How to Simulate Labor Using Ice Immersion

By Heidi Gonzales

Labor feels nothing like putting a part of your body in ice. Although the ice is cold and uncomfortable, you can quit at any time. Labor is something that will not stop until the job is done, meaning your baby is born. The ice immersion experiment is not done for you to compare labor to. It is done so that you can begin to understand which coping mechanisms will work for you during your labor process. Immersing your hands or feet into a pan of ice water will simulate the painful sensations that you may feel, which will teach you to ignore the sensations using different coping techniques. Read on for the proper ways to use ice immersion.

How to Do the Immersion

Get into a comfortable position that has enough room for a large bowl or pan to fit in front of you. You can sit at a table or perhaps sit on a birthing ball with a table tray in front of you. You can also stand next to a table or counter if you'd rather stand through your contraction.

Have your partner pour enough ice into the bowl or pan to completely cover the bottom.

Have your partner pour enough water into the bowl or pan to cover the ice. It should look like a nice slushy mix of water and ice when done.

Have your partner stand next to you with a stop watch. Your partner will time the contractions for you. You should practice doing 1 minute to 1 minute and 45-second contractions.

To do a 1-minute contraction, your partner begins the stop watch. As the stop watch begins, you should place only your fingertips in the water for the first 10 seconds.

After 10 seconds, immerse your entire hand (up to your wrist) in the water for 40 seconds.

After 40 seconds, lift your hand back out of the water leaving only your fingertips in for the remaining 10 seconds.

Once the minute is over, pull your hand completely out of the water.

How to Use the Immersion With Coping Techniques

The first time you do the ice immersion experiment, don't do anything else besides experience the contraction for what it is. Feel it, explore it, notice how it makes you feel.

Repeat the experiment using music as a comfort measure. Put in your favorite music and concentrate on the rhythm or words of the song.

Repeat the experiment using suckers and/or mints. As you do it, concentrate on the taste of what is in your mouth. Is it sweet or sour, does it have ridges, is it a hard candy or soft? Concentrate on the candy and not the contraction.

Repeat the experiment using a focal point. You can use a picture, a crack on the ceiling or anything else that draws your attention. The idea is to focus on the focal point and explore it, once again keeping your attention away from the contraction.

Repeat the experiment using guided imagery. Have your partner tell you a story about going someplace beautiful. Or, have your partner tell you what it feels like to be sitting in the sand listening to the ocean. What do the waves feel like? How does the sand feel on your toes? Is it warm? Put your energy and effort into feeling the scene and not on the contraction.

Repeat the experiment using massage. Have your partner massage your back, shoulders or other hand as you immerse in the ice. Human touch often feels the best while we are in pain because it brings attention to another sensation while we benefit from the closeness of the person.

Repeat the experiment using hydrotherapy. Immerse your body into a very warm bath before putting your hand in the ice. Feel the warmness of the water and the way it sounds. You can also use the shower and feel the powerful sensations of the water instead of the uncomfortable coldness.

Repeat the experiment using breathing techniques. You can use Lamaze breathing techniques or just soft, full cleansing breaths. When you do this, concentrate on your breathing. Listen to the air come in and then leave your lungs. Concentrate on your breaths and your sounds. If you are practicing patterned breathing, listen to your partner as he instructs your breathing.

Repeat the experiment using movement. You can walk around with your bowl or pan to get an idea of how movement affects your pain level. If your bowl is on a table, you can stand up and move your hips from side to side or bounce on a birthing ball. The idea here is to concentrate on other sensations.

Repeat the experiment using a combination of things. If you loved the music, the sucker and the movement, then do all three. Put on some great music, put a sucker in your mouth and move around for the contraction. One of the advantages of labor is that you can do all sorts of things to minimize your discomforts. The more you do to occupy yourself and not concentrate on the painful sensations, the more likely you will handle labor much better.

About the Author

Heidi Gonzales is a midwife, childbirth educator, doula, American Heart Association BLS instructor, author and editor for the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association e-mag. She left the Navy after 10 years to pursue her passion in birth work. She has attended over 60 births in Louisiana and has helped over 150 families through birth consultations. She volunteers as a childbirth educator at a pregnancy crisis center in Louisiana and also as an online career mentor.