Not only do women’s bodies know how to give birth, we also have a secret response to touch that helps us during labor.

As we learn more about our bodies, we’ve learned that it’s not just our uteruses or our pelvises that are a part of the process. Here’s a shout out to our marvelous neurophysiologic pathways….which not only help us to give birth to new little human beings, but to deal with the intensity of labor as well.

The nationwide epidural rate for labor is hovering around 65 percent. Our rate here at BMH is considerably lower than that…but that doesn’t mean patients who give birth here are writhing in pain. They are using lots of different methods to stay comfortable. (And if they’re not comfortable, an epidural can be a good option for pain relief, along with other natural methods like a tub or shower, or medications given via IV.)

Join me for a little tour, and know that beyond “the breathing” or “the epidural” there are ways to tap into the body’s own neurophysiologic pathways to reduce pain.

Mechanoreceptors respond to touch

Merkel’s Disks are found on the palms, soles of the feet, and lips. They respond to steady, maintained pressure, and don’t habituate readily,  meaning these techniques work for a long time. Some things you can do during labor that use these pain relief properties of the Merkel’s discs include:

  • holding hands
  • standing (on the soles of the feet)
  • squeezing a stress ball
  • kissing, although some people bite their lips!

Pregnant woman in labor delivery room

Meissner’s Corpuscles are found on fingertips and hairless skin; they respond to textures and light touch.

  • Effleurage (light fingertip massage often done on the belly)
  • Move fingertips lightly on sheets
  • People who put themselves to sleep by moving their feet on the sheets will intuitively do that. It’s one time when it won’t drive their partners nuts!

Pacinian Corpuscles are found in the deep layers of the skin. They respond to deep pressure and vibration. These techniques are often used for back labor.

  • Deep massage
  • Acupressure

Joint Receptors are found in joint capsules, ligaments and synovial membranes throughout the body. They are also slow to habituate. They respond to movement – and hugging! If you find yourself swaying you are engaging your joint receptors – you’ll also find yourself doing this postpartum when you are pushing a shopping cart back and forth, that doesn’t even have a baby in it!

  • Rock in a rocking chair
  • Slow dancing and belly dancing
  • Pelvic rocking on all fours


Olfactory: Small fibers in the upper nostrils go to the hypothalamus and limbic system.

  • Provide familiar, calming scents: your own pillow, your partner, your favorite candle, or chocolate!
  • Aromatherapy: Jasmine or lavender to relax, rosemary for energy and to clear the mind. When it’s time to push, switch to grapefruit!


Hot and cold receptors are found throughout the skin. Some favorite places to target during labor? The lower back, the shoulders, and under the belly!

  • Ice chips
  • Cold packs
  • Warm showers or baths
  • Hot packs

You can get more information from your physician or midwife attending BMH Birthing Center Events or calling BMH’s Birthing Center at 802-257-8226.