It goes without saying that women experience overwhelming physical, psychological, and emotional changes during pregnancy, and these changes can cause severe distress, pain, and overall discomfort. Pregnancy massage therapy can be a great way to help alleviate some of these difficulties, promoting a greater sense of well-being, giving the expectant mother a feeling of rejuvenation, and focusing on the specific needs of the mother-to-be.
Pregnancy massage can serve many purposes, including easing the discomforts associated with pregnancy, helping the pregnant woman prepare for labor, and giving her nurturing emotional support. In fact, pregnancy massage, often times called referred to as “prenatal massage,” has emerged as a routine practice for the modern, well-informed pregnant woman, as research continues to prove that it can be an instrumental addition to traditional prenatal care. And as concern increases regarding pain medicine that could affect unborn children, massage therapy offers a safe, drug-free alternative to combat the pain experienced throughout pregnancy.
Pregnancy massage offers relief from many of the discomforts including muscle cramps, stiffness, knots, and spasms. Massage can also eliminate much of the considerable pain caused by muscle imbalances in the back, joints, neck, hips, and legs, as well as the resultant muscle tension and headaches. Later on in pregnancy, pressure placed on the uterus due to the baby’s resting spot on the muscles of the pelvis and lower back spreads tension to the muscles of the upper and lower legs, causing them to swell and consequently put pressure on nearby nerves. Pregnancy massage therapy can substantially calm these inflamed nerves, commonly known as “sciatic nerve pain,” by helping to release the muscle tension.
Massage therapy techniques alleviate the trigger points and restricted connective tissue causing much of the pain, oftentimes even preventing pain before its initial onset. Additionally, massage stimulates the release of endorphins to the brain and nervous system; these endorphins act as natural pain killers within the body, soothing and relaxing the expectant mother’s nervous system. This increased relaxation can decrease an expectant mother’s insomnia. This therapy also encourages the maintenance of good posture, encouraging proper adjustment to the changing alignment of a pregnant woman’s body.
Swelling is also often experienced by mothers-to-be, and it most commonly affects the hands, feet, legs, and ankles. This troublesome condition is caused by the increased weight of the uterus, which in turn reduces circulation and increases pressure to the major blood vessels. However, regular massage therapy stimulates the soft tissues, reducing the collection of fluids in swollen joints and increasing blood and lymph circulation, which aids in the reduction of swelling. After all, steady blood flow must reach both the uterus and placenta to ensure a safe pregnancy, and a more efficient lymph system promotes better immune function. The increased blood and lymph flow can hasten the elimination of toxins through the circulatory and lymphatic systems, eliminating the excessive fatigue often experienced during pregnancy. And as if that wasn’t enough, the improved blood circulation brought about by pregnancy massage also aids in the delivery of vital nutrients to the fetus.
A major contributing factor to massage’s success in pregnant women has to do with the glandular secretions that help stabilize hormone levels. Studies have shown that the hormone levels associated with relaxation and stress are significantly altered when massage therapy is introduced to prenatal care, leading to mood regulation and improved cardiovascular health. Specifically, there was a reduction in hormone levels of norepinephrine and cortisol, also referred to as “stress hormones.” Stress can be very dangerous to the mother and fetus, because when cortisol levels are continuously elevated, it can cause serious damage to the body, including elevated blood pressure and impaired brain function. Meanwhile, the hormones whose high levels are often associated with combating depression, specifically dopamine and serotonin, were increased with the introduction of massage therapy. And ultimately, fewer dangerous hormonal changes lead to significantly lower rates of premature birth and other complications, and fewer instances of newborn complications, including low birth weight.
Moreover, as with other types of massage used on the general, non-pregnant public, pregnancy massage therapy is proven to reduce anxiety and decrease symptoms of depression. Massage also enhances the pliability of skin and underlying tissues, which are often stretched to their limits during pregnancy. Pregnancy massage can also contribute to the lessening of heartburn, acid reflux, varicose veins, shortness of breath, and constipation, all of which become prevalent during pregnancy.
Pregnancy massage can also prove quite useful when it comes time to enter the labor and delivery stages of pregnancy. Massage therapy can actually prepare the mother-to-be for an easier delivery due to its sedating effect on the nervous system and promotion of relaxation. It also prepares the muscles that will be used in childbirth. In fact, it is a good idea to prepare for this life-changing experience by having your partner accompany you to your pregnancy massage appointments, in order that they too can learn valuable, safe, and comforting massage techniques. After all, a woman in labor needs more than a back rub in the delivery room!
However, being a licensed massage therapist alone does not necessarily mean that he or she can be trusted to perform a safe massage on a mother-to-be and her unborn child. Although most massage therapy training institutions offer some type of pregnancy massage therapy classes, it is best to be diligent and find a highly qualified massage therapist who is also certified in prenatal massage. As an added benefit, a certified prenatal massage therapist can also provide the expectant mother with helpful instruction regarding several self-care techniques, including specific stretches, self-massage techniques, and gentle exercises. Consider obtaining a recommendation from your doctor, and do not be afraid to demand extensive information regarding a potential pregnancy massage therapist’s expertise and training. Pregnancy massage should be gentle and non-invasive in nature, and it is never a good idea to utilize deep tissue massage during pregnancy.
Certified prenatal massage therapists should be specifically trained to avoid pressure to certain trigger areas, as well as certain massage positions that could prove dangerous. After all, therapists should be aware that positioning during massage treatment is critical to the safety and well-being of both mother and baby. The licensed massage therapist should have studied the proper techniques to be applied to pregnant women, should be familiar with the anatomy of pregnant women, and should have in-depth knowledge regarding the processes of pregnancy, labor, birth, and the postpartum period.
About the Author
Bethany Brewer is a freelance writer who covers topics related to education and health. Some of her recent work has been focused on massage therapy and its benefits.