Massage, unlike making love, has the advantage that it can be done virtually anywhere. It relaxes and soothes the tension that family life can bring, it encourages the physical closeness which both partners need and it is a wonderful way of saying ‘I love you’.
Making time to give each other a 5- or 10-minute massage each day will be good for you both. It could be some head, neck and shoulder massage for your partner after a day’s work, back stroking to encourage a good night’s sleep, back and shoulder massage to ease backache, or leg massage after long periods of standing. Even if you start in a rather unwilling state of mind, you will soon find that the hypnotic effect of the rhythmical strokes takes over. The first massage described below is the kind of all-body massage you can both enjoy. Try it out or, even better, make up your own.
Starting with the back, use the flat of both hands to stroke from the small of the back up on either side of the spine to the shoulders and then across them and down the sides to the bottom of the spine again. Repeat several times. If nervousness makes your partner ticklish, then stroke more firmly. Once he or she is truly relaxed, you can do more delicate stroking if you wish.
Next, massage downwards on both sides of the thigh nearest you until you reach the knee. Repeat several times, and then do the same from the knee down to the ankle. Stroke the sole of the foot several times. Gently push the foot so that the toes point up to stretch the back of the leg and ankle and repeat the foot stroking.
Let that foot rest in your hands for a few moments before you start on the other leg. Keeping your hands still for a short while on one part of the body before moving onto the next is warming and it signals gentleness and care. Abrupt movements in massage can be very jarring. So, when you finish the sequence, rest your hands on your partner’s body and then remove them slowly and gently so as not to disrupt the sensation of peace and contentment.
Insert a thumb into your vagina and gently stroke the base of it backwards and forwards in a U-shaped curve. Once you are accustomed to this technique, you can massage more vigorously and eventually use both thumbs. You should be able to feel your perineum beginning to stretch. Maintain that level of pressure for 30-60 seconds so that you can accustom yourself to the sensation and then relax the muscles. The more you can ‘let go’ of the perineal muscles, the easier it will be for them to ‘give’ during the birth. Some midwives believe perineal massage for six weeks before the birth and during labour reduces the need for an episiotomy – a surgical cut in the perineum – and subsequent stitches.
This helpful preparation for breastfeeding is one you can practise in the bath. Using the flat of the hands, place the heel of each hand either side of one breast and gently stroke towards the nipple. Next place one hand on top and the other underneath the breast and again stroke towards the nipple. Repeat for the other breast, making sure the whole of each breast is stroked. Then gently stretch the pigmented area around each nipple with your index fingers, sideways and from top to bottom. If the nipples are flat, this exercise will help them to stand out.
You may find you produce a few drops of colostrum: massaging the breasts in this way is the basis of the technique for expressing milk and can be useful if you suffer any tender swelling – engorgement – of the breasts as is possible in the early days of breastfeeding. Massaging the nipples by gently rolling them between thumb and index finger has also been shown to help stimulate contractions during labour.