What kind of touch do women want in labor? I'll tell you! In childbirth the kind of touch a woman wants is in some ways different and in many ways similar to the kind of touch she appreciates when she’s not in labor. 21 years of combined massage and doula experience has taught me what you need to know.
Tip #1: During contractions women tend to prefer a firm and consistent touch. The partner’s aim during contractions is to provide an anchor in the same way a laboring woman might be inclined to squeeze her partner’s hand or hang on to their shoulders. A partner’s touch when steady during contractions can feel grounding, like there’s something she can count on while the intensity of the contraction moves through her. If a contraction is like a wave in the ocean, a partner’s firm touch can act like her surf board, helping her ride the power of her experience on something solid until the wave has passed.
Between contractions is when a laboring woman is likely to appreciate what we think of as more typical of “massage”. These strokes will aim to help her release any residual tension she’s holding on to in her body from the last contraction and settle into a restful and deeply relaxed state in between. Wherever you’re massaging, whether it’s her hips or back or shoulders, keep these two additional tips in mind:
Tip #2: Don’t over-repeat a stroke. As non-professionals, when people typically go to massage their partner’s shoulders for example, there’s a tendency to pick a spot and stay there, squeezing or rubbing over and over and over. While the first few strokes may feel good, after a short while our bodies either start to register that touch as nagging, or at best no longer satisfying. Our nervous system is designed to avoid overstimulation and to pay greatest attention to novel sensation. Instead, think in repetitions of 3. Three slow, full squeezes on the shoulders will give you more bang for your buck than 20 repetitions of the same stroke in the same spot.
Tip #3: Make sure to complete the touch you’re offering. Often times as novices people will massage in one spot and not recognize how much better it feels to cover the whole area. I think of it like painting a wall. If you were painting a wall, you’d never just paint a quarter of the wall or stop just before reaching the ceiling. You wouldn’t leave a random strip of white peaking through your newly painted blue wall. It’s the same with massage. Complete the “wall”. If you’re massaging her back, make sure to cover both sides. Reach your touch all the way down to the hips or all the way up to the shoulders. Don’t stop half way. Believe me, she’ll feel the difference of her partner paying enough attention to “paint” her body from “floor to ceiling”.
Adding in these tips to an already caring touch will make a big difference for your birth experience. Learn more here and here.