Pregnancy massage is specifically tailored for the expectant mother’s needs. It can be performed during pregnancy, labor and postpartum. Pregnancy massage therapy addresses many common discomforts associated with the skeletal and circulatory changes brought on by hormone shifts during pregnancy. Along with the guidance and advice of a prenatal care provider, pregnancy massage therapy can be incorporated into routine prenatal care as an emotional and physical health supplement proven to improve pregnancy outcome, and maternal health.
Massage Therapy during the childbearing year
Women can receive massage therapy at any point during their pregnancy – the first, second, or third trimester. Benefits:
- Anxiety and stress reduction.
- Decrease symptoms of depression.
- Relief from muscle cramps, spasms.
- Reduced headaches.
- Relief of myofascial pain, especially in the lower back, neck, hips, and legs.
- Reduced sciatic nerve pain.
- Increase in blood and lymph circulation.
- Reduced swelling.
- Reduces stress on weight-bearing joints.
- Stretch marks
- Improved oxygenation of soft tissue and muscles.
- Better sleep.
According to the American Pregnancy Organization, studies show that pregnancy massage can reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and improve labor outcomes and the general health of the baby. Specifically, they say massage helps with the following:
- Hormone regulation: Studies done in the past 10 years show that pregnancy massage significantly alters hormone levels associated with relaxation and stress, leading to mood regulation and improved cardiovascular health. In women who received bi-weekly massage for five weeks, massage reduced “stress” hormones (such as norepinephrine and cortisol) and increased dopamine and serotonin levels (low levels of these hormones are associated with depression). These changes in hormone levels can lead to fewer complications during birth.
- Reduction of swelling: Edema, or swelling of the joints during pregnancy, is often caused by the heavy uterus reducing circulation and increasing pressure on the major blood vessels. Massage helps stimulate soft tissues to reduce collection of fluids in swollen joints, which also improves the removal of tissue waste carried by the body’s lymph system.
- Improvement of nerve pain: In late pregnancy, many women experience sciatic nerve pain as the uterus rests on the muscles of the pelvic floor and lower back, spreading tension to the muscles of the upper and lower leg, causing them to swell and put pressure on nearby nerves. Massage therapy addresses the inflamed nerves by releasing the tension on nearby muscles.
The massage therapist is present during labor to help alleviate the pain in your low back, neck and shoulders. The emotional support continues to have an emotional and physiological effect on your labor process regardless of medication. Immediately following an epidural is a great time to receive upper body massage to relieve the muscular strain of earlier contractions. And, unfortunate but true, some epidurals are “one-sided”; massage can aid in circulation to balance the medication in your body. Benefits:
- Length of labor reduced
- Improves outcome of labor and eases labor pain.
- Oxytocin (Pitocin) use reduced
- Use of narcotics reduced
- Forceps reduced
- Epidurals reduced
Postpartum massage is designed to help restore the body to its pre-pregnant condition. Abdominal massage helps shrink the uterus and relieve subcutaneous scar tissue. Improves breast feeding.
- Reduce musculoskeletal tension and pain.
- Increase time spent with baby
- Decrease postpartum depression
- Promotes recovery from cesarean birth, including healing of the incision.
- Contributes to rehabilitation of abdominal skin, muscles and organs.
- Facilitate postpartum emotional, physiological, and family adjustments
- Promote structural realignment of the spine and pelvis, and reorganization of movement
- Provides support for the new mother with physical and emotional strains of mothering.
- Decreases pain due to carrying and breastfeeding newborn.
When to speak with your health care provider
Pregnancy massage therapists are trained to avoid very specific and intentional pressure to certain acupressure points on the ankles and wrists that can gently stimulate pelvic muscle. Any woman who has experienced preterm contractions or consistent Braxton-Hicks contractions should alert her therapist to that fact so that pressure points can be avoided completely.
Pregnancy massage is safe for most pregnant women. However, as a precaution, you should tell your doctor about your intention to get a massage if you have one of the following conditions:
- High risk pregnancy
- Blood clots
- Pregnancy induced hypertension
- Gestational Diabetes
- Previous preterm labor
- History of miscarriage
- Experiencing severe swelling, high blood pressure, or sudden, severe headaches
- Recently gave birth
- Preterm contractions or consistent Braxton-Hicks contractions.
These conditions don’t automatically exclude you from being able to have a pregnancy massage—massage can help maintain muscle tone, circulation, and decrease bed bound discomfort. But if you have any high risk conditions, it’s important that your physician be aware of any complimentary health treatments you’re receiving.
What Can You Expect?
On your first visit, you’ll complete a questionnaire and talk with the therapist about your pregnancy and your needs.. But pregnancy massage is a little different. For example, the positioning during the massage is critical to the safety and well-being of both you and your baby. Your therapist will also have to adapt their strokes to accommodate this side lying position.
The best position for a pregnant woman during massage is lying on the side—this provides the most stability for the baby and is comfortable for you. You’ll always be covered with a sheet and blanket for your modesty. Pregnancy massage can be performed with as much or as little clothing on as you are comfortable with. The therapist will adapt their technique to accommodate your needs.