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The Labour Comb: Pain Relief During Contractions!

The technique of using a labour comb as a form of pain relief during childbirth is an approach that incorporates principles from the gate control theory and acupressure. During labour, where sensations can be intense and at times overwhelming, finding natural methods to manage pain and promote a sense of calm and control is invaluable. Giving birth is a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, and for many people, the thought of contractions can be daunting and overwhelming. Whether you are choosing to have medical pain relief or not, there will be a period of time where it is just you and your body doing its thing. Epidurals, gas and air, pethidine etc cannot be given until you arrive at hospital (or your home birth team get to your house), and this won’t be until later in labour. So you have a significant period of time without it. 

Pregnant woman holding a comb

Using a labour comb to help manage pain, is based on the ‘gate control theory,’ a fundamental concept in pain management. It suggests that the brain has a limited capacity to process multiple sensations at a time. By using a labour comb during contractions, or other discomforts experienced during childbirth (such as a cannula, epidural or spine block needle etc), you can effectively redirect sensory input, and interrupt the transmission of pain signals to the brain.  This theory basically says that stimulating non-painful sensory nerves can help to block the transmission of pain signals to the brain. So basically, as and when you feel a contraction, if you intentionally activate alternative sensory nerves, your brain will focus on those, and feel the contraction pains less.  By feeling the sensation of the comb against the skin, the brain is distracted from processing the pain signals from the contractions. This can also help to reduce the perception of pain and also promote a sense of control and comfort during labour, as you are in charge of when you squeeze the labour comb, and how long for. 

The labour comb also activates an acupressure point. When you apply pressure to the labour comb by squeezing it, you are specifically targeting the Lao gong acupressure point located in the hand. The Lao gong point, also known as the Pericardium 8 point in traditional Chinese medicine, is associated with various benefits that can be particularly beneficial during childbirth. By stimulating this acupressure point, you may experience a reduction in anxiety levels, an increase in the production of endorphins (the body's natural pain-relieving hormones), a heightened sense of control over your body, and a reduction in the intensity of other sensations you may be experiencing simultaneously.

To locate the Lao gong acupressure point, make a fist with your hand and find where your middle and ring fingers meet the palm. Then imagine a horizontal line running across your palm from those points. That is where the labour comb should be placed to target the acupressure point effectively. Continue to focus on the sensation of the comb against your skin rather than the intensity of the contraction. Take slow, deep breaths to help you stay calm and relaxed.

As the contraction begins to subside, slowly release the comb from your skin and take a moment to rest and regroup before the next contraction.

As you apply pressure to this point with the comb, you may notice a comforting sensation of warmth spreading through your hand after a few seconds. 

Pregnant woman holding a comb

To optimize the benefits of this technique, squeeze the comb intermittently, alternating between hands to prevent any discomfort or fatigue. Starting with a gentle grip, gradually increase the pressure as contractions become more intense, reaching a peak grip strength at the height of each contraction.

Incorporating the use of a labour comb and acupressure techniques into your labour experience can provide a natural and empowering way to manage pain and enhance your overall sense of well-being during labour. By understanding the principles behind these methods and practicing them with intention and mindfulness, you can cultivate a greater sense of control, comfort, and resilience as you give birth.


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