We all instinctively rub ourselves to relieve pain when we're hurt and massage works in the same way: when the skin is rubbed the body releases pain-killing endorphins. Many women find having the lower part of their back massaged helps with contractions; however, some don't want to be touched at all!
You won't know whether massage works for you unless you experiment. Practise with your birth partner before going into labour so you both feel confident about using it when necessary.
First, make sure you are warm enough to relax. Ask your partner to give you a back or shoulder massage with slow, circular movements. He or she should use firm, rhythmical strokes, checking with you that the pressure is right.
A little talc or some vegetable oil such as sunflower, or olive, will help reduce the friction between his or her hands and your skin.
You can also do it yourself by using a slow circular motion with the heel of your hand over the back of your pelvis.
• relax - you can't help a labouring woman relax if you are tense yourself
• make sure your hands are warm - run them under the hot water tap if they're cold or sticky
• use just a small amount of oil
• massage slowly and rhythmically - if the pace of your massage is too fast, the woman's breathing will quicken, and that's not helpful
• check with her that you're on the right spot and that the pressure you are applying is comfortable
• don't be put off if she doesn't want massage at this point in her labour - try again later.