Hesperian Health Guides

Helping the mother relax in stage 1

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HealthWiki > A Book for Midwives > Chapter 11: Opening: stage 1 of labor > Helping the mother relax in stage 1

Labor can be more difficult when the woman is afraid or tense. Fear is common in labor, especially for first-time mothers. Reassuring the woman that the pain she has is normal can help lessen that fear. Sometimes the most helpful thing to do is to help a woman relax her body.


a woman resting on her hands and knees while someone presses her lower back.

Touch can help a woman in labor, but find out what kind of touch she wants. Here are some examples of touch that many women like:

  • A firm, still hand pressing on the lower back during contractions.
MW Ch11 Page 169-2.png
  • Massage between contractions, especially on the feet or back. (Do not massage the belly. It will not speed labor and can cause the placenta to separate.)
MW Ch11 Page 169-3.png
  • Hot or cold cloths on the lower back or belly. If the mother is sweating, a cool wet cloth on the forehead usually feels good.


Making sounds in labor can help women to open. Not all women want to make noise, but encourage women to try.

Low sounds, like growling animal noises or humming can be very helpful. Some women chant or sing. The woman can be as loud as she wants to be.

2 women making sounds together.
Aauu uunn nnnh.

Some noises can make women feel more tense. High-pitched sounds and screams usually do not help. If she starts to make high, tense sounds, ask her to make low sounds. You can make low sounds yourself to guide her.


The way a woman breathes can have a strong effect on how her labor will feel. In the first stage of labor, there are many kinds of breathing that may make labor easier. Try these ways of breathing yourself.

MW Ch11 Page 170-1.png

Slow, gentle breathing: Ask the woman to take a long, slow breath. To breathe out she should make a kiss with her lips and slowly blow. Breathing in through the nose can help her breathe slowly.

a woman breathing out while making sounds.
Hee, hee, hee, hee...

Hee breathing: The woman takes a slow deep breath and then blows out short, quick breaths while she makes soft “hee, hee” sounds.

Panting: The woman takes quick, shallow breaths.

Strong blowing: The woman blows hard and fast. Encourage mothers to try different ways of breathing throughout labor.

This page was updated:11 Sep 2019