The importance of Gentle Touch in labour
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.