Benefits of Massage During Labor

3 Mar

I’m writing this as I wait for my doctor to approve some massage therapy for the horrendous muscle spasms I’ve been having in my rib cage this week.  I’ve never been in so much pain in my life.  Not even during labor, and here’s why I think my labor experiences have been so fantastic, and why I was able to endure labor pains without medication.  Read on for the science behind my experience.

During my labor with Madilyn, one of my very best friends attended the birth to help me deal with the pain.  She is a Licensed Massage Therapist who owns her very own Massage studio where she and her colleagues specialize in Therapeutic Massage.  She arrived at the hospital before my labor began (I was induced).  Once in the throes of labor, though, her touch was so strong and steady that the pain of each contraction was greatly diminished.  She eased my contracting muscles and knew all the right places to touch to alleviate the pains in my uterus.  It amazed me then as much as it amazes me now that her touch on my lower back helped ease pain in my pelvic region.  But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  Imagine having a horrendous headache then falling down a few stairs in your house, bumping your funny bone on the way down.  You’re not thinking about your headache anymore, you’re thinking about your funny bone’s aching and shooting pain up and down your arm.

The same is true during labor.  Heating pads, therapeutic touch, and proper positioning can help with pain during labor, resulting in a natural, drug-free experience that is surprisingly devoid of intense pain.  The reason that massage during labor is so effective at reducing pain, is due to the “Gate Control Theory”.  This theory is based on research that your brain can only process so many signals at one time.  Add two or more sensory aids to labor, and pain is greatly reduced.

I am currently experiencing debilitating muscle spasms in my rib cage.  My doctor had me on muscle relaxers and pain medication to be taken “as needed”.  I despise taking medication when I’m not pregnant but even more so when I AM pregnant.  I only agreed to the Stadol drip while in the hospital because I literally could not breathe through the pain.  Since coming home with my little bottles of pain relief, I have found that a heating pad applied to the spasming area relieves the pain even more so than the pain killers did.  I haven’t taken a single pill in over 24 hours but have been applying moist heat and the pain is infinitely better.  When I massage the area immediately following the application of moist heat for 1/2 hour, the pain is nearly gone.

I will definitely be using moist heat AND massage during my next labor.

Research suggests that massage during the early stages of labor helps a laboring woman save her energy for the more difficult active labor.  The stress hormone, Adrenaline has been shown to reduce the effectiveness of Oxytocin, the hormone that causes labor to begin and progress.  When massage is employed during labor, adrenaline is greatly reduced and Oxytocin is able to flow, causing labor to progress naturally and quickly.

It is no secret that massage loosens muscles.  The same is true during labor.  Massage loosens the pelvis, allowing it to open up in anticipation of the baby descending into the birth canal.  It can also reduce the severity of contractions.  While still having contractions, the pain is greatly reduced, allowing your uterus to relax naturally which aids in a much quicker labor.  My own massage during labor experience resulted in a 75 minute labor where my uterus did ALL of the work of pushing my daughter out of the birth canal.  I didn’t have to actively push one single time.  I fully believe it was partially because of the massage I received while in labor.  My uterus was relaxed and free to do what it was meant to do.  Read my story here.

I know of many women who plan on having a drug-free birth but then are unable to withstand the pain of labor.  I fully believe that if these women had employed alternate methods of dealing with pain such as massage, heat, water, or a change of position, they would have successfully been able to deliver without medical aids.

Epidurals not only slow labor in a woman who is laboring normally, without problem such as high blood pressure, they pose significant risks to mother and child.  While I respect every woman’s right to choose the way that she gives birth, I think women often jump too quickly at an epidural before allowing their bodies to prove that they can not only handle the pain of childbirth, but that they can work more effectively without pain medication.

Along with massage during labor, I employed The Mongan Method of Hypnobirthing.  This method utilizes deep breathing and visualization of your uterus as a ribbon, loosening (not tightening) during each “contraction”.  Fear of pain actually does a disservice to laboring women.  It causes your muscles to tense up which is completely counterproductive to what your uterus is ultimately trying to achieve.  When you focus on something other than the pain, your uterus is able to relax and not only is pain reduced but labor is allowed to progress quickly.  Add massage to the breathing and visualization and your body is even that much more prepared to work properly, more efficiently, and less painfully.

Add this to your arsenal when trying to decide on whether or not to endure a pain medication free labor.  It really isn’t that bad, especially when you arm yourself with knowledge and practice breathing and visualization beforehand.  There really are techniques out there that help ease pain naturally.  You CAN DO IT, MAMA!


4 Responses to “Benefits of Massage During Labor”

  1. TAsha March 5, 2011 at 4:17 am #

    Hello –

    found you on the Leaky B@@b link up. please come by and follow too.


  2. TexaGermaNadian March 5, 2011 at 5:53 am #

    What a great post, thank you for sharing this info. I will have to tuck it in the back of my mind for some other day 🙂
    Stopped over from pass the puck, have a great weekend!

  3. S.I.F. March 6, 2011 at 4:33 am #

    Dude, that sounds awful lady! I hope you’re able to get some relief soon! And I am loving your outlook on birthing! I had always planned on laboring at the local birthing center. It was really important to me to have a natural labor… so lots of love to you!

    • rebelcrunchmama March 6, 2011 at 10:18 am #

      And WHEN that day comes, you will be more than prepared. Due to my (our) struggles, I didn’t even realize I was in labor with my first born. I thought it was normal cramps. Lots of love to you too.

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