My first baby was born in a birth center with midwives. I had access to a birthing tub and shower. I could stay mobile through my entire labor, and I ate and stayed hydrated. All of that was helpful, but there was one unexpected tool that ended up being my favorite: a heated rice sock.
It’s no surprise that heat soothes aches and pains. Many women are familiar with using a heating pad or hot water bottle for menstrual cramps, but may not think of it as a useful tool in labor. I really expected the water to provide the most relief. But in my first birth, the tub helped only minimally.
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Throughout my labor, I had a backache that stayed present between contractions. When the midwives asked me how far apart the contractions were, I was unsure how to answer because the ache never fully subsided. I got into the birthing tub in active labor, probably around six centimeters dilated. I tried all kinds of positions: squatting, leaning forward, floating on my back. None if it relieved that pressure in my lower back.
Toward the end of my labor, the ache was intensifying and taking most of my attention, so I got out of the tub and moved to the bed to lay on my side. My husband massaged me and the midwives brought several heating pads to put on my back and FINALLY, I felt relief from that ache in my back. I was able to relax enough to fully dilate and begin pushing.
As my baby crowned, the midwives discovered he had a nuchal hand. His right arm was crossed up across his chest and his hand was touching his left ear. The pain I felt in my back was his little forearm and elbow.
Pushing was a real challenge. He was a big baby (we would find out after the birth he was 9 lbs 4 oz) with a big head, plus this nuchal hand issue. So, again, the midwives put warm compresses on my perineum and surrounding tissues, as well as some oil. It was so soothing. He was born after an hour of pushing, slow and steady, and I had no perineal tearing.
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Now when I teach couples about what to expect for birth, I gift them with a simple rock sock at our last meeting. These are so simple to make: just fill a clean sock with dry rice or dry beans. I use a funnel to pour the rice into the sock, then make a tight knot at the top. You can also sew the end for a nice finish. Then I put drops of lavender essential oil all over the sock so that it smells nice and has a relaxing effect. Heating times vary, depending on the amount of rice in the sock.
Most birth places have a microwave for patients to use. The smell of the oils may be enough of a comfort to mom to inhale that she may not even need it heated. It can also be used prenatally for aches, pains, and relaxation, or postpartum for afterpains and recovery.
This is such a cheap, simple tool, but I think it is a “must” to pack in every birth bag.