Therapeutic massage has been used for centuries to improve overall health, reduce stress and relieve muscle tension. While a woman is pregnant her body undergoes numerous changes physically, as well as physiologically and spiritually. The physical changes can cause stress and/or discomfort to the mother. Massage is a wonderful way to help alleviate many of these discomforts, as well as to promote a sense of well-being.
Massage and pregnancy has often received ambivalent responses from the health community regarding the safety and purpose of massage during pregnancy. Modern investigation and research is proving that prenatal massage therapy can be a very instrumental ingredient in women’s prenatal care and should be given careful consideration.
Pregnancy massage is a catch-all term for any hands-on massage during or after pregnancy (prenatal or postnatal massage). This includes anything from a full body Swedish massage to light massage work that might include other modalities such as circulatory work, reflexology or cranial sacral therapy. Most massage therapists are trained, not only to do massage, but various other modalities as well.
A pregnancy massage typically lasts an hour. Some practitioners use a pregnancy massage table. That’s a table designed to accommodate a woman’s pregnant belly. Others use specially designed pillows called bolsters to position a woman comfortably on her side. This helps especially during the later stages of pregnancy. Lying on your side is often the most comfortable position at this stage.
Here are some of the benefits that a mother may experience during and after a pregnancy massage:
- Reduction of swelling in hands, feet and ankles
- Less sciatic pain
- Ease in muscular discomforts in areas like the low back & neck, calf cramps. It also helps with tension and tightening that can be experienced throughout the body
- Tone of loose muscles, relaxing of tense muscles and can help increase flexibility.
- Help with relaxation which in turn can decrease insomnia
- Increase of blood and lymph flow, which can help increase the elimination of toxins through the circulatory and lymphatic systems. This can also help with fatigue.
- Increase of oxygen in the blood, sometimes on up to 10-15% after a massage.
- Strengthening of the immune system
- Stimulating the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, into the brain and nervous system.
- Help in relieve anxiety or depression
- Help increase blood circulation, which in turn delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the mother and baby.
Risks of Prenatal Massage are relatively few and some of these risks that are talked about can be misconceptions. The real risks are:
- Dizziness and nausea
- Untrained therapists causing injury
- Too deep massage of back or abdomen causing spotting or cramping
- Inducing labor
- Creating, instead of relieving, muscle soreness
For the most part all of these side effects can be avoided, as long as the therapist knows what he or she is doing. Nausea and dizziness can occur after any massage and are not uncommon during pregnancy. Avoid eating immediately before a massage and get up carefully to avoid dizziness. Muscle soreness is generally the result of not getting enough fluids after a massage. Drink a lot of water in the first two hours after a massage to prevent this.
The biggest misconception is that massage in the first trimester can cause a miscarriage. Miscarriages in the first trimester are unfortunately quite common. There is no evidence that any miscarriage has ever been caused by massage or reflexology.
Pre-term births and low birth weight are among the most recognized effects of maternal stress during pregnancy. It is therefore important to eliminate as much stress as possible to have a healthy and happy pregnancy. Massage is an excellent technique to relax and de-stress.