This is the third in a series of articles about massage for fathers-to-be, developed from my written assignment I completed as part of my Diploma and which earned me a distinction. These articles explore the role that massage can play in helping and supporting the father during a transformative time in his life, with a particular focus on how it can enable him to bond with his baby. The previous article is called What's a Man To Do.
I know that I am a professional massage therapist, and for me to talk about 'massaging' your pregnant partner might seem easy because I've quite literally done the courses, ticked the box and got the t-shirt. However, before I even did my first introductory massage course I had been massaging my parents' backs for years - complete with slipped discs, operations and crushed vertebrae ... so take it from me, you'll be ok with what follows.
I'd like to introduce you to a couple of exercises that I have outlined with the view to enabling you to spend time with your partner and your baby and to encourage a relationship and bond to form between you and your unborn child.
This exercise helps you 'tune in' to your fingers and hands so that you are more aware of what you are touching, and more able to 'hear' what the feedback is. OK so that sounds a bit hippy, but in the days of radio dials a small adjustment to the dial could make a huge difference to the enjoyment of a song or radio programme.
Firstly, make sure that wherever you are sitting, you are both comfortable and likely to remain so for a short while. Take your partner's hand or foot (I suggest not starting with the foot if they are ticklish!), hold it in the palm of one hand, taking the whole weight, and use your other hand to cover the surface. Gently hold the hand or foot in your hands for a couple of moments, and feel the difference in temperature from your hands. Watching what you are doing stroke over the surface of the hand or foot that is uppermost, feel how the texture of the skin or hair might change over the surface, can you feel the bony points, stringy connective tissue, nails? Now hold with your top hand and gently stroke with your lower hand over the other surface - notice a difference? Now repeat this with your eyes closed, paying attention to the differences you may be aware of.
Now you've tuned in to your hands, go further up the limb (so forearm if you've been working on the hand, calf if the foot) and start to gently touch, hold, mold, using a very soft grip, press and wring the belly of the muscles on this lower limb, always paying attention to your partner and any feedback they might give (verbal or otherwise). Try to keep holding the weight of the limb so that your partner can relax, let go of being responsible for holding it for a while and just give in to allowing someone else look after her arm / leg. To finish this section of work, lightly run your hands down over the area you've been working on and hold the hand or foot again for a few moments.
Ask for feedback, what was nice, what wasn't so comfortable, try it on the other side ... and of course the other way around so she can work on your hand or foot. Don't forget to make sure that you are both very comfortable where you are before you start, otherwise you'll end up wriggling and not being able to concentrate on listening to your hands. Once you feel comfortable and confident, move on to other areas of the body, perhaps the shoulders and back as a great place to start?
from Beautiful Birth by Suzanne Yates p18
This exercise helps both you and your partner to make an antenatal connection with your baby. This connection can also be useful during labour.
Find a comfortable position in which your partner can settle next to you with one hand on your lower back - wherever it feels most comfortable - and one hand on your abdomen. You could sit with your partner next to you, rest on all fours over a ball, or lie on your side with some cushions placed under your knees, belly or chest.
Connect with your baby Breathe out slowly and deeply together, using the basic deep breathing technique. As you breathe out and relax, your partner will gradually become more aware of the rhythm of your breathing, and can adjust his to match it. After a while, your partner also can begin to be more aware of the baby beneath his hands. Maybe the baby will make his presence felt as soon as your partner touches you, by kicking or moving around. With each out breath, your partner can focus more on the baby and will feel more connected with both him and you.
You can respond to your baby in whatever way feels appropriate. You could try some gentle stroking over his body, or talk to him, maybe using the name you call him while in the womb or the name you are going to call him when he is born.
When you feel you have a good connection with each other and with your baby, try this exercise in different positions. For example on all fours, sitting, standing, or lying next to each other. In each position notice the pattern of your breathing, how comfortable you are and how comfortable your baby is, and spend as long as you want to in each position.
Practicing positions which will be helpful during the pregnancy and through labour not only give a couple a chance to prepare themselves physically, but also invites the couple to spend time together. This position I refer to as 'The Snuggle' but is actually simply a side lying position which is restful and great for relaxation, and it can be a position in which to give birth.
The mother-to-be should lie down on one side, whichever feels more comfy and natural, and arrange pillows, cushions and bolsters in such a way as your legs, head, abdomen and arms are all feeling supported. Now you can lie down behind and snuggle up to her, making sure that you are supported with pillows and cushions as you require. Take some time to allow yourselves to mold together in a position that is soothing and relaxing for you both, some women find the pressure of their partner's abdomen on their sacrum quite relieving. Now the work can begin.
Place one of your hands on your partner's abdomen, and just lightly rest it there. If you feel a desire to move your hand and gently stroke or massage her abdomen - then that's ok. You can do this through clothes or directly on skin, but if you are going to massage her, do keep checking in about the level of pressure you are using. Spend some time being aware of your partner's breathing, how this rhythm changes the shape and feel of her abdomen. Once you have spent some time just being and holding (or gently massaging) her abdomen, either in your mind's eye or in conversation with your partner, start to think about the baby you are holding in your hand. Spend some time being aware of any movements your baby might be making. You can move your hand to different areas on your partner's abdomen and keep still in these places until you feel you want to move on somewhere else.
Be kind to yourselves, this might take some getting used to - spending time being still, peacefully relaxing in each other's company and welcoming your baby into your family. Remember, just because your baby hasn't been born yet doesn't mean that fatherhood hasn't started! You are both pregnant together and are parents together. This is also a wonderful position in which to reminisce about falling in love with your partner, to tell your baby about those early days, trips, weekends away, conversations spent planning your future family; and talk about what you are going to do together, the skills you want to impart, the journeys you will take. Try to leave cares and concerns for another time, just focus on the three of you.
This wonderful thing about this position is that you can do it at any stage of the pregnancy, during labour when your partner might want to have a rest and feel close to you, and post birth, perhaps when she is breastfeeding. The Snuggle is not rocket science, but is a beautiful way to bond with your baby, and connect to your partner as your relationship deepens and changes.
Supporting the pelvic girdle
from Beautiful Birth by Suzanne Yates p68-9
You can try this technique in many different positions, but a good one is with the mother on all fours, perhaps leaning over a ball or a beanbag. You can do this with her fully clothed or use oil and work directly on her bare skin.
The Practice Stand or kneel, depending on your height, with your body behind the mother and your abdomen, which is going to give support, close against her back. Place your hands over the whole of her abdomen, either above or below her navel, depending on which is the more comfortable for her. Being supported quite low down - just above her pubic hone, where her abdomen starts to round out and the muscles and ligaments are quite stretched - will often feel good to her.
As the mother breathes out, gently draw your hands towards her back. Then, with a firm stroking movement but without pulling on the muscles, move your hands from her front to her back. Pass them around her hips, ending up at about the level of her second or third lumbar vertebrae and drawing the energy from her pubis to her back. Focus your mind on the inside of her body as well as the outside, so that a deep connection is made, then focus on the baby. Rest your hands on her sacrum to finish the first part of the massage. Next starting from the sacrum, repeat all those actions in the reverse order, sliding your hands from back to front. Some mothers are clear that they prefer the movement in one way only, while others enjoy both directions. For mothers with symphysis pubis disorder, however, it is usually best to draw the energy from the back to the pubis, as there is often a lack of energy here. As this is not a strong opening technique ... it also can be used the other way, if there is too much energy in the front.
In Labour The mother may find this a very calming and reassuring hold, one that can help her focus on her breathing and on her connection with her baby. If she feels more discomfort in her abdomen than in her sacrum, you can focus on drawing the pain from the abdomen round to the back. If the pain is more severe in her back, draw it round to her abdomen.
Some mothers may like this hold all through labour, but others may find that as labour progresses, they don't want to be held around the abdomen so much. Some appreciate this hold more during a contraction, while others prefer to be held in between contractions.
Massage Strokes for Labour
from Well Adjusted Babies by Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani p207
- Position yourself comfortably behind your partner
- Using the heel of your hand, place both hands over the sacrum (base of spine) and stroke up and then outwards, in slow circular movements. Move over the buttocks and around the lower back, repeating rhythmically.
- Use a very light touch to begin with and increase the pressure if the mother finds this offers her relief from pain.
- You can also use long downward strokes from the top of the spine towards the sacrum.
The role of the father during labour
as explained in "Go Ahead...Use the F Word" from Fathers Make A World of Difference by Patrick M Houser
There is a monumental paradox surrounding birth which goes largely unrevealed. During birth a woman is doing the most female, womanly thing any woman can, and yet she is ‘using’ what is typically considered to be ‘masculine energy’. Birth is often very energetic and physically demanding. Fortunately, if she is not interfered with, she has significant hormonal resources to assist her in carrying out this ‘work’.
The father at birth, on the other hand, is at his best when he enters into a stillness, a quiet and reflective presence. He is best at birth when supporting the birthing mother with listening and calm; more archetypically female. Yet how is a man to achieve this, and be truly helpful to his loving partner, without proper preparation? How can he feel safe in this female world? Most fathers are not aware that they are going to have an emotional experience surrounding birth. The intensity of labour can encumber them significantly if they are unprepared, under informed or not feeling safe and welcome. The moment of the birth itself, or upon first holding their newborn, can open a floodgate for many fathers. Everyone does better if he has the opportunity to prepare.
Infant Massage Handout from Dads2b Resource: A resource for professionals providing antenatal education and support to fathers, 2011.