Massage Techniques for Labour

Let’s not sugar coat this.  Childbirth ain’t no walk in the park!

That said, for some women massage can help manage the pain and provide a momentary distraction. Massaging a labouring woman can also stimulate her body into releasing endorphins–you know, the hormones that naturally reduce pain and give us that happy “high” feeling after a workout. Massage can be a great way to reduce anxiety and to empower a woman who may be feeling fragile, exhausted, and even frightened.

 In case you do find yourself supporting a woman who wants a massage during labour, here are a couple of easy-to-remember techniques. The general principle is to apply steady pressure with open palms in one direction.  Try to time your movement with her breath or to music to deepen her relaxation. Bearing in mind that as labouring women sometimes find that they cannot tolerate fragrances, we recommend usingan unscented massage oil.

Shoulder Massage 

·       Place your hands, palms open and facing down on her shoulders. Lightly press down to encourage her to relax if her shoulders are hunched.

·       Keeping your hands open and flat on her skin, gently but firmly move your hands down her back, and then up to return to her shoulders. Maintain a rhythm and encourage her to breathe along with you.

Alternative: Use your thumbs to make small circular motions around her shoulder blades.

Lower Back Massage

 ·       Firmly place your thumbs between her spine and hips. In a circular motion, push firmly. If this is too intense, try with the heel of your hand and less pressure.

·       In the advanced stages of labour, she may prefer it if you massage firmly over the base of her spine using the heel of your hand.

·       If she is experiencing “back labour” from a posteriorly positioned baby, encourage her to be in the hands and knees position to encourage the baby to rotate and allow you full access to her back.  She may appreciate FIRM steady pressure over the lower part of her pelvis or sacrum to provide some counter pressure, or need you to firmly squeeze her hips during contractions to alleviate the painful sensations in her back. 

Alternative: Using flat palms, stroke down from the shoulder to the waist one hand at a time.

Foot Massage

·       Sit or kneel at her feet and gently take one foot into your hands. When massaging feet, keep the pressure strong or else you run the risk of tickling. Grasp each toe and squeeze gently, then use circular motions to knead the arch and ball of the foot.

Alternative: Gentle strokes from the ankle to the toes.

Hand Massage

Hand massages are excellent options for women who have undergone epidurals.

·       Gently stroke the top of her hand and pull her fingers gently. Turn her hand over and make small circles on her palms.

Alternative: Using your thumb, apply gentle pressure to the base of her fingers and thumb.

 General, Gentle Instructions:

·       Always pay attention to her needs and make sure that you are asking her if she wants you to apply more or less pressure. Sometimes the extra stimulus is more than a labouring woman can comfortably handle: your job as her support is to watch and listen to her for signs indicating her needs.

·       It’s important to note that not all women will want to be touched during childbirth, so  don’t be too disappointed if all your wonderful plans to “massage that baby right out” don’t go as planned.

Alternative:  Sometimes all she needs is your steady presence, not your steady hand.   

BirthSarah Cosman