Positions, oils and prep work - what you need to know to ease your way through birth
Massage can play a major part in helping to relieve pain and encourage relaxation, which is great news when you’re in labour! Touch makes us feel nurtured and cared for which, in turn, helps us to feel at ease.
Tense muscles stop your body from releasing its natural painkillers (endorphins), so the ability to relax the muscles is important in labour.
There’s a suggestion that picturing your partner’s hand massaging you as he does it helps your body release oxytocin, which keeps the contractions coming.
One study showed that women who were massaged during labour were less anxious, experienced less pain, had shorter labours and were less likely to suffer from postnatal depression than those who hadn’t used massage. Research also shows that even touch, such as stroking your brow, patting and hand-holding, improves your ability to cope.
During pregnancy, ask your partner to stroke your shoulders and back while you sit leaning over a chair or kneel leaning forward into some pillows. Find out what kind of touch you enjoy – and as he becomes used to massaging you he’s more likely to use it instinctively during labour.
You may also want to sit in a chair while he gently rubs your feet and calves with oil. In labour, getting him to slowly stroke your shoulders can help you to breathe slowly and rhythmically, which keeps you relaxed.
Many women love the idea of being massaged, but don’t like to be touched when they’re having a contraction, as it’s distracting or too stimulating. But once a contraction has passed, they can enjoy the soothing touch again.
Your partner needs to understand that you don’t know how you’ll react when you’re in labour – you may not show the usual courtesy if he touches you when you don’t want him to!
The wonderful thing about massage is that you can be in any position to receive it. You might like to kneel leaning forward, lie on your side or even stand leaning over the bed – whatever feels right.
It’s well-known that massaging with essential oils, which come from plant extracts, is great for the mind and body. The scent of the oils creates a soothing, relaxing atmosphere, which is particularly beneficial for women in labour. Always dilute the essential oil with a light carrier oil, such as grape seed. So, for example, mix five drops of essential oil with 25mls of the carrier. Test a small amount on your skin first to check for any reaction.
"I recently looked after a woman in labour who felt the contractions mainly in her back. The only way she could relieve the pain was for me, her partner and her mum to take turns “kneading” the base of her back. By the time the baby was born, we all looked more exhausted than she did, but it certainly did the trick!
There are many types of massage, from gentle strokes to deep pressure with kneading. Think about how you touch or “rub” a pain, but probably don’t consider it to be a form of massage. For most people, touching and being touched is comforting, which is why massage is so soothing when you’re in labour."
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