Pregnancy massage

What is prenatal massage?

Prenatal massage shares many of the goals of regular massage ¬– to relax tense muscles, ease sore spots, improve circulation and mobility, and just make you feel good. But it's also tailored specifically to the needs of pregnant women and their changing bodies, and therapists who are trained in prenatal massage adjust their techniques accordingly.

How do you lie on the table?

Most women find it uncomfortable to lie face down right from the start of pregnancy because of their tender, swollen breasts. And you can't lie face down on a traditional massage table once your belly has started to grow. On the other hand, it's not a good idea to lie flat on your back either, particularly once you're past mid-pregnancy, because the weight of your uterus puts too much pressure on the vein that returns blood from your legs to your heart. For these reasons, some prenatal massage therapists use a special table or pad with hollowed-out areas and special pillows to accommodate your belly, and often your breasts as well, so you can lie face down. If you find this position stresses your lower back, or if only a traditional massage table is available, you can lie on your side with pillows, wedges, or a full-length body pillow for support.

How can prenatal massage help me?

The therapeutic benefits of massage for pregnant women haven't been studied very much. There's some evidence that massage may help people who suffer from low back pain and possibly those with chronic headaches, but the studies weren't done with pregnant women. In any case, massage may decrease stress and promote relaxation, helping you cope with discomfort even if it doesn't specifically alleviate or prevent it.

Carrying a baby inside you changes your center of gravity and puts a lot of stress on your back, neck, abdominal muscles, and shoulders. Pregnancy also relaxes your ligaments, so that your pelvic joints are less stable, and changes your posture, pulling your pelvis forward. Add to that the extra weight you're carrying and you may find you've got an aching lower back.

A trained prenatal massage therapist knows where a pregnant woman's sore spots are likely to be and may be able to provide some relief. (She'll also know which areas and techniques to avoid.) Still, it's important to communicate with her and tell her where you need attention. Let her know right away if anything during the massage – including your positioning – is causing you any discomfort.

Is Pregnancy Massage Safe?

Many expectant mothers wonder if pregnancy massage is safe for the baby. The answer is yes. It's not only safe, it's often very beneficial for you and your growing baby. If you're experiencing any of the following conditions during your pregnancy, a massage may be just what your body needs to make it happy.

  • Back Pain
  • Sciatic Pain
  • Muscle / Leg Cramps
  • Edema / Swelling
  • Sacral Joint Pain
  • Stretch Marks

Massage also helps your body prepare for delivery by helping increase elasticity and range of motion in the joints and muscles associated with childbirth. And by helping blood flow in the legs, massage can reduce the chances of edema, varicose veins, and blood clots (if you already suffer from these conditions, then special precautions must be taken and you should let your doctor know you're planning on getting a massage). Generally, pregnancy massage uses mild pressure applied to the muscle groups to relax muscle tension and improve lymphatic and blood circulation. These techniques specifically address many common discomforts associated with the skeletal and circulatory changes brought on by hormone shifts during pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Organization, studies show that pregnancy massage can reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and improve labor outcomes and the general health of the baby. Specifically, they say massage helps with the following:

  • Hormone regulation: Studies done in the past 10 years show that pregnancy massage significantly alters hormone levels associated with relaxation and stress, leading to mood regulation and improved cardiovascular health. In women who received bi-weekly massage for five weeks, massage reduced "stress" hormones (such as norepinephrine and cortisol) and increased dopamine and serotonin levels (low levels of these hormones are associated with depression). These changes in hormone levels can lead to fewer complications during birth.
  • Reduction of swelling: Edema, or swelling of the joints during pregnancy, is often caused by the heavy uterus reducing circulation and increasing pressure on the major blood vessels. Massage helps stimulate soft tissues to reduce collection of fluids in swollen joints, which also improves the removal of tissue waste carried by the body's lymph system.
  • Improvement of nerve pain: In late pregnancy, many women experience sciatic nerve pain as the uterus rests on the muscles of the pelvic floor and lower back, spreading tension to the muscles of the upper and lower leg, causing them to swell and put pressure on nearby nerves. Massage therapy addresses the inflamed nerves by releasing the tension on nearby muscles.

Pregnancy massage is safe for most pregnant women. However, as a precaution, you should tell your doctor about your intention to get a massage if you:

  • Are considered a high-risk pregnancy,
  • Have pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood clots, or hypertension,
  • Have experienced pre-term contractions or consistent Braxton-Hicks contractions, or
  • Have a history of miscarriage

These conditions don't automatically exclude you from being able to have a pregnancy massage—massage can help maintain muscle tone, circulation, and decrease bed bound discomfort. But if you have any high risk conditions, it's important that your physician be aware of any complimentary health treatments you're receiving.

What Can You Expect?

On your first visit, you'll complete a questionnaire and talk with the therapist about your pregnancy and your needs. If you've had massage before, then you know how great it feels. But pregnancy massage is a little different. For example, the positioning during the massage is critical to the safety and well-being of both you and your baby. Your therapist will also have to adapt their strokes to accommodate this side lying position. Some massage therapists use special pregnancy cushions, but here at the Pregnancy Massage Center, we use pillows to provide stability. The best position for a pregnant woman during massage is lying on the side—this provides the most stability for the baby and is comfortable for you. You'll always be covered with a sheet and blanket for your modesty. Pregnancy massage can be performed with as much or as little clothing on as you are comfortable with. The therapist will adapt their technique to accommodate your needs.