Birth relaxation techniques help you remain focused during labor. Women often get into a rhythm where they find a way to work well with their contractions. I have found that women who practice birth relaxation techniques during their pregnancy reap benefit from the deep relaxation, and are also better equipped to find their focused rhythm during birth.
You may find that during birth you will not use the precise birth relaxation techniques that you practice during pregnancy. Rather, practicing will help you become very familiar with a state of deep relaxation that you will then be able to reach during birth in whatever ways fit with your labor. You may find that in labor you are still and focused in a similar manner as when you practice the birth relaxation techniques, or instead you may find that the ability to quiet your mind, enter a timeless space, and let go become tools you pull from in new active ways while you birth. In either case, the practice will make this more readily available to you. Practicing birth relaxation techniques during your pregnancy also helps you combat pregnancy fatigue, stress, anxiety, and some physical discomforts, as well as helping you connect with your partner. Partners become more confident helping with relaxation when they see how helpful and meaningful it becomes during pregnancy, making them more prepared to help you during birth. During the early weeks with your baby, deep relaxation can also help boost your energy when you are short on sleep and find yourself with only 10 minutes to relax. Relaxation exercises can benefit you in so many ways during the childbearing year – and beyond!
This simple loving-touch guided relaxation is one of many birth relaxation techniques that help you practice deep relaxation. Many forms of guided relaxation – meaning relaxing to the help or guidance of your partner or a CD – provide verbal guidance. This is a non-verbal relaxation exercise which some women find preferable in labor so that no one is distracting them from the thoughts that are helping them work through contractions.
Instructions for preparation
Sending/Receiving Love: Love is an energy, it has a current, and it changes things. When we touch things with love, which we do simply through our intention, we change ourselves and what we are touching. Babies respond in great ways to loving touch as do most living things. Most touches given in birth should be infused with love regardless of if the touch is firm and deep or light. Love is a great opener in birth.
Setting The Environment: It is entirely up to you if you would like to do the loving-touch guided relaxation in silence or with music. Dim the artificial lights. Have one person lie comfortably. You may find that a bolster under one side makes back-lying comfortable and tolerable during pregnancy. If you do choose to lie on your back and you are pregnant be sure to change positions if you feel light headed. Lying on your back after 24 weeks can put too much pressure on the vessels returning blood to your heart and cause you to feel lightheaded which may also decrease the flow of blood to your baby. Many women do this exercise while lying on their side or reclining in a chair. If lying on your side, open your top shoulder so that you are tilted towards back-lying, and support your body with extra pillows. Once comfortable you may want to close your eyes. The person offering the loving touch should be able to reach you comfortably from one side.
Instructions for the person offering loving touch
- Begin near the top of your partner’s forehead. Using your two index fingers, touch their head in two places simultaneously. Aim to be symmetrical – in other words, touching the same spot on both sides of your partner’s body.
- Your pressure should be firm enough that it doesn’t tickle and it’s clearly there, but light enough that it does not feel like pressure or a poke. Ask your partner for feedback. They can tell you if a lighter or firmer touch would be better for them.
- Leave your fingers in place for one full breath – if possible let your partner’s breath guide you. Watch their belly, chest, or shoulders and listen at their lips/nose to tune into their breath. Leave your fingers in place through one or two full inhale/exhale cycles, and then move on to the next spot at the start of an inhale. The next spot will be a few inches below the spot you are leaving. There are no right or wrong spots, just go with what feels good without over- thinking and without rushing. Often we choose spots that are closer together on the face, chest, and upper belly, and make larger jumps on the lower belly, arms and legs.
- Every time you place your fingers on your partner think about love pouring from your fingers into your partner. This is an important part of the ritual. If you realize you have forgotten there is no need to return to previous spots, just simply bring your focus and thoughts back to sending them love through your fingers whenever you realize that your focus had drifted.
- Continue with a new finger position every 1-2 breath cycles following from their face, down through the chest, out towards the shoulders and down the arms and hands extending to one finger tip. Once the arms/hands are complete skip back up to the chest, move down the torso and belly. (Many pregnant women find extra touches near the top of their uterus (central) and the lower sides of their uterus (midway between belly line and sides) helpful to relaxing their abdomen.) Follow the body down the outside of the legs and outer foot, and then skip back to the inner thigh and follow down the inside of the legs and ankles onto the foot, finishing with a point on one toe.
Instructions for the person receiving
Each time you feel your partner’s fingers imagine yourself letting go in response to their touch. You may think about expansion or melting away just beneath their finger tips, or even receiving their love.
After the loving touch guided relaxation is complete, talk about the experience. Was the touch too hard or soft, too fast or slow? Would it have been more helpful to have more touches in any particular part, or less? This gives us practice talking comfortably about touch and what feels good for us. Did you notice any place where you were able to relax even more deeply in an area where you did not notice you were holding any tension? Did either of you notice a change in the receiver’s breathing throughout the relaxation? How do you feel now as compared to before the relaxation?
Be sure to switch roles so that both partners give and receive. You can do this immediately following, or do the exercise again on a different day swapping roles. Being on both the giving and receiving end of this exercise will teach you how to become very skilled and comfortable with the technique.
Using birth relaxation techniques during birth
Birth relaxation techniques aid in deep relaxation, which is often a helpful tool in labor. You may or may not use this technique during your birth, but either way it will help you during your labor. How you relax, or the path to relaxation, may be very different in labor than during pregnancy, but the experience of knowing how your body feels in a deeply relaxed state, versus the feeling of tension, will give your body knowledge that will help you find ways to relax in labor. If you know what ‘relaxed’ feels like, you’ll be able to reach for it in whatever ways you instinctively find whether those include sound, movement or so on. The true benefit to this exercise is in the experience of being deeply relaxed rather than in the specific technique that gets you there.
That being said, some people do find it useful to use this exact technique during labor in the following times:
- Early labor when trying to relax or sleep.
- After being distracted, such as after admission to the hospital, to get “back into your zone.”
- Variation: When using a limp-loose, silent deep relaxation during contractions your partner can watch you closely for signs of tension creeping into your face, shoulders, hands, or feet and simply touch wherever they see the tension. You will know to release the tension when you feel their touch.
Cultivate the use of loving touch throughout your day. Whenever it comes to mind, add love to your touch whether touching living or inanimate things. How does it feel to carry your cereal bowl with love? How does it feel to touch your belly with love? This is a Zen meditation technique, and can be quite useful for calming a fussy baby.
Cervical Clock – A Preparatory Birth Relaxation Technique
Pregnant mom sits upright in a chair, closes her eyes, and spends a moment taking note of how she feels and how her body feels. Then she stands up. Mom and Partner follow the loving touch directions above (releasing into the loving touch) except that this time you will begin with the first touch on the side of the hip, about at the level of the pubic bone. Proceed with a new touch moving around her body. Go first towards the back, around the other hip, and then finally across the pubic bone to end up just a point past where you started. Sit back down, close your eyes and take another moment to assess how you feel and how your body feels. Do you notice any changes?
While subtle, this exercise does two things. It gives us more experience with intentionally releasing or letting go of pelvic floor muscles we rarely think about. And it moves more energy and awareness down into our pelvic area.