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From the "double hip squeeze" to back counterpressure, massage can help ease labor pain. See step-by-step how you and a partner can practice in advance.
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Linda Murray: The third natural pain relief technique is massage. Physical touch can be a powerful comfort, whether it's light, soothing strokes, or firm pressure. Kneading-style massage bothers some laboring women, but many get relief from strong, sustained pressure against the lower back or hips during contractions.
Sabrina Easterling: So one of those first techniques is something called the double hip squeeze. And the best way to do this is usually having Mom lean over in some sort of hands and knees way. This could be on a bed, using a ball like this. This could be her on her hands and knees, though that does get a little tiring. Also, this could be her leaning over a chair out of bed. If she's leaning over a chair or a ball, it's great for a partner to be able to sit down, because this technique does take a little bit of energy. The first thing to do is just to try to figure out where to put one's hands. It's nice to kind of get to know the lay of the land of the pelvis a bit. So you're going to feel for the sacrum and the hip bones here, and we're really looking for the meatiest part of the hips to land. There's a couple of ways to do this. It's different for everybody. The most important thing is that she likes it, so if the way I do this isn't exactly what she needs, just do whatever she likes. But the first thing I do is I find the sacrum and I come out a little further to the outer parts of the hips where it's nice and meaty. And you can actually see that difference where I can press my hands in like so. Are you doing okay there?
Mom 1: Mm-hmm. Good.
Sabrina Easterling: All right. Now I'm just going to have you take a deep breath in. Bring in that nice oxygen and then on the out breath, I'm doing this. I'm pressing down and locking those hip muscles into the pelvis. Locked in and squeezing in. How's that?
Mom 1: Great.
Sabrina Easterling: Perfect. Now this is usually done during a contraction. The hardest part about it is that a partner can be asked to do this during contractions over a period of hours. So finding ways to help your own arms is going to be important. So shake out the arms a little bit. Some people do this by creating a fist. Just as soon as you really know those hip areas, you lock in. Again, take that deep breath. And then on that out breath, press in and then squeeze in like that. Many women in labor want to lay down on their side and rest and they're still looking for some firm pressure in their low back or their hips. During a contraction, many women appreciate having this steady pressure that elongates their lower back and goes down their leg. Because if you kind of crunch up the low back, it just doesn't feel good in labor. She wants more movement there. So one thing to do from this position for a partner is just to get right back again to that meaty spot of the hips. Create a fist and always make sure that it's in the right place. Does that feel okay in there?
Mom 1: Mm-hmm.
Sabrina Easterling: Okay. And I'm just going to have you take a deep breath in. And on that out breath, it just feels a little better that way, I'm slowly squeezing down or pressing down, and the angle's going straight down her leg. Once I'm firmly in there, I'm staying in there. So this is not a massage in that kind of way. It's not this kind of thing. It is steady and firm, if it's during a contraction. Otherwise, it's a good way to get an elbow right up into the face. Not what you're looking for. So you'll stay like that as long as she wants it. Now, she's going to be able to tell you with pinpoint accuracy where she wants your hands. So, it could be in one contraction she wants it here and then the next, she wants it over like a quarter of an inch. So just whatever she says goes in this one and for moms, it's best to be kind of like that person at the airport with the orange flags that guides the plane in: a little to the right, a little to the left, we're just right. That steady pressure in until that contraction eases up. Then in between contractions, you can do some of the nice, feel good massage, or just scratch her head or talk to her, whatever feels right.
Linda Murray: For all over relaxation, try massage on your face or your head. Ask your support person to gently massage your temples, jaw, cheeks, forehead and ears while you breathe in and out slowly and deeply.
Mom 2: I spent probably 2 hours with my hands balled up just behind the small of my back putting pressure on, and it didn't take it away but it helped a little bit. Like I couldn't bear it otherwise.
Mom 3: I'm not sure where I read this or heard about this, but to put a couple of tennis balls into like a gym sock and my husband used that to apply counter-pressure on my lower back during the contractions.
Mom 4: I believe, ended up with the yoga ball in the shower, and my husband behind me doing counter-pressure. We did a lot of counter-pressure and massage.
Mom 5: Just going in circles with their thumbs at the base of my spine and it really helped to kind of ease the pressure and the pain there, and also to kind of take my attention away from the pain.
Medically reviewed by, childbirth educator and lactation consultant