By Allie Mennie
One of the most common questions I get as a doula, especially in my interviews with clients is: “What are you going to do to help me cope with the pain? I assume you have a bunch of tools you bring?” Sure, I have a TENS, a birth pool, massage balls, and lots of other random little gadgets I’ve picked up over my time as a birth doula, but the most common pain relief tools I use isn’t something I pack in my bag, and it’s usually something I always have on me: my hands and a rebozo (long scarf).
Massage is my absolute tried and true pain relief technique and it’s something your partner can take over doing when I get tired, need to fill up your birth pool, or correspond with your midwives. A client a couple weeks ago said, “Oh, I’m not worried about labour at all. I’m telling myself I’m just getting a really long massage.” I laughed and immediately realized, YES! That’s exactly how we should think of it – a nice, long massage. A study in 2012 found that massage is effective at reducing anxiety and pain during labour and increases the birthing person’s level of satisfaction. So often, people are tensed up during labour, they’re not able to let go and allow their body to soften and surrender to their contractions and all the work their cervix and uterus is doing; massage can be very helpful in releasing tensed muscles and decreasing the fear-tension-pain cycle we see frequently in labouring people without support. No tension leads to less pain and a shorter labor.
We know you definitely have hands at your disposal, but a rebozo? A rebozo is a long, woven piece of fabric. I say you already have this, because most people at least have a long sheet or scarf that they can use similarly to the rebozo. It is important to note however, rebozos are culturally important pieces of Mexican birth culture and we can’t and shouldn’t refer to sheets or scarves as rebozos. In terms of supporting your partner with items around your home, using items similarly sized to a rebozo will act like one. I bring an authentic rebozo along to my births and was fortunate enough to learn how to use it from a friend of mine who is from Mexico and introduced me to the beautiful culture, history, and significance of this wonderful item and I take a moment before each birth I use it in to silently thank her and honor the cultural context from which I am using it. I mention the differences above because it is important to note the culturally significant birth practices we are paying homage to and respecting when we use them in our labours.
Now we know we have tools available in our homes, so below I’ll go over some of my favorite massage and rebozo techniques and tips to make sure it’s as easy as it sounds!
Hold the rebozo out in front of you and position the middle of it horizontally under and across your belly. Bring the sides around your hips, toward your back and cross them and bring the ends over your shoulders. Pull on the ends to lift and support your belly.
This position is good with either your hands or a rebozo. With a hip squeeze, we add pressure to the birthing person’s hips to relieve pressure and help the pelvis open a bit more allowing for more room for baby and less pain for the birthing person. With a rebozo, we basically start like we did above for the belly lift, but pull parallel to the ground instead of bringing either side of the rebozo over the shoulders. In massage, this looks like palms pressed on the outside of the hips pressing in toward the person’s spine.
Supported Squat/Slow Dance:
In a supported squat, we can use a rebozo to be the support or we can position our arms under the birthing person’s arms and hold them as they squat and rub their back or sway with them as they go between squatting and standing.
This is a massage technique where the doula or support person floats light pressure over the birth person’s body. An open hand offering long, gliding strokes down their back, legs, arms, or belly can be helpful during the resting phases in between contractions. You might have had effleurage massage done to you before if you’ve had a deep tissue massage. Usually, before they begin, they start with effleurage massage to warm up your muscles.
All of the above methods and techniques are fantastic ways to empower your support people so they feel comfortable supporting you. Try practicing these techniques prenatally to make sure you feel confident with them; they offer amazing relaxation in pregnancy and maybe you’ll realize the birthing partner prefers specific pressure or areas of their body massaged so you can be prepared for the big day. Babies don’t mind a bit of belly massage either, so try clockwise motions during pregnancy on your partner’s belly as your opportunity to bond with baby. Releasing tension, inducing relaxation, and feeling calm are wonderful ways to soften into the experience and using these new massage techniques and a rebozo will help you be the best support you can be!
Allie is a currently an apprentice with Childbearing Society. She grew up in Southern California with parents who are in medicine – her mom is a pediatrician and her dad is in family practice. She studied Health Information Sciences/Public Health at UVic and was drawn toward preventative medicine and when the job of a doula was explained to her, she realized that doula work was the most immediate gratification form of preventative medicine and made such a massive difference in cesarean rates, interventions, and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. After having her daughter in 2018, her goal became to empower women to have positive birth experiences. Allie is committed to ensuring that prenatal education is accessible and easy to understand and any person who wants a doula should have a doula. She is currently working in a doula partnership serving the North Shore.