Women in painful labour told: Try holding a comb

Women giving birth at East Surrey Hospital are being offered a new form of pain relief – squeezing a hair comb.
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Surrey & Sussex NHS Healthcare Trust – whose maternity unit at the hospital cares for women in Horsham and Crawley – has posted details of the ‘birth comb’ on its Instagram maternity page.

It tells pregnant women: “Holding a comb in the palm of your hand during labour can help you cope with contractions or surges."

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But it has drawn sarcastic comments from some women. One said: “Why don’t we just give birthing people adequate pain relief … there’s an idea.”

Women in labour at East Surrey Hospital are  being offered a 'birth comb' to hold as a form of pain reliefWomen in labour at East Surrey Hospital are  being offered a 'birth comb' to hold as a form of pain relief
Women in labour at East Surrey Hospital are being offered a 'birth comb' to hold as a form of pain relief

Another said: “While birth units across the country are cutting access to gas and air and epidurals are increasingly hard to come by, the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Turst offer the innovative new pain relief of … holding a comb.”

But the trust, on its ‘Birth Comb’ Instagram page, says: “There are acupuncture points which lie in the crease of your palm. When the comb is tightly gripped in the palm of your hand, this pressure distracts your brain and supports the body to release endorphins (feel good hormones).”

It says that the idea is based on the ‘Pain Gate Theory’ which suggests a person’s brain can only focus on a certain number of sensations at one time.

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It goes on: “The nerve endings in your hands are close to the skin’s surface therefore the pressure signals they send to the brain can override the pain signals being sent to your brain from contractions.”

Details of the 'birth comb' are included on Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Trust's Instagram pageDetails of the 'birth comb' are included on Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Trust's Instagram page
Details of the 'birth comb' are included on Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Trust's Instagram page

Information on the ‘Birth Comb’ was drawn up by the health trust in partnership with its local community women’s feedback group.

The trust maintains that it is part of its support for individualised and personalised approaches to labour for families, ensuring all women’s preferences are supported.

It says this includes the full scope of pain relief options available 24/7 and always in response to women’s requests.

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It maintains there are lots of different pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches to pain relief in labour and that the ‘Birth Comb’ is a pain distraction technique rather than a method of pain relief.

It says the Instagram post was shared as information to facilitate choice and personalisation in early labour and how women can make choices and seek control without intervention.

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