When I found out I was pregnant with my first child back in 1996, I was completing my 3 years of Shiatsu training in the UK. Shiatsu, which means finger pressure in Japan, is based on the framework of traditional Chinese medicine and therefore also holds that illness is a result of imbalances in the body’s natural flow of energy. It helps, among other things, to alleviate stress and improve circulation.
I had completed a module on Pregnancy but this had focused mainly on issues that pregnancy can bring up, rather than on labour itself.
I asked a friend of mine, who I had trained in Shiatsu with, to attend my birth and to use massage and specifically Shiatsu, to help me through labour.
My plan was to have a home water birth and I had spent weeks preparing for labour: buying teas, essential oils and listening to birth preparation meditation tapes.
My friend arrived while I was in the early stages of labour and started to give me acupressure to help manage the contractions and to also help speed things along.
My labour lasted 36 hours from start to finish, but I attended a friend’s wedding, lay in the garden, and played backgammon during this time! The intense contractions only really lasted about 6 hours, and I was in the water for the last couple of hours.
The acupressure I received to the sacral points and to the bladder points down the back of my legs more than halved the intensity of the contractions. I couldn’t believe how effective Shiatsu was for labour. It inspired me to share this story with pregnant women TWEET THIS; I have tried different forms of pain relief but nothing has come close to matching the effectiveness of Shiatsu.
From then on I carried on working part time as a Shiatsu therapist until I was about 4 months pregnant with my second child. It was at this time that I became aware of a woman named Suzanne Yates, who was based in Bristol (UK). She was running birth preparation classes for pregnant couples teaching them Shiatsu techniques for labour. This had great feedback; it helped labouring women manage pain but it also helped their partners feel involved and useful.
Suzanne was working on a book at the time, which was published in 2002. I recommend this book: Shiatsu for Midwives. Just after this book was published, and my second child was 2, I started my post-graduate Shiatsu studies with Suzanne and I now teach Shiatsu techniques to midwives and in my own work as a doula.
Shiatsu in Labour and Delivery
As a labour and delivery doula myself, I have attended many births, where I have seen how Shiatsu helps women feel empowered in managing their labour pain and contractions. It is always important to take ownership of your birth, and to not give the power over to your midwife or doctor. Even if your birth doesn’t turn out as planned, you can still ask for acknowledgement that you are having ‘your’ baby!
Although some midwives and doulas are trained in Shiatsu techniques, a labour partner can also learn some simple procedures to help women feel less pain and more empowerment. Here are two shiatsu techniques for labour partners:
If a labouring women is on all fours, over a ball or leaning onto a sofa, place your thumbs onto her Bladder 32 points which are the 2nd pair of holes in the sacrum. When the contraction starts to come, drop your body weight down and hold during the contraction. As the contraction subsides, gently release the pressure, but keep your thumbs there waiting for the next contraction.
My other ‘amazing’ favourite point is GB 21, found on top of the shoulders slightly in towards the base of the neck. This is great to help move labour along and also to help bring Mama’s milk in. And, best of all, it is great for delivering the placenta. I have been at many labours where I have stood behind the women supporting her back, applied firm pressure on the points on either side of her neck and bingo the placenta just comes out complete in one contraction. One midwife exclaimed ‘It’s like magic.”
Shiatsu offers many great techniques for helping labouring women have a more positive experience. Find a midwife, doula or class that can give you and your labour partner a few techniques to use when the contractions hit; and you’ll agree, “It’s like magic.”
Justine Sipprell is a mother of two and has 20 years of experience in yoga, shiatsu and massage. She is trained as a Matwork level 3 Pilates teacher . She has recently moved to Toronto from the UK to be near her family. You can read more about Justine here.