Your Pregnancy After 35 : Labor and Delivery (part 11) - Laboring Positions, Massage for Relief

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- Welcome to your Third Trimester

Laboring Positions

Different laboring positions enable a woman and her partner (or labor coach) to work together during labor to find relief from labor pain. Most women in North America and Europe give birth on their backs in bed. However, some women try different positions to find relief from pain and to make the birth of their baby easier.

In the past, women often labored and gave birth in an upright position that kept the pelvis vertical, such as kneeling, squatting, sitting or standing up. Laboring in this position enables the abdominal wall to relax and allows the baby to descend more rapidly. Because contractions are stronger and more regular, labor is often shorter.

Today, many women ask to choose the birth position that is most comfortable for them. Freedom to choose the birth position can make a woman feel more confident about managing birth and labor. Studies show women who choose their own methods often feel more satisfied with the entire birth experience.

If this is important to you, discuss the matter with your healthcare provider. Ask about the facilities at the hospital you will use; some have special equipment, such as birthing chairs, squatting bars or birthing beds, to assist you. Positions you might consider for your labor are described below.

Some women use different laboring positions, such as the one shown above, to help them find pain relief. Discuss it with your doctor if you’re interested in trying a different position for labor.

Walking and standing are good positions to use during early labor. Walking during labor keeps you upright, which may help dilate the cervix naturally. Walking may help you breathe more easily and relax more, although it won’t necessarily make labor easier or reduce the chance of a Cesarean delivery. Standing in a warm shower may provide relief. When walking, be sure someone is with you to offer support (both physical and emotional).

Sitting can decrease the strength and frequency of contractions and can slow labor. Sitting to rest after walking or standing is acceptable; however, sitting can be uncomfortable during a contraction.

Crouching on hands and knees is a good way to relieve the pain of back labor. Kneeling against a support, such as a chair or your partner, stretches your back muscles. The effects of kneeling are similar to those of walking and standing.

Lie on your side when you can’t stand, walk or kneel. If you receive pain medication, you will need to lie down. Lie on your left side, then turn on your right.

Lying on your back is the most common position used for labor, but it can decrease the strength and frequency of contractions, which can slow the process. It can also make your blood pressure drop and cause your baby’s heart rate to drop. If you lie on your back, elevate the head of the bed and put a pillow under one hip so you are not flat on your back.

Massage for Relief

Massage is a wonderful, gentle way to help you feel better during labor. The touching and caressing of massage can help you relax. One study showed women who were massaged for 20 minutes every hour during active labor felt less anxiety and less pain.

If you’re exhausted when you begin labor, you may be at a higher risk for a Cesarean delivery.

Massage works great on many parts of a laboring woman’s body. Massaging the head, neck, back and feet can offer a great deal of comfort and relaxation. The person doing the massage should pay close attention to the woman’s responses to determine correct pressure.

With massage, the counterpressure helps reduce pain, and the interaction can help you feel closer to your partner. It lets you share the experience. Some women say using these methods brought them closer to their partners and made the birth experience a more joyful one.

Different types of massage affect a woman in various ways. You and your partner may want to practice the two types of massage described below before labor and for use during labor.


This light, gentle fingertip massage over the abdomen and upper thighs is used during early labor. Stroking is light but doesn’t tickle, and fingertips never leave the skin.

Massage at any time in pregnancy and during labor and delivery can help a woman relax.

The labor coach should start with hands on either side of your navel. Hands move upward and outward, then come back down to the pubic area. Then hands move back up to the navel. Massage may extend down the thighs. It can also be done as a crosswise motion, around fetal-monitor belts. Fingers move across the abdomen from one side to the other between the belts.

Counterpressure Massage

Counterpressure massage is excellent for relieving the pain of back labor. The labor coach should place the heel of the hand or the flat part of the fist (a tennis ball can be used) against the tailbone. Apply firm pressure in a small, circular motion.

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