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All You Need to Know About Massage During Labour

1st August 2020

massage during labour

There are a variety of different benefits to massage during labour. For the mother’s heath and comfort, a massage can reduce pain in both the muscles and the joints, can reduce muscle tension, and reduce swelling. It also can help reduce anxiety and stress, which are often high during labour. Finally, a massage can improve circulation and oxygenation in the blood, which is good for the baby.

How Might Massage Relieve Pain During Labour?

There are two ways that a massage can help alleviate labour pains. The first is due to something called the Gate Control Theory, which states that you can stop your brain from perceiving pain signals if you flood it with other signals. If your brain focuses on the pleasant massage, it will process less pain.

The other reason a massage can alleviate pain is due to the Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory control method. The idea behind this method is that if a person is given an intensely painful massage, the brain will release more pain-relieving endorphins.

Evidence Behind Massage During Labour

In studies about women in labour, researchers have found that when given a massage, women generally report having decreased anxiety, depression, and pain in their legs and back. They have also found that cortisol levels decrease, which stops the excess foetal activity and lowers the rate of prematurity.

Finally, women’s labours when they received massages even tended to be an average of three hours shorter. [1]

Stages of Massage During Labour

A massage can be performed at many stages during labour, and each reaps different rewards. For example, pre-labour massage can help the expectant mother relax and perhaps catch some sleep, while massaging further on can help stimulate movement and even control pain. Below we have further details about the stages of massage during labour:

1. Prelabour

A full body massage can be extremely beneficial during the prelabour phase as it can help a woman relax or even sleep. This way, the body can prepare and gather energy for active labour which will come later on in the labour process. This stage of massage will utilize relaxation techniques.

2. Early Labour

During early labour, contractions start to get more intense, but she generally can still talk and interact with them. It is imperative during this time for the mother to stay relaxed so she can conserve her energy for active labour, so relaxing massage techniques are still beneficial during this period. When it becomes impossible or hard to talk through contractions, it is also important to practice focused breathing. [2]

3. Active Labour

Active labour is when contractions become closer together and much more intense. Her body might also start to release more fluids. During this period, leg massages can be really beneficial. One of the best techniques during active labour is called effleurage, which can be done on either the upper legs or the abdomen.

4. Massage for Pushing

While a woman is in the pushing stage of labour, it is a good idea to gently massage/touch her feet, jaw, hands, and shoulders to remind her to relax until it is time for the next push. This will help alleviate muscle tension and conserve energy. Stretching and massaging the arms, legs, and hands between pushes can also be extremely beneficial.

The Role of a Massage Therapist During Labour

The main role of a massage therapist during labour is to support the mother. He or she can do this by providing methods that she (or the support people in the room) can use to relax and refresh. Massage therapists can also work to encourage the mother throughout the entirety of the labour process. Sometimes a massage therapist’s role is just to wait until their services are needed or wanted.

Are Massage Oils Safe During Labour?

Massage oils can make a more pleasant and relaxing experience; however, it is important to avoid certain kinds. Before you purchase or use any oils, it is essential to talk to a doctor or other medical professional like a mid-wife, so you are positive it is safe. It is also a good idea to dilute any essential oils with a carrier or base oil; if the essential oil is too strong, it can cause problems.

Which Are the Best Areas to Massage?

Below we have listed the most common areas for massage during labour:

1. Feet

When a person receives a foot massage, they can indirectly feel pain relief in other areas of the body. One great technique for a foot massage during labour is to have the mom recline on her back and elevate her feet.

Then, whoever is giving the massage, can gently (but firmly) squeeze the second and third toes. Doing this repeatedly on both feet should provide the mom with a warm, tingling feeling along her legs and towards her pelvic area.

2. Back

When in labour, back pain is a common complaint. If this is the case, a gentle, kneading massage can alleviate some of that discomfort; this kind of massage is especially good for aching pains. A massage with strong pressure can also be used to alleviate any sharp pains a woman might feel. No matter what, you should avoid pinching and deeply penetrating movements during a labour massage.

3. Hips and Buttocks

If there is discomfort or pain in the buttocks, the person providing the massage should make a fist and press down on the mom’s sacrum (the triangular bone between the base of the spine and hips.

While this pressure applies, the mother can rotate her pelvis back and forth to loosen muscles around the hips. If you are not trained, it is always a good idea to seek the guidance of someone who is.

4. Leg

Women can experience a lot of pain in their legs while they are in labour because the muscles can grow tense or tired. A leg massage can significantly alleviate this kind of pain.

To give a leg massage, have the woman elevate her legs, then her support person can gently run the outside of her legs with long, light strokes. Make sure to avoid the inner thigh and other deep tissue during labour as massage those areas can dislodge blood clots.

5. Head

A head massage can be extremely relaxing, and it can help relieve a variety of pains and discomforts such as headaches. There are two main methods for head massages during labour.

The first is done by the person rotating the skin on the scalp under the pads of their fingers. The second is loosening muscle by running hands over the entirety of the scalp in a circular motion.

6. Abdomen

This kind of massage can help relieve tension in the abdominal muscles, but because it is so close to the baby, it can be especially important to have proper technique. The primary procedure for abdominal massages is for the massage therapist to gently stroke the women’s belly to help them relax. If the stomach muscles are tense, labour may last longer and be more painful. [3]

Types of Massage

There are so many different massage techniques and types. If your partner or other support person is going to be providing the massage, it is a good idea to start practicing weeks or months before labour begins so they can learn what works best for you. If a massage therapist is providing the massage, they will probably already know the best techniques, but communication is still needed.

What If I Don’t Want a Massage?

Some women do not want or cannot stand to be touched during labour, and therefore would not be interested in a massage during it. If this is the case for you, that is completely okay. Every person in the room should be there to make the experience as comfortable as possible for you, and if a massage would not help or even hinder, it is your choice to tell everyone not to do so, and they need to respect you.

Precautions and Considerations for Massage During Labour

The most important thing to do when performing a labour massage is to pay attention to the responses the mother is having and adjust accordingly. If something is hurting or making it worse for her, change the technique.

If she says something feels really good and is alleviating pain, continue with that strategy. It is also important to pay attention to non-verbal cues like wincing, sighing, and facial expressions. [4]

Things to be Prepared For

Be prepared for a woman in labour to kick or push you off as when contractions get more intense, what was pleasurable touch can become uncomfortable or even painful. If she does so, she will probably not apologize because she will be focused on getting the baby out, not your feelings. It is important to be flexible and not take her responses personally.

Do Epidurals Eliminate the Need for Massage During Labour?

No, not necessarily. Many women need the massage for emotional support, not just to alleviate physical pain. Additionally, she is only numb from the waist down, so massage in other areas of her body can still be extremely beneficial.


Massage during labour can be really good for both alleviating pain and discomfort but also providing the mom with emotional support during the process. There is a large variety of techniques that can be used for all different parts of the body, and communication is an integral part of figuring out what works best for a particular person.

If you a massage and are not a professional, it is a good idea to reach out to someone with professional knowledge and experience for advice and safety tips.
Contact us on 07904 786 888 for pregnancy massage treatments tailored to your individual needs and requirements. Our expert team of staff will conduct a detailed assessment before the treatment, to help decide what benefits you would like to reap from the session.

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Written By Lubna Sheikh on 1st August 2020