What is massage and how does it work?
Most people are familiar with the use of massage to ease aches and pains, relieve stress and anxiety and revive flagging spirits. The massaging action warms and relaxes muscles and stimulates the release of your body's natural pain killers and mood enhancers - endorphins - which is just what you need during labour. Using aromatherapy oils diluted in a carrier oil can give your massage extra clout (see below).
During the second and third trimesters of pregnancy you may have visited a trained massage therapist for pain relief and relaxation. Sadly, trained massage therapists aren't that readily available to assist you during labour and birth, but there's no reason why your birth partner can't roll up his or her sleeves and provide some relaxing massage himself. Having the massage performed by someone close to you can be especially beneficial in labour as it provides reassuring physical contact with your birth partner: this is likely to be all the more powerful if that person is the father of your baby. Apart from anything else, it's a very tangible way in which he'll be able to help, so may also help him feel less powerless - a feeling commonly experienced by birth partners during labour.
When can I use massage?
You can use massage at any time during labour, depending on where you are feeling discomfort and what other pain relief you're using. Massage and the use of aromatherapy oils is generally compatible with most other forms of pain relief, however, certain oils, such as clary sage, are not recommended if you are using gas and air. If you have an epidural then massaging the back and shoulders may not be possible, but your partner can still massage other parts of the body to good effect.
Massage can be very effective using only a carrier oil for lubrication, but if you want to know what essential oils are recommended for use during labour take a look at this article and consult a trained aromatherapist if possible.
What kinds of massage are recommended for labour and birth?
What to remember
A bit of preparation from your partner and good communication between you on the day are the keys to massage working well for you in labour. If you want to try massage for labour then encourage your partner to read up on technique and to put in some practice beforehand, all the better for you!
In labour itself your partner may need to take the initiative in offering different massages and intuiting what will suit you best. Good communication between you can ensure that you get the right pressure and depth of massage. Once in the delivery room you may find that the massage is a distraction from your birthing efforts, or that you simply don't feel like being touched. It will help if your partner is prepared for the possibility that you could go either way.