Fatigue, stress and pain can feel almost wiped away the moment you lay on a massage table. Besides the good sensations of being touched, massage can have additional long-lasting benefits.
From physical to emotional advantages, prenatal massage is a safe relaxation technique used by many expecting women.
In fact, according to one study, massage therapy is the most commonly recommended alternative therapy during pregnancy, suggested by 61% of healthcare providers.
In this post, we’re discussing what prenatal massage is, its benefits and how you can do it at home.
What is Prenatal Massage?
Prenatal massage is similar to a regular massage, only it’s specifically catered to the pregnant woman. When comparing the two, there’s a few differences:
- Different Positions. To make you comfortable, a prenatal massage therapist may use pillows or other props placed in specific areas. In addition, where you’re at in your journey will determine your placement. For example, during your second half of pregnancy, most practitioners will advise against laying on your back because the pressure of your baby and uterus may reduce circulation. Some therapists may use a special table with a hole for your belly; however, most recommend a side laying position.
- Points of Focus. Your practitioner will focus—or not focus—on areas affected by pregnancy symptoms. For example, an aching back can be improved, but therapists generally try to avoid ankle pressure points because of swelling. The pressure used during a prenatal massage is also different. Deep tissue massage may be avoided in some areas, such as the legs, in favor of a gentler touch.
- Essential Oils. Practitioners typically use oils or lotions to lubricate the body, making their hands glide during a massage. Many times, they also incorporate aromatherapy by adding scented essential oils to a base oil. During prenatal massage; however, therapists take more precaution over which essential oils they choose. Since some have not been proven safe, they have limited options.
You can get a prenatal massage during any trimester, but it’s often recommended past the first trimester. That’s because symptoms such as morning sickness and dizziness may make it difficult to receive a massage or to feel relaxed.
Prenatal massage is safe for most expecting women, but be sure to ask your doctor or midwife and massage therapist to be sure. For example, those with preeclampsia, high blood pressure, fever or other pregnancy complications may be advised against prenatal massage. While there may not be research proving that massage can worsen these issues, many professionals advise that it’s better to be safe.
Benefits of Prenatal Massage
While not all of the benefits listed below are conclusively proven, there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest massage’s advantages.
It intuitively makes sense that massage can help with stress: You have 30 minutes to an hour with someone whose sole job is to make your body feel good. Sometimes, that allows you to reach a place where you can finally mentally relax. However, research also backs this up. One 2010 study showed that massage may decrease both hormonal stress levels and physical reactions to stress (such as heart rate and blood pressure). If you’re having trouble not smoking, you may receive an additional benefit. Interestingly, the reduction of stress from massage may help expecting women reduce tobacco use.
Anxiety and Depression
Whether you’ve had anxiety or depression for years or it’s brought on by pregnancy, you may want to consider prenatal massage. In a 2010 study, depressed pregnant women got massages for 20 minutes each week for 16 weeks. Researchers noticed significant decreases in depression and anxiety levels. They also saw a slowing of excessive fetal movement—a symptom noted in depressed women.
A heavy uterus can put pressure on blood vessels, leading to poor circulation and swelling. Massage is known to stimulate tissues, helping to gain back circulation and reduce the amount of fluid in your joints.
Many studies have shown that prenatal massage helps decrease leg and back pain, common complaints of expecting women. Researchers theorized that this effect may be related to the enhanced sleep and better mood experienced after massages. To put it simply, less pain may make it easier to sleep and feel happy.
If you’re suffering from headaches but try to avoid taking medication for it, massage may be a good alternative. One study found that massage decreased the pain of a migraine headache by about 69% on average.
May Improve Outcomes
A 2008 study observed two groups of depressed pregnant women: one that received massages twice a week for 12 weeks and one that didn’t. Those that were massaged not only had reduced depression, but their babies were less likely to be born prematurely and to have a low birth weight. The benefit on mood wasn’t just temporary, either. The mother’s depression stayed reduced throughout the postpartum period with lower cortisol levels. Surprisingly, their babies also had lower levels of the stress hormone.
Labor Massage May Reduce Complications
While labor massage is typically done by a partner and not a practitioner (unless you have a midwife), it could be a good skill to learn as a couple. In one study, partners massaged the women during the first 15 minutes of every hour of labor. The women lay on their side as their partners were told to massage their back and legs. Massaged women experienced significantly less pain and had labors an average of 3 hours shorter.
Where to Get Prenatal Massages
Most massage schools teach students about pregnancy massage, so most registered massage therapists will know how to do it safely. However, some clinics don’t offer massage to expecting women in their first trimester because the risk of a miscarriage is increased in the first 12 weeks.
If you already have a therapist you regularly go to, ask them about their knowledge of prenatal massage. It’s important to let them know that you’re pregnant so they can take precautions, such as using correct techniques and avoiding potentially harmful essential oils. However, it’s best to choose someone who has had special training or specializes in prenatal massage.
If you’re feeling like a homebody during pregnancy, you may also consider therapists who will do the massage in your home. When they arrive, they simply set up their portable table and get any oils/lotions prepared.
Usually, before you begin a massage, you’ll fill out a health history form, similar to a doctor’s office. Make sure to indicate any allergies or sensitivities to oils or scents. For example, if many scents are setting your morning sickness off, it may be best to use non-scented oil instead. You should also let your therapist know about any symptoms you’re experiencing so they can tailor to them. If you’re frequently nauseated, for example, they will know to avoid shifting or moving your body.
Partner Prenatal Massage
If your insurance doesn’t cover prenatal massage, it may be expensive to dish out cash that frequently, especially if you’re trying to save for a baby. If that’s the case, you can get your partner to give you massages between sessions. Tell your partner about the benefits and how it can help you relax (or just share this post!). Here’s a few tips to get them started:
- Use Lotion or a Carrier Oil. This will help their hands glide smoothly over your body with less friction. It makes a massage easier to give and makes it feel better, too.
- Start with the Feet. The feet can be an easy place to start if your partner has never given a massage before. Using both thumbs, they can make small circular motions, applying light pressure. Start with the toes and work toward the ankle.
- Upper Body. You can either sit up in a chair where your partner can access your back, or lay on your side. Focus on one side of the back at a time, then transition to kneading it with the thumbs or palm. Then, use the fingertips to gently massage the neck, working one side at a time. Move upward to the scalp. Spread your fingers and apply gentle pressure, but be careful not to tug on the hair. (If you’re using oil, you may want to wipe off your hands to avoid transferring it to the hair).
- Avoid the Belly. Don’t massage the belly. If you’re looking for an alternative, they can try rubbing stretch mark prevention oil on your stomach instead. Another option is to close out the session by applying ultrasound gel and using a fetal doppler to hear your baby at home.
Prenatal massage is similar to a regular massage but with additional precautions for the pregnant woman. Along with making you feel relaxed, research shows it may have additional benefits. Prenatal massage may improve stress, anxiety, depression, pain and headaches. There’s also some evidence that it may improve pregnancy outcomes and reduce the chance of postpartum depression. While any registered massage therapist should be able to do prenatal massage, it’s usually best to find a practitioner who is specifically trained.
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