Can Holding a Comb During Labor Help You Manage the Pain?
Originally Published July 24, 2019 on Manage the Pain | By Haley Jena
We asked experts to weigh in on the technique that’s going viral.
A photo that’s going viral on Facebook recommends a potential pain-management technique for pregnant women in labor — and it uses a tool you probably already have in your house. Fox Valley Birth and Baby, a birth photography and videography company based in Wisconsin, recently shared a photo of a woman in labor clutching her partner and… a hair comb?
“When gripped in your hands, a comb can help hit acupuncture points in your hands,” the company, which also offers doula services, wrote in the photo’s caption. “Because the nerve endings are closer on your hands they reach your brain faster. Helping your body forget about the contractions.”
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There are already more than 23,000 comments on the Facebook post, with some commenters supporting and others rebuking the idea that holding a comb can be an effective method of pain relief during labor.
“I do this when I get a tattoo!” one commenter wrote.
“You know what else is a gate control pain theory, [an] epidural,” another said.
Others shared similar alternative strategies that helped them during labor, such as a mom who wrote that her doula dug her nails under the crease of her toes. “It felt like bliss and distracted me from my hard back labor,” she said.
How would a comb hit pressure points in your hands?
Some moms hope to have a natural birth, which means that they aim to avoid drugs or medical interventions. For these moms, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) techniques are frequently used to try to manage labor pain. (And even if you’re not planning on a natural birth, you still may want to explore these techniques to get your mind off of pain during the early stages of labor.)
Acupressure — which involves using your thumb, fingers or small beads to apply pressure and stimulate certain points on the body — is one drug-free technique some moms try. The idea is that hitting these pressure points triggers the release of brain chemicals like endorphins, which help block pain signals.
Gripping a comb could, in theory, activate these pressure points, says Daryl Nicole Thuroff, a licensed acupuncturist at the Yinova Center in New York. A few good ones to target during labor can be found in the center of your palm: When you make a fist, one is located “where the tip of your pinky finger lies,” she says, while another is where the tip of your middle finger meets your palm.
Could holding a comb during labor really help with pain?
Emily Neiman, a certified nurse midwife at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says she has heard of this technique and even recommended it to women in labor in the past. “I think that it can work to distract you and give you something else to focus on,” she says.
Sherry Ross, M.D., an OB-GYN based in Santa Monica, California and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period, has also found that focusing on a specific object can be a helpful distraction during labor. “Whatever comfort you find in a special object that allows you to relax and take the focus off the pain of uterine contractions is critical,” she says.
Another strategy? Think about a place that makes you feel calm, says Dr. Ross. “Visualizing a relaxing place, such as a beautiful sunset or your favorite vacation spot, can be a successful tool in distracting you from the pain of labor.”
Of course, drug-free strategies won’t provide the level of pain relief that medications do, and more research is needed on how helpful techniques like acupuncture and acupressure can be with labor pain, says Christine Greves, M.D., an OB-GYN at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando, Florida.
As you near your due date, review your birth plan with your doctor and discuss all your pain-relief options. Many moms say CAM strategies were helpful — whether or not they ended up also using medications like an epidural — but make sure to consult a licensed and certified CAM practitioner who has experience with pregnancy and childbirth.
And remember: There’s no “right” way to have a baby — you should choose the method you and your doctor decide is right for you, and that includes your pain-management strategies. But if the idea intrigues you, stashing a comb in your hospital bag certainly doesn’t hurt.
“If you want to try the comb, try it,” says Dr. Greves. “But don’t give yourself a hard time if it doesn’t provide you relief. Go into the delivery process with an open spirit. Not everything is meant for everyone!”