Gentle touch in labour can help to relax the body without over stimulating the mind.
How does this help in birth? The frontal cortex of the brain, the area that is responsible for thinking and concentrating, needs to quieten down. This allows the more primitive areas of the brain, the Hypothalamus and Pituitary Gland, to focus fully on the functional, primal response that is taking place within the body, that is, the birth!
When the body is relaxed it can function more effectively. The ‘love’ hormone, oxytocin, can flow, which is key to having a calm, gentle birth. Below I go through a few touch tools that I discuss in the birth course weekender course.
Light touch massage
This can be offered on the arms or back, neck or legs during pregnancy and labour. It can also be offered over the face and shoulders if the birth takes place in a theatre room.
To do this you must get yourself into a comfortable position at the woman’s side. Using the backs of the finger of one hand stroke down the arm from the elbow to the wrist. Sit or kneel behind the pregnant person. Using the backs of the fingers of both hands start at the base of the spine. Stroke the fingers upwards, either side of the spine, across the shoulders and down the outer edge of the back. You can repeat this for a long time with little effort and it can feel very relaxing.
Counter pressure gentle touch in labour
During pregnancy and labour the bones of the pelvis change position and shape to accommodate your growing baby. They adjust to provide your whole body with appropriate weight-bearing and balance. The pelvis is very cleverly designed to do this however it can cause strong and sometimes aching sensations in the lower back. A useful way to help alleviate discomfort in the pelvis is by providing counter pressure. You can apply counter pressure by using one or both hands to provide strong, steady pressure on the lower back. Some women may enjoy the sensation of this counter pressure during their contractions. Others may enjoy the pressure in the break between each contraction. The amount of pressure and the placement of the hands should be led and directed by the woman in labour.
A quick way to release a whole load of ‘happy hormones’ including oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin is by simply kissing. Whilst not all women and birthing people will feel like engaging in a passionate kiss whilst in labour, there are many who have found it to be a very intimate and connecting experience. Kissing is a very intimate offer of touch that, if requested and desired can help to stimulate the hormones that aid relaxation and primitive bodily functions.
Acupressure on certain points can be used to start labour, to increase the release of oxytocin, which is your labour hormone. Oxytocin is what causes labour contractions. It’s also a great technique for strengthening or re-starting stalling labour. You can also use it as pain relief in a vaginal birth, and at certain points has been proven to have an analgesic effect. And lastly, we recommend acupressure to calm a birthing woman.
The slow dance as gentle touch in labour
Slow dancing is an absolutely beautiful bonding touch which is one of my favourite love tools and uses optimal upright positioning and gravity to help your baby descend into the birth canal which can speed up your labour. Slow dancing can be used in any stage from early labour all the way to transition and bearing down. The slow dance is where the woman drapes her arms around the partner and uses the slow motion of a figure 8 with her hips. They can also apply the endorphin release to the woman’s back or spin around to apply the tuck. A very wonderful tool to adapt and use movement and flow.
The forehead touch
You’re probably thinking I am nuts, but give it a try. Touch your foreheads to each other for a minute or two. There is something very powerful that happens, which I cannot express well in words. You will understand the feeling after you try it. Just a simple form of touch that deepens your love with your partner in a gentle intimate and almost sacred way.
Pelvic lift and tuck with partner
The Abdominal Lift and Tuck is one of the most effective early labour techniques. It can be used for engaging the baby in the pelvis and should be applied by your partner. Ask them to stand behind you with their arms wrapped around and their hands on lower belly. This is the ready position, and they can be ready to lift and hold when a contraction begins. Not only does this relieve pressure but can help engage bub lower and strengthen your surges. This is not a tool to use if your labour is already progressing well or moving quite fast, only use to help bring on or strengthen your surges.
By using gentle upward strokes with the whole of your hand, or gentle circular moves up the belly with the pads of your fingers, you can help the abdominal muscles to relax. If the labour has been induced with an oxytocin drip, this technique may be very useful to help relax the uterus between contractions. I also suggest gentle soft movements in a figure 8 motion.
Massages during labour can reduce muscle tension and help with relaxation. Most women love having their head and hair played with. You can even add a cool face cloth and place it on her forehead, lightly combining massage, stroking the hair back and slowly moving the cook face cloth from her forehead backwards a few times to keep her cool and calm.
Acupressure during labour involves stimulating certain points of the body with focused pressure and dates back as far as 5000 years ago. It is a successful tool to help relieve pain in labouring women. In more recent times, Western culture has accepted and applied these eastern medicine techniques more freely.
Acupressure involves applying pressure to certian trigger points on the meridian line. During pregnancy this can have many effects. These include aiding cervical dilation, stimulating uterine contractions, inducing our labour’s and helping to aid labour. It is thought that this is most likely by increasing the flow of our hormones.
Acupressure may be used on each point for 5 minutes every 1-2 hours during early or active labour. Use your fingers, knuckles, elbows, the blunt end of a pencil or round object-like. a tennis ball.
***Please note that by “firm pressure,” I mean constant, consistent pressure – not massage or rubbing. However, if the mother finds rubbing or massage to be more comfortable, it is okay to alternate that motion along with consistent pressure.
Using acupressure as a tool during labour
It’s important to practice this modality well before the delivery. All the points are safe from 37 weeks on. Simply apply less pressure than you would while practising than in actual labour.
When it’s time and labour has begun, we suggest you press firmly on the point. This result in feeling a sensation that is tolerable but strong. For the accupressure to work best it’s important to start the technique early in labour. Continue to apply the acupressure in regular intervals to help succesfully manage the intensity of the labour surges. In our birthing course, we teach other techniques such as the endorphin release massage. In combination, it is a great recipe for a really wonderful hands on approach to birth. These combine to engage the birth partner to be by your side. They can administer the pain relief tools to bring you more comfort throughout the labour. It also brings them comfort knowing you are doing well with their loving touches while creating a bonding experience.
Example of acupressure during labour
In our image, we see parents in ‘The birth weekender course‘ locating the best acupressure points to help strengthen surges and offer pain relief. During the classes, we learn these points on the body for future use.
This particular point is known as Hegu. Hegu means ‘joining valley’ and is located on the back of the hand. It is deep between the webbing of your thumb and pointer finger. It activates the liver and is called the LI 4 for Large Intestine. Many are familiar with as a quick fix for headaches. You can apply a little diluted peppermint on the temples, a heat pack over the eyes and press down on these while resting if you are having a severe headache during pregnancy. This can help aid through while we can’t opt for the pain medication so quickly.
You can find more practical information on these points by booking into ‘The Birth Weekender Course’ and learn the range of acupressure points along with a handful of other tools to connect and bond your and your partner together with confidence on what is happening with your body during labour, how to work with your body and how your partner can apply pain relief just by using their hands.
Note: These should not be stimulated during most of pregnancy. It is fine to practice locating them before 37 weeks, but do not actually apply pressure to the points unless stated fine to use during pregnancy.
I remember standing in my kitchen just before lunchtime, thinking about these backaches and cramping sensations that kept coming regularly. I didn’t really start timing them properly, but they felt like they were coming every 10 minutes all afternoon. Becoming more intense as the hours went by, but not enough to make me want to start timing them. I think I was nearing active labour around 5 pm when the intensity and frequency picked up yet again, every 4-5 minutes I would stop what I was doing to focus on the contractions. My beautiful doula, I mean daughter (3.5 years old), loved hanging around during this time. She would see when I was having a contraction and tell me to “stand” if I wasn’t already, and “dance” while we swayed side to side together. At one point she noticed I was holding my breath or tensing up, and goes “big breath mummy” and reminds me to “relax mummy”. Her innate knowledge of what birth is made my heart swell.
We do the whole dinner, bath and bed routine, and read Bronte’s favourite book “the Dinosaur Department Store”. Thomas then insisted he’d take over. While he got her to sleep I called my midwife to let her know where we were up to, and that we would see her later that night or early in the morning.
I headed for the shower and sat on my exercise ball and enjoyed the warm water running over my lower back. I wasn’t in there for long before my waters broke. Thomas knew we were getting close (I disagreed, I felt like we still had a long night ahead of us) and called the midwife at 7:25pm and she said to head straight over to the birth centre, luckily Nan was already on her way over to babysit Bronte for the night so we didn’t need to wait around for long.
We would have arrived around 8 pm. I heard the bath running and I couldn’t have hopped in fast enough. I wasn’t in there for long when the midwife says, I think you’ll have a baby by 9:30! I looked at her in disbelief, up until this point my labour had been quite easy-going and calm… I was thinking, surely it can’t be THAT easy!?
Soon I had hit transition phase… I remember telling myself to focus on each contraction, growling my way through them. This was definitely the most challenging and intense part of the birth. It was such a relief to eventually feel the overwhelming urge to push. After maybe 20 minutes and a few gentle pushes, I caught Brinkley at 8:46 pm. Having a hands-off birth, allowing my body and instincts to take over felt wonderful and oh so rewarding.
I wanted to share my positive birth story with you and say thank you for everything you do and stand for. I’m so glad we crossed paths, I really enjoyed the Belly Balance sessions and got so much out of them.