Using Touch in Labor
The image of the father rubbing mom's back while she labors has become a standard understanding of a good coaching in our culture. A woman's back can get very sore and tired during labor. As the uterus contracts, it moves forward, pulling on the back. As the baby descends into the pelvis, it stretches causing more discomfort and stress in the mother's back. If the baby is posterior, there can even be back pain between contractions. But don't think that the only way to touch a laboring mom is by rubbing her back.
Most moms don't need constant back rubs, although they do like them intermittently. Some women become hypersensitive to touch and prefer that you not rub their back. There are positions that mothers find comfortable, such as lying in a tub or rocking in a chair, that don't allow a coach to have access to her back for rubbing. During these times, it becomes important that the coach understand the need for touch and find a way to touch mom that comforts her.
Why touch in labor?
Women who are touched during labor feel the pain of labor less intensely, or at least they report the pain as less intense. Studies of doulas (professional labor assistants) have found that when a doula is used, the need for medication and surgical birth techniques decreases by as much as 65%. The difference with doulas is that they are there for the distinct purpose of touching the mom.
Touch tells a woman "I'm still here, I care about you and I will not leave you alone." Touch also gives the woman a place to focus her mental energy, such as when you touch her belly to remind her to use abdominal breathing. Touch can express love, such as the gentle brushing away of a hair from the face, or a hand on her cheek. Loving touch encourages relaxation. I am convinced that there are hormonal responses to being touched skin to skin, however I have never looked up research on the subject.
Why skin to skin touch in labor?
Your skin is the largest organ of your body. Your sense of touch (one of your five senses) is completely housed in this organ. By touching skin to skin you are best able to stimulate the nerves that let the brain know you are being touched. In labor you will need to help mom use all five of her senses to stay relaxed, by touching her skin you help her relax.
How do you use touch in labor?
So, how do you touch a woman in labor? Well, that depends on the woman.
Understanding how to touch a mom can only come through an intimate knowledge of her body. How does she like to be touched? Does she like a heavy hand that gives pressure or does she like a light touch? Does she like to have a hand on her that stays still, or does she prefer for the hand to be stroking or massaging her? You will only know these things by practicing during pregnancy.
Once you know the basic types of touch that the mom likes, experiment with different positions that she may like during labor. The position that mom chooses will impact the types of touch that the coach can do.
For example, a mom who is walking may need support to stand during a contraction. In this case, the coach must touch mom to help her stay upright, but may need to lean his head forward toward her face to get skin to skin contact.
With practice, you can even use touch as a nonverbal communication tool. You could touch a part of her body to let her know to relax it. You could touch her jaw to get her to open her mouth. Gently touching between her eyes can help her let go of tension in her forehead.
If the mom really becomes sensitive and cannot be touched, she may still be willing to have you touch or hold her hand. If that is not a possibility, sit as close to her as possible with your head as near her as possible to allow her to feel the closeness and love without having to be touched.