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Naked Mother & Baby
grapher, Pixabay)

Hands on her belly
(dianaforsberg92, Pixabay)

Perinatal Touch

Here are excerpts from articles/books/media related to the importance of touch in pregnancy, birth and in the first year of birth.
Naked Mother & Baby

The Primal Touch... by Kara Maria Ananda
Adapted from 'The Primal Touch of Birth: Midwives, Mothers and Massage' by Kara Maria Ananda (Midwifery Today, first published 2004, accessed online 18 October 2019):-

  • Sheila Kitzinger, a social anthropologist of birth, differentiates the types of touch used in childbirth: comforting, therapeutic, blessing, greeting (of the newborn), physically supportive, diagnostic, manipulative, restraining and punitive. This spectrum of touch encompasses the variations of touch from compassionate to invasive. The compassionate elements of touch are the foundation of traditional midwifery care all over the world.
  • Compassionate touch is overwhelmingly lacking in the medical model of birth, in which doctors and nurses have emphasized diagnostic, manipulative, restraining and punitive touch.
  • Obstetrical diagnostic tools have not been proven safer than traditional midwives’ diagnoses through hands-on observation.
  • Before Western medical practices displaced traditional midwifery, the touch and massage of a midwife or birth attendant was a central component of prenatal care around the world. Honed by constant practice, the midwife’s senses of observation and intuition were finely tuned. Today, traditional healers and midwives skillfully integrate the ancient healing arts of massage and midwifery, as they have for thousands of years.
  • Prenatal massage and compassionate touch during the childbearing year are more than a primitive practice or luxurious pampering; they are an essential and vital part of holistic maternity care.
  • The medical model of birth ignores and trivializes the therapeutic value of touch during pregnancy and childbirth. In the medical model, childbearing is analyzed from a pathological and intellectual perspective. Obstetrical and gynecological practices support the deprivation of human touch, pathologize the female body, increase childbearing morbidity [adverse effects] and place women in a subservient role to the institution.
  • However, pregnancy is not a pathological event or an intellectual construct; it is a healthy, primal and life-giving process. Compassionate touch of the mother during pregnancy and childbirth is essential for the development of maternal touching of the infant. Tactile stimulation of the newborn is necessary for healthy development and immunological resistance.
  • Traditional midwives serve birth through their touch and intuition, holistic ways of learning that respect and nurture the ecology of birth. Interventions, questions and exams induce neocortical activity and the production of catecholamines (stress hormones) that interrupt the labor process. Intuitive touch and massage allows for midwife and mother to communicate without stimulating the neocortex and intervening in the natural rhythm of birth. Touch is the primal language of life; the language that speaks to the deep mind of a laboring woman and the awakening senses of an infant. Massage and healing touch enhance the body’s natural ability to sustain health and give birth. The integrity of midwifery care depends upon compassionate communication that respects the primal process of birth and women’s autonomy.
  • Traditional midwives trained in healing touch can diagnose and manipulate without mechanical tools. The ability to receive and interpret information through touch is profound. Awareness of tension, movements, vibrations and warmth can provide information on the state of health in the body. Through pressure on the fundus, compresses on the perineum, pelvic rocking and external rotation of the fetus, traditional birth attendants are able to perform hands-on manipulations. Traditional birth attendants’ hands-on skills integrate valuable health care techniques with compassionate touch.
  • Comforting touch can take place as hand holding, back rubs, a gentle touch on the forehead, hugs or massage. 
  • Every woman and labor is unique. Some women desire constant touch and massage throughout the entire labor, others only during specific stages or times, and other women desire to labor alone without touch. Each woman’s preference must be respected, and laboring mothers may change their minds. However, the knowledge that healing touch is available, should they so choose, is a vital assurance and benefit to mothers.
  • The art of massage is an ancient tradition of health care that is compassionate, empowering and holistic. Midwives, doulas and other birth attendants who massage mothers reap the benefits of increased comfort, closeness and communication with their clients. A calm, soothing, female touch during the intense challenge of labor assures that women’s bodies are sources of strength and power. It is not necessary to be a professional massage therapist to reach out and touch compassionately.
Pregnant mum in blue dress with another, both with hand on her belly

Also see:-

Culture of Touch

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Page last updated: 19 October 2019.