Massage during labour | Why and how to do it

Is a rub down during labour really an effective pain reliever? Lucy Meyer investigates…

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If you’re looking for natural pain relief, massage can be helpful – especially during the first stages of labour.

Massage enables the body to release endorphins, which are feel-good hormones and natural pain killers. They lift your mood and help to ease the pain of contractions. Massage during labour also has been known to reduce anxiety, making expectant moms feel more at ease and able to cope better.

Who will massage me during labour?

This could be a midwife, doula, or your birth partner. If it’s your partner, professional lessons well in advance are recommended to prepare and allow time to focus and practice.

Do public and private hospitals allow massage during labour?

Most hospitals allow massage during labour but it’s best to enquire first. Birthing centres and Active Birthing Units are usually more open to labour massage, hydrotherapy, and alternative methods of pain relief. But discuss this option with your obstetrician or gynae during your early pregnancy consultations, and get advice from moms who’ve used the technique.

Which parts of the body are best to massage?

  • The neck and shoulder area generally carry the most tension and, if not relaxed during labour, can inhibit your breathing and put strain on oxygen reaching you and your baby. A shoulder and neck massage is a great way to relax, release tension, and help you breathe better.
  • The lower back also is an area that’s tense during labour because it’s where many women feel contractions most. But the whole area of the back, along the length of the spine, can be massaged.
  • A firm foot massage also helps one to relax, especially if the feet are swollen, tight, or feeling heavy.
  • Depending on your preference and comfort level, hips, hands, and face also should be massaged.

Are massage oils safe?

  • It’s wise to consult a trained aromatherapist, or your doctor, before using any oils. Many oils that are unsafe during the first stages of pregnancy may be all right to use during labour.
  • The purpose of oil during massage is to make the experience pleasant and soothing, with the added benefit of the specific oil’s properties. For example, relaxing and revitalising oils are bergamot, Chamomile, neroli, rose, and ylang-ylang. Lavender and clary sage oils are good choices to help ease contractions.
  • It’s best to dilute essential oils in carrier oils, such as sweet almond or grapeseed. Or, you also could use baby oil or even baby powder.

Benefits of massage during labour

  • Natural pain killer
  • Relieves tension and anxiety
  • Releases endorphins
  • Assists contractions
  • Improves muscle flexibility
  • Improves circulation
  • Improves water retention
  • Promotes sense of well-being, support, and calmness.
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