During pregnancy, a woman's body undergoes extraordinary changes. Some of the by-products of these changes can result in a number of uncomfortable conditions. Massage during pregnancy not only makes a woman feel pampered and more emotionally grounded, but offers undeniable physical benefits as well. Massage can relieve fatigue, enhance sleep, and calm an active baby. The overall goals for prenatal massage are to help minimize stress, promote relaxation, and prepare the muscles for childbirth. Specific benefits can include:
- Relieve Headaches
- Reduce Fatigue
- Help alleviate morning sickness
- Alleviate backaches
- Relieve leg cramps
- Reduce swelling/edema
- Enhance sleep
- Relieve pain from varicosities
- Prepare pelvic muscles for birth process
Massage during pregnancy is a great way to relieve everyday tension and the general aches and pains your body is suffering. It stimulates your lymphatic system, increasing immunity and the removal of excess toxins, while also stabilizing hormone levels and balancing the glandular system. Women with normal, low-risk pregnancies can benefit greatly from massage by a trained pregnancy massage therapist. However, women in high-risk pregnancies should consult with their doctor or midwife before beginning a massage therapy program. Always tell your therapist immediately if during your massage you experience discomfort.
Do not overlook the value of massage for recovery from the birthing event. Even when a birth has gone as smoothly as possible, a woman's body still must undergo quite a bit of structural realignment and Postpartum massage helps restore your muscle tone in the abdomen and reposition the pelvis.
Other benefits include:
- Relieves tension from birthing process and hastens recovery
- Encourages pelvic and abdominal organs to return to per-pregnancy positions
- Increases energy levels and reduces fatigue
- Aids in returning uterus to normal size
- Provides emotional support
- Relieves shoulder, neck and arm tension from breastfeeding
Postpartum care, though often over looked in our culture, is an important part of the complete birthing process. Often mothers must take it upon themselves to ensure that they are receiving the emotional an physical support that they will need following their pregnancy. Taking the time for postnatal massage as part of your recovery plan will allow you to be at your best while caring for yourself and your baby.
The tactile stimulation, or touch, that an infant receives during their first year of life can impact their brain development and increase their ability to bond with their parents and/or primary caretakers. For very young infants, touch is the major source of information about the world around them. Even the most frail of newborns should receive some touch.
Benefits of infant massage include:
- Enhances the development of the nervous system
- Aids in the bonding process between parent and child
- Improves sleep & calms baby
- Alleviates intestinal/digestive discomforts
- Stimulates the Immune System
- Increases Circulation
Infant massage lessons, led by a qualified practitioner, last 60-90 minutes and are usually held in the home with any family members in attendance who will be regularly caring for the child. Massage is an important tool to help enhance the communication between the infant and the caregiver, to allow for better awareness of the baby's physical condition, and to encourage a calmer, happier baby.
How does prenatal massage work since I can't lay on my stomach?
During prenatal massage therapists use side lying and/or semi-reclining positioning for their clients, which involves laying on either side (left side only if you happen to have a high risk pregnancy) with pillows and bolsters supporting your neck, head, hips and legs. The best way to picture it is to imagine lying the same way as you would with a body pillow. The therapist will then work along each side of the body, having the expecting mother roll to the opposite side after the first part of the massage. Often head, abdominal and foot work can be done in a semi-reclining position.
While it is true that there are massage tables that are designed with “pregnancy cut-outs” which allow for an expecting mother to lie face down, most therapist choose not to use them for a few reasons. First, not all women are shaped the same and if you don't happen to fit the per-determined “average” size that the table designer envisioned then you will be very uncomfortable. Second, when you lay face down while pregnant for more than 5 or 10 minutes you can risk exerting strain on the lumbar, pelvic, and uterine structures, and create increased intrauterine pressure. A few other considerations are that prone positioning exerts pressure on sensitive, enlarged breasts, and some women are simply uneasy with "lying on their baby."
For most situations, side lying or semi-reclining positioning are the optimum choices for comfort and safety during the latter half of pregnancy.
Is there any point during my pregnancy when I shouldn't have massage?
Assuming that there are no contraindications, massage is safe from conception all the way through labor. Different techniques and levels of pressure may be applied at different stages, but the benefits of massage can be enjoyed during the entire pregnancy.
Are there any reasons massage isn't safe during pregnancy?
There are a number of conditions which can make massage contraindicated, such as Edema, Hypertension, preterm labor, Thrombophlebitis (blood clot), cancer, type 1 Diabetes and infectious disease. If you are experiencing any of these conditions, or anything else that makes yours a high risk pregnancy, you must consult your doctor in order to find out if your therapist needs to make adjustments to your massage or if you should avoid massage all together. If your doctor has questions for the therapist they should be encouraged to contact them directly, and an expecting mother should always let her therapist know about any medical changes that occur during her pregnancy so that any necessary precautions can be taken.
Can having a massage during the first trimester cause a miscarriage?
The short answer is no.
There are many myths about miscarriage and massage during the first trimester. They range from claiming that massage causes toxin overload, to any massage work on the abdomen or feet will cause a miscarriage. Fortunately, there is no truth to these old wives tales. Massage has never been implicated legally or scientifically as a cause of miscarriage. Women who are unaware that they are pregnant get massages all the time without incident.
The reality is miscarriages are very common during the first trimester and can occur whether or not a woman has ever had a massage. In fact it is reported that the number may be as high as 1 out of every 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage, with an estimated 80% of all those miscarriages being single miscarriages (meaning the mother can expect to have a normal pregnancy next time). The vast majority of miscarriages occur because the embryo was chromosomally abnormal and not viable (or able to sustain life). Rarely are miscarriages caused by anything expectant women do or don't do.
Properly trained prenatal massage practitioners can safely and effectively address first-trimester concerns, such as tiredness, nausea and general aches and pains. However, if you have a history of miscarriages or if you still have concerns about whether of not massage during you first trimester is the right choice during your pregnancy then you should consult with your doctor and decide what is best for you. Your comfort and confidence is the most important part of any wellness plan.