There is no doubt that pregnancy comes with some unique physical changes, and some of those changes can cause discomfort. Prenatal massage is a great way to relieve some of the most common physical symptoms associated with pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimester.
What Is It?
Prenatal massage is a type of body work that uses a number of techniques and modalities to relieve some of the complications associated with pregnancy. It can relax or energize the body, depending upon what the expectant mother is looking for. Prenatal massage has been shown to improve circulation, reduce muscle aches, and overall provide a sense of wellbeing. It has also been shown to help postpartum recovery and reduce the chances of developing postpartum depression, a serious condition that affects many women to some degree.
Prenatal massage is typically performed with the woman lying on her side to keep pressure off of her growing baby and provide maximum comfort. Pregnant women should avoid lying flat on their back to keep pressure off of the major blood vessels in the body. Women will often be positioned at an incline instead.
Why Do it?
Anyone who has ever had a massage, whether pregnant or not, knows how wonderful they can be. There are scores of studies that demonstrate all of the benefits of massage, and it can be particularly beneficial during pregnancy, because it aids both mother and child. Some of the more bothersome pregnancy symptoms and side effects such as back pain, muscle aches, and swelling of the extremities can be easily relieved by massage.
According to the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, mothers who received massage throughout their pregnancies and during their labor experienced less anxiety and a decrease in depressed mood. These mothers also had significantly shorter labors, shorter hospital stays and experienced less pain.
Another study showed that women who used acupressure massage during pregnancy, specifically points LI4 and BL67, experienced less pain and shorter labors than those who didn't. Acupressure massage is similar to reflexology, another modality that is effective for managing symptoms of pregnancy. Acupressure point LI4 is located in the webbing of the hand between the thumb and forefinger. Acupressure point BL67 is located on the outside of the little toe, next to the toenail. For maximum effectiveness, this point on both feet should be used.
Postpartum mothers can also find benefits from massage. The birth process is a serious physical ordeal, and the body needs to recover from all the changes that it's been through. There are specific techniques that can aid in the recovery of the body from childbirth. Mother and child massage is available in some areas as well that not only provide the healing benefits of massage to the mother, but massage also benefits the baby and gives mother and child quiet time to bond with each other.
Benefits Of Prenatal Massage
There are a number of physical and emotional benefits of prenatal massage during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. Massage can help:
- Relieve headaches
- Relieve morning sickness
- Reduce fatigue
- Relieve back pain
- Relieve leg cramps
- Reduce swelling
- Help the expectant mother sleep better
- Aid in labor pain management
- Aid in postpartum healing
- Reduce the instance of postpartum depression
There are a number of techniques used in prenatal massage, depending upon the benefit that the expectant mother is looking for. While it is commonly assumed that massages are primarily relaxing, some techniques used are anything but. Some of these techniques are safe during pregnancy and some are not. A licensed massage therapist who is qualified to perform prenatal massage will be able to advise a pregnant woman as to what technique will be safest while still providing the desired result. More than one technique can be used during the massage.
- Acupressure/Shiatsu: These techniques are based on the ancient healing practices used in Asia for thousands of years. It is based on the belief that there are meridians of energy, or Chi, flowing through the body, just like blood flows through the blood vessels. When pressure is applied at certain point, energy blockages can be cleared. This is similar to reflexology massage. There are certain acupressure points, specifically LI4 and BL67, that are thought to stimulate labor and should be avoided unless the massage is being done while the mother is in labor.
- Deep Tissue: Heavy pressure is used to work deeper into the musculo-skeletal system. This technique is contraindicated in the case of some health conditions, so it's important to be sure that the massage therapist has a complete medical history before receiving deep tissue work. This work can also be painful to some and it is used as more of a therapeutic healing technique instead of a relaxation technique because it can be so intense.
- Manual Lymph Drainage: This technique uses very gentle strokes to help remove toxins and excess fluids from the body. This is often very helpful during late pregnancy when it's harder for the body to circulate fluids from the extremities to do pressure on the major blood vessels in the legs.
- Swedish/Esalen: This is the most common form of massage used in the United States. This form uses lotion or oil and long strokes to aid in the circulation or blood and other fluids and help to flush toxins from the body.
- Trigger Point Release: This technique uses continuous pressure at specific points on the body to release particular areas of muscular tension. This is another massage technique that is more therapeutic than relaxing and can be painful.
Overall, massage has been proved to be very safe throughout the entire pregnancy, though many massage therapists won't work on a pregnant woman if she is in the first trimester. There are a number of reasons for this, but most of them are founded more in fear than in actual danger. However, there are certain situations in which women should not get massage.
- If a woman is experiencing any problems with bleeding, cramping or showing any signs of premature labor she should not get a massage.
- A woman should talk with her doctor about getting a massage if she is on bed rest. Massage can be helpful to an expectant mother on bed rest, particularly in preventing muscular atrophy and life threatening blood clots, but massage can be contraindicated depending upon other health conditions.
- Prenatal massage should only be performed by a licensed massage therapist who has had extra training in dealing with pregnant women.
- It is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. If she experiences any complications at all she should tell her massage therapist and doctor immediately.
Prenatal massage can be great during pregnancy and labor, and is considered to be relatively safe. There are even classes available that teach partners how to use massage techniques during labor to help ease pain, allowing the mother to enjoy the birth process and welcome her new bundle of joy into the world.