Each of us responds differently to being touched. Touch tends to be more soothing when it's done with the whole hand and not just the fingers. Be sure to tell your birth partner what feels good and what doesn't. You might trade places during a practice session so you can show him or her what you like.
Touching doesn't always mean massage. You might touch by simply holding hands. Some women like effleurage (light "fingertip" massage); some like deep touch as in counterpressure. Others like leg, foot or hand massages. You might prefer to have your partner use a smooth sweeping motion with his or her hands above your skin. This can be useful if your skin is very irritable and you can't tolerate touching. Be sure to tell your partner what feels best, and know that it will vary as labor progresses.
If the contractions become very intense and the period between them is short, a quick relaxation strategy might be needed. Try a couple of slow, comfortable cleansing breaths or a quick allover tensing of your body; then, as you breathe out, let your body go limp. A hug can also do wonders!
You can use your mind to help relax your body. With imagery, you form a mental picture that helps create feelings of relaxation. For example, picture a favorite setting where you feel calm, relaxed and secure. You might imagine the warmth of the sun on your face and the cooling of a gentle breeze on your body. Once you have an image, add details such as colors, scents, tastes and temperature. Share your images with your partner, who can help you relax in labor by describing them to you.
During labor, you can also use imagery to picture your cervix opening and your baby moving down through the pelvis and birth canal. Some women have used the image of a rosebud opening in slow motion as their image of the cervix dilating. It's best to wait until you're actually in labor before picturing images of the cervix dilating.
Many women relax by focusing on an object, picture, sound or activity. Some use total silence; others use music. There are commercial tapes available of musical chants in which a piece of music is repeated so that as you listen, you become immersed in the music and less aware of what's happening (and in the case of labor, less aware of contractions). You can also make up your own mantra, using words that make sense to you, or you can use a prayer or a poem. If you enjoy rap, create your own that's appropriate to birth. Some people aren't comfortable singing or chanting in public and prefer to just listen or think of their mantra. If you meditate often, you may find that tuning in to your body or your breathing rhythm will work very well for you.