Massage Techniques for Labor & Delivery

During labor and delivery, massage can dramatically relax a woman's muscles, ease her pain and improve her sense of overall well-being. The response to massage varies widely, however, from one individual to the next. The chief concern when providing massage is to carefully track and quickly respond to the new mother's feedback, both verbal and non-verbal. Just as massage can bring exceeding benefit, an improperly executed massage can create discomfort or even dangerous medical complications. As such, a nonprofessional should only use massage techniques under the guidance of a qualified doctor, doula, midwife, massage therapist or reflexology practitioner.

When applied correctly, massage can offer enormous relief to a woman undergoing labor. Credit: al wekelo/iStock/Getty Images

Focus on the Feet

Simple massages inspired by reflexology focus around the feet and aim to indirectly relieve pain or discomfort elsewhere in the body. When labor is going slowly, have the mother recline slightly, on her back, with her feet elevated. Give her second and third toes a gentle but firm squeeze and then release. You may repeat this several times, doing the same on both feet. The mother should begin to feel a warm, tingling sensation along her legs, reaching toward the pelvic area. The technique may actually speed up a slow labor. When labor is underway, simply hold a thumb at the center of each arch, applying gentle but firm pressure. Move the thumb in circles or arcs. Only practice these techniques under the supervision of a qualified reflexology practitioner, massage therapist, doula or qualified health care provider.

Have Her Back

If the mother complains of discomfort around her back, apply a gentle, kneading massage, using the thumbs and the heel of the hand. Avoid any pinching or deeply penetrating movements. Adopt a slow, rhythmic pattern and be responsive to body language so you may gauge whether your work is in fact improving the situation. For severe pain, fold your fingers over your palms, producing a flattened surface between your knuckles and fingertips. Apply this part of your hand to the lower back, gradually increasing the pressure until it is quite strong. Beforehand, ask the mother to indicate at any point if she finds it uncomfortable. A strong pressure can soothe the sharp pain. As for reflexology or any other type of massage, consult a professional before proceeding. Preferably, receive instruction in person prior to the delivery date or have a qualified professional, such as a doula, in the room to guide you.

Attend to the Hips and Buttocks

For discomfort in the buttocks, form a soft fist and press directly on the mother's sacrum, the triangular bone just above the tailbone and in between the base of the spine and the hips. Have the mother gently rotate her pelvis back and forth, warming up and loosening the muscles around the hips. A doula or massage therapist can advise you on the best techniques; as always, steer on the side of caution and be responsive to the mother's verbal and non-verbal feedback.

Loving Care for the Legs

During labor, massaging the legs can dramatically reduce pain and ease strained muscles. Support the mother's legs in an elevated position and gently rub the outside of each leg. Use a loose fist and keep your strokes long and light. Massage toward the heart to increase blood flow and reduce swelling. Avoid any massage around the inner thighs or any deep tissue massage. During labor, blood clots are more common and intensive massage work can dislodge them and cause potentially life-threatening complications. Given the seriousness of improper massage techniques, it's particularly important to seek medical advice or training before massaging the legs.

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