TRIMESTERS Massage Therapy Education

The Power of Birth

This article originally appeared in Massage Therapy Canada, Summer 2003 issue.

Reproduced with permission.

by Cindy McNeely, M.T., co-founder of Trimesters

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Labour is divided into phases and the first stage is known as the “Early or Latent” phase. For families giving birth for the first time, this can kick start an intense level of excitement, expectation, and in some cases may be a time for some anxiety. The most frequently asked question in the last few weeks of pregnancy is often: “How will I know when my labour has truly begun?” It is no consolation to be greeted with: “You’ll know!”, even though this is really the only adequate answer that often can be given, aside from the events listed above.

During this early phase of labour, which can last approximately from a few to 20 hours, it is important that the family relax as much as possible, and keep activities as normalized as they can. Taking baths, going for walks, watching a movie, and above all practicing relaxation and strategies that maximize rest are crucial for the journey ahead. Since contractions are not consistently regular at this point, it is an excellent time for the partner to practice those massage techniques that they learned in the prenatal class, or in the offices of the M.T during their “massage for labour tutorial”. Doula’s want to know when this early stage is occuring, and most LSP’s carry a pager for this purpose. Most, however, do not arrive for this stage unless requested by the family because it is important that the LSP provide excellent care during the more intense or ‘active stage’ of the birthing process, providing a rested and energized presence at that time. Fatigue and over-excitement are challenges for the family and careproviders at this early stage, and anything that helps maintain a calm and restful atmosphere is the desired goal at this point in the birthing process.

The time will come when contractions do become more intense – often the woman has to pause through them, and is unable to speak while they are occuring. The family consults in advance of the due date with the primary careprovider for guidance as to when they should leave for the hospital, or inform the midwife about the progression of these contractions in the event of a home birth.

At this point the contractions have increased in their frequency, in their intensity, and in their duration. This is the Active Stage of Labour, can last several hours, and is an important time for women and their partners to have as much support as possible. The goal of the LSP is to provide support in a way that is as unobtrusive as the family wishes. There are many possibilities for this phase of the labour – some quite interactive, and some very low key and subtle.

Many of these have been discussed with the family in advance as a preparation for the birthing experience. Some examples are noted in the photos which include:

  • utilizing water whether with a shower or bath (children’s swimming pools make excellent birthing tubs!)
  • ensuring the woman (and her partner) stay hydrated and nourished as per the physician/midwive's suggestions
  • position changes - the woman may be upright and walking, swaying, slow dancing with her partner, on all fours doing the cat stretch or rocking movements, kneeling over a bed, a banister or a birthing ball, sidelying, or semi-reclining.
  • touch and massage therapy with a goal to help provide a reassuring physical contact, to increase comfort and decrease pain, and to remind the woman to release any tension that may accumulate in her body as a result of the contractions.

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