of drop in blood pressure.
  • May help turn baby if in a posterior position.
  • Uncomfortable for
    hands and knees
    if used for extended
  • Leaning forward on cushions using a chair.

Pregnancy relaxation exercise: Leaning forward on cushions using a chair.

  • Good resting position.
  • Relieves backache.
  • Good for back massage.
  • None..
  •  Supported squat.

Pregnancy relaxation exercise: Sitting on a chair with legs apart, leaning forward with hands on legs.

  • Good resting position.
  • Relieves backache.
  • Gravity advantages.
  • Good for back massage.
  • Can increase diameter of the pelvis.
  •  None.
  • Squatting.
  • Supported squatting.
  • Semi-squatting.

Pregnancy relaxation exercise: Leaning sideways on a pilates ball, with one knee on the floor and the other leg in squat position.

  • Gravity advantages.
  • May assist dilation of cervix.
  • Relieves backache.
  • Can increase diameter of the pelvis.
  •  None.
  • Knee-chest position.

Pregnancy relaxation exercise: Knees and arms on the floor, with the head resting on the arms.

  • Used in transition to overcome premature urge to push.
  • Helps turn baby if in  posterior position
  • Relieves backache.
  •  Inhibiting.
Pregnancy relaxation exercise: Semi-sitting with legs spread and hands supporting the weight of the thighs.       Semi-sitting
The most commonly used for second stage.


  • You must be well-supported with cushions behind your back, and comfortable as possible, at about a 45° angle.
  • You will be assisted to lift your legs or, alternatively, they will be raised in stirrups.
  • It is important to relax your feet and especially your inner thighs. This helps you to relax the pelvic floor.
    Tension in the thighs and pelvic floor increases the pain.

     Alternative positions

  • Squatting.
  • All fours.
  • Side-lying.
  • Discuss the options for second stage positions with your caregiver.