During labor, tense muscles can cause excessively painful contractions. One way to help overcome this is with a labor massage which helps to relax muscles and decrease the sensation of pain. A labor massage promotes an overall bodily relaxation, combating the effects of the fear-tension-pain cycle.
A labor massage by your partner can be a real labor of love!
It makes sense to plan well ahead for the delivery of your baby and one of the plans you can make and put into practice is to have a labor massage and to learn the art of relaxation.
Massage helps to improve the blood flow and relax the muscles. The area around the neck and shoulders can benefit from a massage during labor while a full body massage should really help you to relax. Some women enjoy a foot massage whilst others will prefer to have their back massaged during or between contractions.
Even some of the best made plans can go wrong
Some women find that they do not like to be touched at all during labor!
In that case, change to plan “B” and do relaxation exercises instead. Such exercises will benefit anyone and everyone who is in labor.
Here is a simple relaxation exercise which you can practice in those months leading up to delivery. Find somewhere comfortable to sit and let your shoulders drop down. Stretch out your fingers and relax back into the chair. Then take a slow deep “breathe in” and then focus on a long, steady “breathe out”. Empty your lungs as much as you possibly can. Then breathe normally again but each time you do, focus on breathing the tension out of your body as you exhale. Stay for as many minutes as you can.
Even 1 minute can give you an invaluable feeling of time to yourself
Learn how to relax well before you go into labor so that by the time you do start to delver your baby, it almost becomes second nature. The more often you use and practice relaxation, the easier it will become to use at times when you REALLY need it during labor. When you are practicing, use different positions and try different ways of getting comfortable. You can even think about doing such relaxation exercises when it is noisy. Music can be used either in the background or more loudly as you wish. Choose your favorite relaxation music and you may even be able to use this music during labor. With all these different scenarios, you should be ready for anything!
So back to the labor massage!
Many pregnant moms-to-be have found that massage can be used to induce labor naturally. There are several places on the body that are known to stimulate contractions. Such a massage can be done by a professional massage therapist or your husband or partner. The relaxation which stems from getting a massage reduces the stress hormones such as adrenaline. As excessive stress hormones are known to decrease or slow down contractions, it is quite possible that these same hormones could also prevent you from going into labor.
The fast pace of modern life can make it difficult for a mom-to-be to relax and "let go" towards the end of her pregnancy so that she goes into labor spontaneously. Therefore, a massage can help her by slowing down the production of stress hormones to relax her body and finally allow labor to begin.
It does make a lot of sense doesn't it?
Once labor has started, then labor massage can help to relieve pain by stimulating the body to release endorphins which are natural pain killing and mood lifting substances. Endorphins are responsible for that “feel good” factor which we get when we do something enjoyable and spontaneous or we have a good laugh. In labor, massage is important because it brings you closer to the person who is caring for you whether this is your husband, your partner, your midwife or even a professional massage therapist.
Some of the different labor massages and the techniques to use
The person doing the massage should use a few drops of a massage oil made from essential oils and rubbed into the hands:
Shoulder massage – your massage partner should place his hands on your shoulders and lean lightly on them helping you to drop your shoulders. Then he should stroke down from the shoulders to the elbows while maintaining a rhythmical action and applying firm pressure. His hands can also rest on top of the shoulders and the thumbs used to massage in small firm circles behind the shoulder blades. Relaxed shoulders assist rhythm breathing and this maximizes the oxygen available to both you and your baby.
Back massage – this can be very useful in early labor when contractions are felt strongly in the lower back. Your massage partner should use the flat of his hand to stroke down the side of your spine, from shoulder to bottom. The other hand should stroke down the other side of your spine maintaining a rhythmical movement so that one hand remains constantly in contact. Such long, slow strokes can be very soothing. He should use the whole hand and not just the heel. The fingers need to be in contact with your body as he tries to respond to the tensions he finds there. Later in the labor, he can use the heel of his hand to massage firmly over the base of your spine using quite a lot of pressure to counteract those strong contractions.
Foot massage – this is ideal if you are sitting down or in bed for long periods during labor. Your massage partner can simply stroke your feet firmly from ankles to toes, or make circles with his thumps all over the soles of your feet. If your feet become very cold during labor then a foot massage will help to warm them up.
Studies have shown that those moms-to-be who are massaged during labor experience
Hand massage – this can be a very soothing alternative when you have had an epidural and are lying in bed or if you can’t feel your feet. Your massage partner simply strokes each hand in turn, first on the back, then on the palm, sweeping firmly down from your wrist to your finger tips. He can make small circles all over your palm and gently pull each finger in turn to release the tension.
With all that it has going for it, how can you not go for a labor massage?
- Less anxiety
- Less pain
- Shorter labors
- Less post natal depression