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Want Childbirth to Be Less Painful? Hold Your Partner's Hand, Says Study
  • Pregnancy and childbirth put the spotlight on soon-to-be moms. After all, they carry the baby for nine months, it's their body that's changing, and they go through labor pains. But let's not forget the future father plays an essential part throughout this journey.

    We've enumerated before (in case it needed emphasis) that a father's physical presence during childbirth is crucial. It offers lifelong benefits to the mental and physical well-being of his child and his wife. (Read more about those benefits here.)

    Dads being present during childbirth has already been linked to fewer medical interventions and complications. A new study showed it was possible that a soon-to-be dad's presence during the birth experience could help the soon-to-be mom endure labor pains by merely holding her hand. 

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    Researchers from the University of Colorado in the United States and the University of Haifa in Israel explored a phenomenon called "interpersonal synchronization." It suggests that people physiologically mirror the people they are with. The sense of touch seems to help synchronize the two individual's brainwaves, as well as their breathing and heart rates. If applied to a couple, this synchronization helps them feel more at ease. 

    The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is small — it looked only at 22 couples between ages 23 and 32 who had been together for at least a year. And none of the couples have gone through childbirth.

    The study, however, was designed to find out if a loved one's touch could help ease the pain. Lead study author Pavel Goldstein, a postdoctoral pain researcher in the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at CU Boulder, wanted to test his theory after he observed that while his wife was in labor, holding her hand seemed to ease the pain she was experiencing. 

    The couples were asked to perform two-minute scenarios: sit in separate rooms, sit apart but in the same room, and sit close and touching each other. The couples were then asked to repeat the scenarios as the woman was exposed to mild heat-related pain.

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    When the woman felt pain, physical touch increased the man's empathy, which made their connection stronger. "Pain totally interrupts this interpersonal synchronization between couples and touch brings it back," Goldstein said in a statement.

    He emphasized the power of the human touch: The stronger their bond and the more in sync the couples got, the less pain the woman felt. 

    "Empathetic touch can make a person feel understood, which in turn, according to previous studies, could activate pain-killing reward mechanisms in the brain," Goldstein suggested as an explanation for the link between a comforting partner's empathy and reducing her partner's pain. He added that expressing empathy with touch sends a strong message that you feel and share her pain.

    Again, the research is small. It needs further studies to figure out precisely how a partner’s touch eases the pain. But it is a promising thought that soon-to-be dads need to keep in mind. If you feel clueless about your role in the pregnancy and childbirth journey, remember that you are there to hold your partner's hand.  

    As for moms-to-be, note that it's a good thing that your partner wants to share the journey of parenthood with you, so let them. Sure, what to do during childbirth doesn't come naturally to all men (Read our compilation of sablay stories here and here), but they are willing and can learn how to support you with your guidance. 

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