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Massage Today
March, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 03

Help Your Client Achieve a Natural Labor: Four Simple Tips for Pain Relief

By Michelle C. Larson, MAc, BA, LMT

Most women are nervous about labor pain whether their goal is an unmedicated labor or not. Pain is part of the right of passage into motherhood, but there are many simple things you can do to make it more comfortable and assist your body in the natural process of birth.

As massage therapists, we have a wonderful opportunity to assist expectant moms in creating the best birth experience possible. Over the last year and a half, I studied natural pain relief techniques for labor and delivery. Using my background as a massage therapist, acupuncturist and labor doula, I applied the principles of hydrotherapy, massage and acupressure to find the most effective and fundamental techniques.

My goal was to decrease anxiety, keep labor progressing and decrease pain. The following are four procedures you can use with your clients to make labor and delivery less stressful:

Hot Foot Bath

Place her feet in hot water, deep enough to cover the feet and come above the malleoli. This will not only feel relaxing, but also will help to draw energy downward and promote descent of the baby. By relaxing the muscles in the feet and legs, her pelvic floor also will relax. As she relaxes her mind, she will find a decrease in pain during contractions.

Many hospitals will have plastic tubs you can use for this purpose. Simply ask the nurse. This also is a great treatment to use at home in early labor before you head to the hospital or birth center. If you like, you can add essential oils such as rosemary or lavender to enhance the energetic effect of the hot foot bath and add a wonderful aroma. Keep in mind some women are very sensitive to scents during labor.

Meditation

"Mind over matter" works. Here is a tried-and-true meditation you can guide her through at any stage. Have her close her eyes between contractions, ask her to take her mind deep inside. "With every inhale imagine breath in life and energy. Each breath is as nourishing and energizing as your favorite dinner. You are drawing in energy from the world around you, filling yourself. Even though you are tired, you are becoming more and more energized. With every exhale allow your pelvic floor to relax and open, exhaling out any tension, fear and anxiety. Focus on the relaxation."

Starting the next contraction with this new-found relaxation will make it more productive and less painful. The pressure and stretching of the pelvic floor can be very frightening. This fear will cause a woman to tense these muscles which will delay labor and make it more uncomfortable.

Acupressure Massage

Here are three simple, very effective acupressure points. You can use them at any stage of labor, but not during pregnancy. These points have a very strong, energetic action and are not to be used during pregnancy. Have her talk with her primary care provider to decide when she is ready for labor to begin, because these acupressure points can stimulate contractions.

  • Hand (Large Instestine 4): This point is in the muscular webbing between the thumb and forefinger. This point is really good for decreasing pain. It is perfect to squeeze during a contraction. In my experience, this alleviates about 80 percent of the pain. The hand acupressure massage also helps to stimulate contractions and keep them regular. It is good to use during times of delayed progress.
  • Shoulder (Gallbladder 21): This point is on the top of the shoulder in the fleshy, muscular area halfway between the neck and the arm. Feel around for a nice tender spot. This one is almost always tender but feels great to have massaged. Use steady pressure with a thumb or elbow, or massage the area - whatever feels best to her. This point is really good for moving energy downward. It also decreases anxiety and stimulates contractions. But most of all it feels really good.
  • Tailbone (Urinary Bladder 31-34): This actually is a group of points in the sacral foramen. This is the area that feels very sore if she experiences "back labor." Place your hands over her tailbone and apply deep pressure; this will alleviate the back pain and help to open the pelvis. If the sustained pressure with the whole hand doesn't feel good, try using a thumb, applying pressure wherever it feels the best to you along the edges of the tailbone. The tailbone points can be accessed in whichever position is most convenient and comfortable, with mom either sitting or lying on her side.

With all of these techniques, the key is to communicate. Invite her to let you know what seems to work and what doesn't. Application of pressure over these points can be done with thumbs, hands, elbows or massage tools. You can use these points as little or as often as you'd like. As long as it feels good to your client, keep going.

Aromatherapy

Essential oils are a wonderful way to relax and ease tension. Not only is the scent therapeutic but also the application of the oils on the skin. Most oils are not to be used during pregnancy because they have a strong moving effect and can stimulate contractions. During labor, however, this is exactly what you want.

You can use a few drops of your favorite essential oil in a diffuser to scent the entire room, or place a few drops on a tissue to enjoy a light fragrance. A drop of essential oil applied to your fingertips during an acupressure massage will enhance the effect of the treatment.

Keep in mind that a scent she really likes normally may not be pleasing during labor. It's best to use the oils in such a way that you can easily remove them from the room or take the scent away if you find it becomes aggravating.

Lavender is one of the most commonly used essential oils. It provides very relaxing, nourishing feminine energy and helps to sooth pain.

Rosemary is very invigorating and uplifting. If labor has been slow and you find energy fading, the lively scent of rosemary is a huge help. This is also a good one to use during acupressure to stimulate the points.

Orange is a sweet smell that also is very invigorating. Use orange as you would rosemary for an extra energy boost or during your acupressure massage.

Massage therapists often are asked to assist a regular client during labor. This can be very intimidating, especially if you have never been through the birth experience. Use these simple techniques to feel empowered to confidently assist her. And remember, not all births go as planned. A successful birth ends with a healthy mom and a healthy baby; the process is unique and can never be planned.


Michelle Larson is a certified massage therapist with a masters degree in acupuncture and a bachelors degree in holistic health. As a faculty member of the Cortiva Maternity and Infant Massage Program, she travels nationally teaching continuing education for professional massage therapists.

 

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