Massage therapy is much more than a mere luxury, and has become increasingly popular among pregnant women as they plan out the birthing process. Administering massage therapy throughout labor can drastically decrease anxiety and stress, thereby easing the overall process and potentially lessening the time spent in labor. The more stressed you are prior to and become during labor, the more pain you’ll ultimately experience. Why? Pain actually triggers your fight or flight response which then causes your body to produce hormones called catecholamines. Catecholamines, combined with adrenaline, will slow down, even stall out contractions, resulting in a prolonged labor period—and a painful one at that.
When a person is stressed, muscles naturally tense up. Contracting a muscle is more difficult when other parts of the body are tensed, resulting in additional pain. Massage during labor helps to relax , releasing tension and thus decreasing pain. Simultaneously, during labor a woman needs to relax mentally as well, “switching off” her thinking part of the brain and allow the hind brain (which controls reflexes) to take over, so her body can feel safe and open up.
Massage, when done correctly, stimulates the release of endorphins, naturally occurring painkillers, and oxytocin, the crucial hormone of labor contractions. More endorphins means less pain, more oxytocin means more effective contractions. The key to this is making labor massage effective, done by repetition, a slow, steady speed, comfortable pressure and a confident therapist. Repetition allows the thinking brain to tune out. There’s no thinking of ‘what are they going to do next’ or ‘go back to what you were doing’. If you’ve ever stroked a cat, you’ll know the effects of this – go too fast or keep changing what you’re doing and the cat will stay wide-eyed and interested. Keeping a slow and steady pace just stroking down the back will have the cat purring and lying down in no time. Laboring women are the same… slow and steady repetition will have her relaxed very quickly, even through contractions.
During labor, the ligaments in the hips start to stretch, aches and pains can become greater and greater. One of the most intense sensations felt is known as “back labor,” a deep sense of discomfort residing in the lower back. Massaging the sacral area is one of the best and most effective ways to address this resounding discomfort. Having a trained practitioner by your side can help mom and, sometimes more importantly, her partner, to relax and tame their trepidation. Between soothing massage techniques, peaceful music and a relaxed body and mind, the labor process will be over before you know it, at which point the final push can begin.