Ever since I began developing my curriculum for Comforting Touch for Doulas, I started spending a lot of time thinking about what actually makes touch feel comforting, especially during birth.
As a doula I knew much of my job was to preserve my clients' access to feeling safe and supported so she could maintain her solitary focus on the job of birthing her baby.
With time I started to understand that the hormones of birth, such as oxytocin (the bonding love hormone) and endorphins (the feel good hormones) were essential for the smooth unfolding of birth.
To the converse, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are inhibitory. Meaning, people need to feel safe for birth's uninhibited
unfolding. They need to know it is safe for their vulnerable offspring to be born.
A lot of things obviously can contribute to this sense of safety or lack there of. Too many watchful eyes for instance can disrupt this process. One's birth setting can influence this process as well, which is why someone should always choose a birth setting that supports their nervous system feeling at ease. For some that is home, for others that is the hospital, hence there is no one "right" place to give birth.
Supporting the process of birth is all about supporting the birthing person's nervous system. We want to do everything we can to help their nervous system down regulate, to help her rest in a state of peacefulness, safety and calm.
As doulas, we may do this by dimming the lights or keeping the birth room quiet, but touch is also one of the most powerful ways we can positively influence a birthing person's experience.
But how? What is the touch that will help her nervous system feel at ease?
One of the biggest keys is understanding that comforting touch is touch that can be counted on. It is steady, predictable, often repetitive. It is the kind of touch that can seamlessly become part of her laboring rhythm.
As humans, outside of the context of birth, we often enjoy the feeling of things unpredictable, the element of surprise. We go to amusement parks and watch tv shows with cliffhangers. We enjoy psychological thrillers, suspenseful movies, and erotic pleasures. The not knowing what's coming next, the feeling of being left hanging, of being on the edge of our seats, the sensation of being teased, we actually seek out these experiences and the sensations they create in our ordinary lives to enjoy the pleasures of feeling more.
But when it comes to birth, there is no shortage of sensation. Epidurals wouldn't be so popular if we were looking to feel more sensation during labor! Birth is already a thousand times more exciting than any amusement park!
Our nervous systems instead seek steadiness, the comfort and reassurance of rhythm, predictability and all things familiar. No surprises please! Unless it's learning our baby's sex, but even that only once it's all over.
Everything I teach in my Comforting Touch workshops is about learning how to use touch to care for your client's nervous system.
It's about learning the kind of touch that balances the intensity of sensation she must feel to give birth. It's about learning the sometimes subtle ways we can use touch to help her sink into a place that feels completely held and safe. It's about learning how to become part of her birthing rhythm (and not disrupt it). It's about learning how to offer her the reassuring touch she may not even know she needs until she feels you provide it.
Join me this fall for a Comforting Touch for Doulas workshop near you to learn the secrets of touch that will help you support your client's nervous system more profoundly, to make your hands an even more powerful vehicle for your doula loving heart. (And if you can't make it in person, download my Comforting Touch for Birth guidebook to get started.)