Many women will use heat packs to help them with their labour pain. Many hospitals will provide heat packs of some description, but they can also be good to have at home for prelabour and early labour, for use 'in transit' on the way to the hospital and as an option to have them at various times throughout the labour. They can also be invaluable for 'afterpains' once the baby is born.
Check you are allowed to use heat packs at your hospital
Some hospitals ban heat packs. This is often because they are concerned that the woman's skin may be burnt. (Some women will sign a disclaimer for this.) Other hospitals dislike women using heat packs that need to be microwaved (because of fire hazards). Some hospitals supply large, heavy heat packs that are soaked in hot water urns before use and wrapped in towels. These can be effective but are quite heavy. Many woman like these for back pain during labour. Some hospitals use flasks of IV fluid (otherwise used for drips). They heat them in a their linen warmer or in buckets, or bowls, of hot water. Check with your birthplace on 'what the go' is!
NOTE: it is important to wrap heat packs and hot water bottles in towels or pillowcases to make sure you do not burn your skin. Labouring women are often not aware that their skin is being burnt, particularly in the active phase of 1st stage of labour when the contractions are strong. On rare occasions, it has been known for women to end up with skin blisters from the heat packs, realising this after the baby is born.
Care should also be taken if you have had some form of pain relief. This is something your partner or support person will need to be aware of. Don't keep using heat packs after the woman has had an epidural (she cant feel it anyway!) As the support person, look for redness of the woman's skin and feel the heat pack yourself to gauge the heat. Try removing the heat pack between each contraction. This gives her skin a break and can help add to their effectiveness when the pain starts again.
If you want to make up heat packs of your own, your choices can include:
Traditional hot nappies dipped in buckets of hot water
If you wish to use these you will need a pair of large rubber gloves (so the support person can wring the hot water out of the nappies before they are placed on you). Many women like this wet heat, but you may want to consider how 'labour intensive' this method can be. A support person can be totally taken up with replenishing these after each and every contraction, for hours on end. This may also not be practical if your only support person is virtually unavailable for emotional support (or they need a break!) Hot nappies can also be a bit 'too wet' and messy. You might like to experiment with these during the pregnancy to see if they will suit. You will often need to supply your own gloves and possible a bucket at your birthplace.
Blue Gel, hot / cold plastic sports packs
If you choose these you will need at least 4 of them. This allows for 2 to be reheated in a bucket of hot water, while the others are in use. Then they can be swapped quickly as needed. Most women rely heavily on their hot packs once they start being used. It is often the case that they do not want to endure even 1 contraction without them, let alone 10-15 minutes while they reheat!) Blue gel packs can usually be purchased in many different shapes and sizes. Take care if you're using a microwave to reheat them, they can burst if overheated.
Hot water bottles
These are cheap and easy to refill with hot water. They are great for back pain and but may be too large and bulky to relieve contraction pains. You need a heat pack that will fit snugly into the space 'afterpains under your pregnant belly. Holding a water bottle in that spot can be difficult, especially if you are leaning forward or kneeling on all fours. You may be able to find a favourable shape (such as a heart-shaped water bottle). These may be smaller and more conducive for use during labour. You could trial one to see how it feels. Water bottles can also be used in the shower or bath, and in transit to your place of birth.
These are wet cloth nappies or hand towels that have had most of the water wrung out of them so they are damp. One is placed in a thick, plastic bag and taped with masking tape. Some people will double-bag the nappy to stop water from leaking. The package is then microwaved. Initially for about 3- 4 minutes on 'High', then wrapped in a pillowcase, or a towel, to reduce the heat and avoid burning the woman's skin. Reheating them usually takes about 1 minute. Microwave nappies can become extremely hot after microwaving (so take care), but they last a long time (up to 30 minutes to an hour or so). These tend to be very popular in birth centres.
These are raw wheat grains encased in cloth (usually thick corduroy or cotton material). Some wheat packs are scented with lavender or other herbs. Wheat packs can be microwaved, or put in the oven. Most hospitals do not permit these, as they can (if reheated too often or overheated) set alight in the microwave. Check with your hospital and watch them carefully when reheating. You may like to use your wheat pack at home for prelabour, for after pains or for a homebirth.
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