Labour is a painful experience for most women, however there are options available to assist with pain relief. These range from medicinal treatments like epidurals or nitrous oxide to the application of relaxation and breathing techniques. Massage is another technique during labour that’s been found to relieve pain for some women. The possible mechanisms include massage possibly reducing cortisol levels, increasing serotonin levels and stimulating endorphin release. While a number of studies have linked massage to pain relief for women in labour, the quality of evidence has been mixed.

In a randomised trial, women in labour were allocated to one of two groups. One received massage from a physiotherapist at the beginning of the active phase of labour, in addition to standard care. The second group received standard care and had a physiotherapist present at this point in their labour however they were only there to observe and answer any questions. Pain severity was recorded in addition to characteristics and location of the pain, and obstetric and neonatal outcomes.

Women who received massage reported significantly lower pain severity than those who didn’t. Massage did not change the characteristics or the location of the pain

Implications

Massage may be a safe and effective way to relieve some pain during labour. It’s important to discuss your birthing place with your care team prior to giving birth including what pain relief options are available and what might suit your circumstances best.

Last Reviewed: 07/02/2019

Norman Swan Medical Communications



References

Barreto, R et al. (2013). Massage reduced severity of pain during labour: a randomised trial. Journal of Physiotherapy Vol. 59.