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Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

13th January 2009

Never underestimate the value of a good birth partner. A birth partner has many roles, including creating a space in which the mother feels safe, nurtured and supported. Your feelings and expectations of birth will have an effect on the birthing woman. Lucy Corkhill explores some holistic techniques.

Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

13th January 2009

Lucy Corkhill

By Lucy Corkhill

13th January 2009

At this most exciting time, all her senses are heightened; she is ultra-aware. If you, as the birth partner, have a good idea what to expect, if you have an understanding about how labour works and have addressed your personal fears before she goes into labour, then you are ready to support her through this challenging and life-enhancing experience.

Sometimes, when a labour goes on for a long time, a birth partner can find themselves feeling a bit redundant. Having a ‘tool kit’ of massage techniques that have been used successfully to deal with labour pain and exhaustion can be helpful. It doesn’t really matter if you only use one massage technique over and over, the main thing is meeting the needs of the mother. Remaining attentive to the mother’s needs is the most valuable gift you can offer her, and enables you to become attuned to, and follow, her birthing rhythms. When massaging, try and keep a steady, flowing rhythm going, ideally following the the contractions or the mother’s movements.

“Remaining attentive to the mother’s needs is the most valuable gift you can offer her”

Sacral Massage – the sacrum is the bony triangle at the base of the spine, just above the cleft of the bottom. If there is a lot of back pain during the labour, pressure in this area is very beneficial. With the mother on all-fours, you can use your body weight to press deeply into this area, either using the heel of your hand, or try experimenting with your knuckles. You can use your thumbs to circle into the sacral grooves (you will feel them as indentations on each side of the sacrum) – these points can bring great relief. Don’t be afraid to exert quite a bit of pressure here or elsewhere, feathery fingers just won’t match the intensity of the contractions!
Leg Massage – vigorous firm strokes up and down the thighs may help during or after contractions, particularly where there is shaking or weakness in the legs. Imagine that you are warming up the thighs by brushing them – this should give an idea of the tempo and a much-needed sensation of support.
Foot massage – Try putting pressure behind the ankle bones and circling in this area – this stimulates contractions and can speed up a slow labour. Rubbing firmly just below the balls of the feet is also very soothing and helps open up the chest for breathing deeply. Just rubbing the feet in your hands can be very comforting and relaxing.
Shoulder and neck massage – If the mother is tensing up during contractions, you might notice her shoulders hunch up. Tension often builds up here, and a massage in this area helps the mother relax and gently reminds her to let her shoulders drop down, which in turn opens the chest and deepens breathing.
Breast Stimulation – If labour slows or stalls, stimulating the nipples and breasts releases the hormone oxytocin, which in turn stimulates contractions. The body is a veritable chemistry set during labour – make good use of all those clever hormones! Be aware of a her needs and never invade her space.

If you are in a relationship with the mother, another thing to bear in mind is that kissing and sexual arousal can also stimulate contractions and keep the mother in a free and open mindset. The midwife Ina May Gaskin believes that a little of what got the baby in there, gets him out of there! This also ties in to the old adage ‘as above, so below’; keeping the mouth and throat open and loose rather than tight and constricted, translates as a loose and open birth canal. These kinds of techniques probably work best in a home birth situation where you feel comfortable and relaxed, but if you want more privacy in the hospital, don’t be afraid to ask for it. It is your right.

Start trying out birthing positions and massage techniques for labour together a couple of months before the due date. This gives you a chance to hone your skills, think about the different stages of labour and how you and the birthing woman might feel. The mother will no doubt welcome you practising your massage and she can tell you what does and doesn’t feel good. The best labour positions are those that work with, rather than against, gravity, so standing, squatting, dancing, all-fours, kneeling and on a birthing stool are in and lying like a beetle stranded on its back is out. Try out your massage techniques with the mother in all these different positions.

The key to labour massage is flexibility – you might be just getting into the swing of sacral massage when the mother asks to have her feet squeezed. Don’t be hurt or surprised if she doesn’t want to be touched at all. Sometimes your role is as simple as being present in the same room. If the labour goes on for a long time, you want to be sure you have the strength and stamina to be a birth partner. Have a ready supply of snacks and drinks for you both, and keep your energy up with dried fruit and nuts and plenty of fluids. Thinking about your role as a birth partner beforehand is vital – what are you there to do and how do you want the mother to feel? This is your chance to show her how completely you support and value all her hard work.

What do you think makes a good birth partner? Share your stories and opinions with us by posting a comment.

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