For the mother to be, pregnancy can feel like a constant state of awareness of phyisical and emotional change. This sometimes leaves the partner feeling more like a witness to the pregnancy experience and perhaps a little left out. In class we often include some partner yoga and massage poses so that the women can take the information home and show their partners. Not only do these poses feel good during pregnancy and become useful for labor, but they are a good way to allow the partner to get involved with the day to day feelings of pregnancy and to help prepare for the labor. Many of the women in class report back that their partners are excited to have a “job” to do that is helpful for them, the mamas-to-be.
Getting the partners to be hands-on during pregnancy and labor is not only useful to help the couple work together, but studies have also shown that massage and counterpressure during labor have a very positive result. Midwifery Today published an article highlighting benefits of touch during labor. Here is a short excerpt of that article:
“A study reported in Mental Health Update demonstrated that physical and emotional support by a labor doula provided substantial benefits to women in labor. In the study, the women in a group that received physical touch (light massage and counterpressure) and emotional support, as compared to controls [who received no touch], had 56% fewer c-sections; an 85% reduction in the use of epidural anesthesia; 70% fewer forceps deliveries; 61% decrease in the use of oxytocin; a 25% shorter duration of labor; and a 58% drop in neonatal hospitalization.
Another study demonstrated the power of partner massage during labor. The Touch Research Institute (Miami, Florida) reported that women whose partners massaged them felt less depressed, had less labor pain and had lower stress and anxiety levels. The involvement of a partner correlated with less need for pain medication, shorter labors, fewer perinatal complications and a more positive attitude. In another study, massage provided by a partner was viewed by the mothers as having more therapeutic value than the touch of a nurse-midwife.
Poses to do!
Counterpressure- the Sacral Press!
This pose is usually enjoyed by many women during both pregnancy and labor. During labor it can be particularly useful if the mother is experiencing back labor or any intense back pain. For most women, it is preferable to have strong, steady pressure applied. Reason being, good counterpressure requires the application of enough force to meet the intensity of pressure from the baby’s occiput against the mother’s sacrum.
Counterpressure against the sacrum can be done in a variety of ways. In class, we teach it with the mother in a wide knee child’s pose. The partner then places the heel of their hands on the mom’s sacrum and presses downward towards the tailbone. Note the pressure is not just straight into the pelvis, but in and down as if you were lengthening the mom’s lower back.
Shoulder and Back Massage
Massage reduces pain because it functions as a distraction, stimulates the local release of endorphins and also blocks the brain’s receptors of the pain signals. In class we teach a very general type of massage. For this massage, the recipient is in child’s pose. We instruct the students to do long strokes of even pressure down the back and then concentrate for a few moments on kneading the space between the shoulder blades and upper back, a place where many carry tension. We also invite the students to check in with one another about the amount of pressure that is being applied and to speak up if it is too little or too much.
Butt Punches and Shaking the Apples
This sounds weird, yes, I know. However, these exercises are extremely effective in helping the mother relax her bottom! Throughout pregnancy the gluteal muscles tend to get overly tight as the belly grows and the mom assumes the “pregnancy waddle”. Also during labor, many mothers find themselves tightening their butt and as a result, experiencing the pelvic muscles tensing. To help combat this, we do “butt punches” and “shaking the apples”. The butt punches are done with the mother in an all 4’s position or leaning forward over a bed, counter or birth ball. The partner then gently punches the gluteal muscles (her butt) with their fists. (Remember- this is a loving “punch” you are administering to your partner, you’re not in a kickboxing class!)
Shaking the apples is an old technique created by a German midwife. This, like the butt punches, is used to promote relaxation of the butt, pelvic and inner and outer thighs muscles. It is also believed to help aid in the rotation and decent of the baby during labor. Just like the butt punches, the mother takes an all 4’s position or leans over a bed, counter or birth ball while the partner vigorously jiggles her thighs back and forth. While it may sound a bit odd, in my experience, not a single woman in class has ever disliked this pose!
These exercises are a fun and useful way to bring the couple together during pregnancy as well as help prepare for labor and delivery. Please use these ideas as a jumping off point for experimenting with other massage techniques and poses that may be enjoyable effective both for the mama-to-be and partner.
1. A Midwife’s Touch by Elaine Stillerman, © 2008 Midwifery Today, Inc.
2. Perinatal nursing edited by Kathleen Rice Simpson, Patricia A.. Creehan, 2008