The Ice Cube Exercise for Labor Prep

Ice cubes

No matter what kind of birth you’re planning—or will have—it’s pretty likely some intense sensations will be involved. In fact, sensations that are most commonly known as pain (though in Hypnobirthing they call it “discomfortable.”) I’ve never done it so I can’t tell you what it’s actually like, and most moms have that infamous pain amnesia, so they can’t tell you either. But first-hand accounts have leaked and I hear it’s a lot. Sometimes.

To prep for this intensity (which scares me in ways only the mysterious and foreboding can), I had a Skype session with a labor coach and we did a little experimenting with a version of the Ice Cube Exercise (from the book Birthing from Within) I’d heard about from my friend who’s taking a birthing class.

There are many riffs on it, but ours went like this:

1)   Take a bowl of ice and a small towel. Set a timer for one minute.

2)   Scoop up a handful of ice in your right hand. Hold until the timer goes off.

I spent the first 15 seconds cursing. And thinking: OMG, I will be the worst laborer ever. I am such a wuss. This ice pain is nothing like the pain to come. Wah. Ouch.

Then I remembered that thrashing about and complaining and self-berating only makes pain worse. (My medical history has exposed me to a range of long-lasting pain and/or discomfortableness I’ve learned to cope with). I also remembered that slow, deep breathing goes a long way toward diffusing and defusing pain. So I did that. I kind of dropped my awareness deep inside, shifted to slow deep breaths, and directed my attention away from the pain in my hands and toward what yogis call the “witness consciousness,” the part of us that watches the show of our lives without getting involved. (Ask yourself “Who is thinking this thought?” and you’ll get a sense of the witness).

It hurt A LOT less. It became more sensation, less pain.

When the minute was up I realized I could have kept going longer.

The coach laughed and joked, “Ok, we’re done here!” I guess I know this stuff better than I thought. Whew.

We did it a few more times—some minute-long blocks she jangled keys and blasted music to see how well I could drown out distractions and drop down then, because in a hospital, you can bet your ever-expanding ya-ya there will be distractions. My ability to work with the noise was mixed. Some sounds triggered anger (Uhg, this music is terrible), so then I had to breathe past that and burrow and breathe deeper still to find a quiet place within.

At my friend’s birthing class they did the ice exercise with partners so they could get a taste of the pain too. They also saw how the experience of pain shifted as they walked, moved their hips, and made sounds. (You guessed it: Pain decreased.)


Give it a go! If you’re alone, set your cell phone or egg timer for one minute each.

It’s of course only one of many ways to deal with pain—and contractions may hurt a lot more than some frozen water. But it is an excellent way to begin to train your brain in the old adage: “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Good for birth and life.