Giving birth

Labour massage

Learning to massage is a terrific way to help ease some of the pain – and tension – during labour.

By Susan Spicer
Labour massage

Meet Simon Parmar and his partner Leslie, who is seven months pregnant. With the help of registered massage therapist Cindy McNeely, who specializes in pregnancy and labour massage and is co-owner of Trimesters in Toronto, Simon is learning some basic strokes that will be helpful during Leslie’s pregnancy and throughout labour.

“Massage is a wonderful nurturing way to relieve tired, achy muscles and stressed-out joints,” says McNeely. These soothing strokes can also promote good circulation, help alleviate the edema and swelling that is common in the latter stages of pregnancy, and relieve fatigue and insomnia. During labour, massage can also help a woman cope with the pain of contractions. In addition to the physical benefits, massage is a wonderful way for partners to connect throughout pregnancy and during labour with each other and their baby.

Massage Oil For any skin-to-skin massage, it’s important to use oil, which allows your hands to glide without irrit-ating your partner’s skin. Warm the oil in your palms before beginning the massage.

Head 1. Beginning with fingertips together at the centre of Leslie’s forehead, Simon strokes outward above the brows, keeping his hands soft and moulded to the shape of Leslie’s head. Soft hands are important says McNeely, so that the person giving the massage stays relaxed. “Head massages are great if your partner is having trouble sleeping,” McNeely adds, “and also in labour between pushing contractions, to help a woman relax and recover.” 2. This circular movement on the temporal mandibular joint (TMJ) is also helpful in labour. McNeely says, “If you’re tense in your jaw, you’re tense in the perineum — something you don’t want during labour.” To relax the scalp, try “shampooing” with the fingertips, or, as shown in 3, stroke along the length of the scalp with the fingertips close together.

Feet 1. Using his thumbs and fingers, Simon uses a kneading motion upward along Leslie’s feet and calves. To encourage lymphatic drainage, direct the stroke toward the groin, says McNeely. 2. Here, Simon cups Leslie’s foot with one hand, and kneads the bottom of her foot with his closed fist using a circular motion. Try a long sweeping stroke along the bottom of the foot toward the toes, too. Your partner will love you for it!

Back 1. Touching your partner with still hands is reassuring and comforting during labour. Remember to keep your hands soft and moulded. Try using long strokes of light to medium pressure, along the length of the back to encourage relaxation. “With any stroke, slow is soothing, fast is stimulating. The last thing you want to do during labour is ‘fast’,” says McNeely. 2. Here Simon uses his thumbs to apply static pressure (without movement) to relax the muscles along the ridge of Leslie’s shoulder blade, a common area of tension.


Lower Back This stroke can be done during labour either in this side-lying position or with the labouring woman leaning over a table or bed. Simon is applying counter-pressure on one side of Leslie’s lower back. He steadies her back with one hand, and uses his whole body weight to apply pressure. Be sure to ask about the depth of pressure with this one. This stroke is mostly used during labour to help low back pain, says McNeely.

Hips This is one area that can be particularly achy during pregnancy and labour. 1. Simon uses a kneading stroke, with a closed fist to the muscles of the hip joint. 2. Using two hands, Simon increases the pressure in this area. McNeely encourages Simon to use his body weight rather than just the hands to apply pressure and stay relaxed himself. When increasing the pressure of any stroke, McNeely emphasizes the importance of good communication. Ask your partner for feedback: “Is this too deep; too light; or just right?”

Legs Simon is using flat-handed effleurage, a slow, smooth, rhythmic stroke along the entire leg that is very helpful for restless or achy legs during pregnancy and labour, promotes circulation, and helps with edema. During labour, if your partner prefers to be covered and you’re working through fabric, use a squeezing motion rather than the long strokes (see “Massage Oil”).

Abdomen 1. This stroke is called “Full Sun, Half Moon.” During our photo shoot, the baby became quite active at this point, much to Simon’s delight. Always massage the abdomen with a clockwise motion. Start with your hands on either side of your partner’s belly, moving in circles with one hand lifting over the other. A simpler stroke is to move one hand in a clockwise circle. 2. If your partner is reclining when you do this, make sure to support her head, lower back and underneath her knees with pillows. Abdominal massage is done during the second and third trimesters, if there is no medical complication.

This article was originally published on May 21, 2004

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