What’s with the comb?

What’s with the comb?

If you found one of these in your birth fair goodie bag you may be wondering just what combs have to do with birth and babies…


We find that two plastic combs, like the one in the photo, are a handy addition to any birth bag. The laboring person can hold the combs as shown above, and squeeze during a contraction — if it feels a little uncomfortable, you’re doing it right! The combs work on a few levels to provide relief and comfort:

BONAPACE METHOD — Creating discomfort elsewhere on the body releases endorphins that may decrease the perception of labor pain.

GATE CONTROL OF PAIN THEORY — This theory says that the brain can only pay attention so many sensations at once. Pressure on the nerve pathways of the hand reach the brain faster, and crowd out the abdominal pain signals. Sterile Water injections and TENS units work on the same principle.

REFLEXOLOGY  —  In her book Special Delivery author Rahima Baldwin suggests that the points across the palm, at the base of the fingers, correlate to the uterus and that stimulating these points may help labor progress. While those in labor tend to stimulate these points without consciously thinking about it by holding hands with their partners or doulas, gripping bed rails or the edge of the tub, tugging on a rebozo, or clutching the bed clothes, using combs may be an efficient way to do so intentionally.

PSYCHOLOGY — Because the laboring person is in control of the the combs, they may feel less out of control of the sensations of labor. Being able to control the strength of the TENS unit may also have a similar benefit.

BREASTFEEDING — Our friend Megan of Blue Ridge Breastfeeding reminded us how useful a comb is after birth, too! Dragging a comb down the breast can be an effective way to break up, or even prevent clogged ducts. These combs might be a little sharp for this practice, and we suggest one with wider and more blunt teeth.

While we find that combs can be JUST the right tool for some families, and work less well for others, they are a great low-tech, low-intervention, budget-friendly tool to try.

We carry combs in our doula bags as one of many tools to help our clients through labor. If you’d like to learn more about how doula support makes birth a positive and empowering experience, CLICK HERE!

(updated 4/15/18 to include inclusive language, correct an error and provide more links)


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