This morning, one of my clients went into labor. This is one of the happiest times for me, as my client had been seeing me regularly throughout her pregnancy. Massage during and after pregnancy has so many benefits. Today we are joined by a colleague of mine, Hope Bentley from the ABMP. Hope has put together a short article on the benefits of prenatal, or pregnancy massage.
During pregnancy physical and emotional changes cascade throughout the body. Nausea, fatigue, swelling, heartburn, headache, and emotional turbulence are just some of the symptoms that come with the territory. Fortunately, massage can help ease these issues, so that the mom-to-be can focus on what’s most important: her baby.
The First Trimester
In the first trimester I see a lot of cases of nerves,” says Megan O’Connor, a New York-based certified prenatal massage therapist. “Massage can give reassurance.” This is largely because newly pregnant women may experience a range of emotions–elation, anxiety, contentment, and even fear–made more poignant by the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy. Fortunately, massage therapy can help ground an expecting mother and ease the emotional roller coaster that comes with pregnancy.
But is massage safe in the first trimester? According to Susanrachel Condon, founder of Niara Healing Arts Massage Therapy and Perinatal Support Systems, “It is absolutely safe and can be very beneficial for an expecting mother.”
Having said that, there are some precautions to take when considering prenatal massage. If it is a high-risk pregnancy or there’s a history of complications–diabetes, high blood pressure, miscarriages, placenta previa, preeclampsia, or any other medical condition–a midwife or doctor should be consulted before scheduling a massage. In addition, it is very important for pregnant clients to speak openly with their massage therapist about any concerns or issues.
On the other hand, bodywork techniques like shiatsu access the meridians used in acupuncture, including trigger points that can relieve nausea. According to O’Connor, a good therapist will also teach a mother-to-be how to activate the trigger points herself, as most nausea treatments are more effective when applied at least three times a day. Techniques such as this can be a great relief to a woman navigating the early days of pregnancy.
The Second Trimester
A woman in her second trimester may begin to have trouble with circulation, sometimes because the baby’s weight begins to pinch the major veins in the mother’s legs. Poor circulation can cause swelling of the extremities, headaches, and exacerbated carpal tunnel syndrome. Massage will increase circulation and help create space in the body to relieve the pressure from the baby’s weight. Condon explains that weight gain and joint laxity can cause women to feel off balance and clumsy. Massage can relax the muscles around the joints and ground and balance a pregnant woman.
The Third Trimester
As the baby grows heavy in the final trimester of pregnancy, major changes are likely to occur in the musculoskeletal system, and massage can become even more essential.
“A lot of women feel discomfort in their lower backs because the womb is moored to the sacrum, which is that triangle of area at the base of the spine,” O’Connor says. “The weight of the womb pulls on that mooring and can be very uncomfortable.”
Women may also experience discomfort in their abdomen. As the baby grows, the mother’s muscles are stretched, her organs are compacted, and her lungs are compressed. Massage can minimize or prevent abdominal muscle tear, a complication that happens with some women. A practitioner can also help reposition the baby to alleviate discomfort and ease breathing.
And when labor finally begins, massage can help facilitate the birth, perhaps especially appealing for women considering natural childbirth.
On the Table
But how exactly does a pregnant woman–complete with enormous tummy and tender chest–receive a massage? Many prenatal massages are given with the pregnant woman on her side, semi-reclined, briefly on her back, or on a specially designed pregnancy massage table, and often with a network of pillows for support.
Condon explains that prenatal massage is not simply a regular massage except in a different position. A qualified prenatal massage therapist will know the changing physiognomy of a pregnant woman and will tailor the massage to the needs of the client.
Now that baby is here, mom needs a massage more than ever. Says O’Connor, “I think postpartum massage is extremely underrated.”
After baby arrives, bodywork can help a new mother ease back into her body again, relax sore muscles, address any abdominal muscle strains or tears that occurred during pregnancy, and cope with the life changes and lack of sleep that come with a new baby. In addition, the uterus will sometimes linger low in the abdomen instead of returning to its proper place. A Maya abdominal massage therapist can help restore the uterus to its proper position.
Nursing moms may feel reluctant to book a massage due to leaking breasts, but O’Connor says not to worry. “Women shouldn’t be concerned about massage while they’re nursing, even if they feel like an uncapped fire hydrant!” she says. Practitioners will accommodate nursing women, with proper draping and towels.
Pregnancy is an important time that needs to be honored, and prenatal massage plays an important role. As the body goes through miraculous changes, bodywork facilitates pregnancy and helps the expectant mother stay comfortable, connected, and healthy.