Staying relaxed is key when pregnant, and there’s no better way to unwind and relax than with a massage. Therapeutic massage has been used for many years to improve overall health, reduce stress, and relieve muscle tension. Massage during pregnancy has received great responses from the health community regarding their safety and purpose. Research has shown that pregnancy massage can play a huge part in a woman’s prenatal care.
A pregnancy massage usually lasts about an hour. Some therapists use a pregnancy massage table, a table designed to accommodate a woman’s larger 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, when lying on your side is usually the most comfortable position.
Many massage training schools teach massage therapy for women who are pregnant; it is best and safer to find a massage therapist who is certified in prenatal massage. There are more than 80 types of massage taught in roughly 1,300 massage therapy programs in the country. Common types of massage include:
- Deep-tissue massage, with firm strokes pressing deep into muscles
- Swedish massage, with long strokes to muscles and attention to joint mobility
- Shiatsu, with pressure and tapping on acupressure points to stimulate the body’s natural energy
Studies have shown that pregnancy massage therapy performed during pregnancy can reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and improve labor outcomes and your newborn’s health. Pregnancy massage addresses different needs through varying techniques, including Swedish massage. Swedish Massage aims to relax muscle tension and improve lymphatic and blood circulation through mild pressure applied to the muscle groups of the body. Swedish Massage is the recommended method to use for pregnancy massage because it addresses many common discomforts associated with the skeletal and circulatory changes brought on by hormone shifts.
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Studies have shown that hormone levels associated with relaxation and stress are significantly altered when massage is introduced into a women’s prenatal care. This leads to better mood regulation and improved cardiovascular health. Hormones such as norepinephrine and cortisol (hormones associated with stress) were reduced, and dopamine and serotonin levels were increased (low levels of these hormones are associated with depression.
These changes in hormone levels also led to fewer complications during birth and fewer instances of newborn complications, such as low birth weight. The evidence strongly suggests there are maternal and newborn health benefits when therapeutic massage is incorporated into regular prenatal care.
Reduction of swelling
Edema, or swelling of the joints during pregnancy, is often caused by reduced circulation and increased pressure on the major blood vessels by the heavy uterus. Pregnancy massage helps to stimulate soft tissues to reduce collection of fluids in swollen joints. This also improves the removal of tissue waste carried by the body’s lymph system.
Improvement of Never Pain
Many women experience sciatic nerve pain in late pregnancy because the uterus rests on muscles of the pelvic floor and lower back. The pressure of the uterus spreads tension to the muscles of the upper and lower leg, causing them to swell and put pressure on nearby nerves.
Pregnancy massage therapy addresses the inflamed nerves by helping to release the tension on nearby muscles. Many women have experienced a significant reduction in sciatic nerve pain during pregnancy through massage.
Some other potential benefits of pregnancy massage include:
- Reduced back pain
- Reduced joint pain
- Improved circulation
- Reduced edema
- Reduced muscle tension and headaches
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Improved oxygenation of soft tissues and muscles
- Better sleep
As with any therapeutic approach to pregnancy, women should discuss massage with their health care provider. The best way to address the risks of prenatal massage is to be informed and to work together.
Some things to keep in mind while receiving a pregnancy massage include:
1. Body position during pregnancy massage
Many professionals consider the best position for a pregnant woman during massage is lying on her side. Tables that provide a hole in which the uterus can fit may not be reliable and can still apply pressure to the abdomen, or allow the abdomen to dangle, causing uncomfortable stretching of the uterine ligaments. Consult your massage therapist before your first appointment to verify what position they place their clients in during the massage.
2. Seek a certified massage therapist
It is important to seek care from a certified pregnancy massage therapist. Certified therapists have received training beyond the national standards for massage therapists and know how to address specific pregnancy and massage needs. They are aware of how to position you safely and prevent strain to the uterine ligaments. They are also able to watch for symptoms of blood clots and varicose veins.
Pregnancy massage experts adapt their techniques to address the changes a woman’s body goes through during pregnancy. For example, blood volume increases dramatically during pregnancy. Blood flow to the legs often becomes sluggish and the levels of anticoagulants in the blood, designed to prevent hemorrhaging during delivery, naturally rise. These circulatory changes put a pregnant woman at risk of blood clots in the lower legs, typically in the calves or inner thigh. To be safe, pregnancy massage experts avoid deep massage and strong pressure on the legs. Using strong pressure could dislodge a blood clot. Instead, they use very light, slow strokes on the legs.
Types of massage to avoid on the legs include deep-tissue massage, deep acupressure, shiatsu, cross-fiber friction, and percussive tapping. All leg massage strokes should move toward the heart.
Very light pressure on the abdomen is advised, if the belly is massaged at all. Some massage therapists avoid massaging the abdomen. Pregnant women who have recently experienced bleeding, pre-term contractions, or have any of the following conditions should speak with their health care provider prior to receiving a massage:
- High risk pregnancy
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Previous pre-term labor
- Experiencing severe swelling, high blood pressure, or sudden severe headaches.
- Recently gave birth
Women can begin massage therapy at any point in their pregnancy. Many facilities will refuse to offer massage to a woman who is still in her first trimester because of the increased risk for miscarriage with the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The benefits of massage can improve overall prenatal health for many pregnant women. Along with the guidance and advice of your health care provider, massage therapy can be incorporated into routine prenatal care as an emotional and physical health supplement shown to improve pregnancy outcome and maternal health. Consult with your midwife or OB/GYN before beginning any pregnancy massage.