What to Know about Prenatal Massage

Congratulations, you’re pregnant!  As any first-time or seasoned mom knows, you want to do the best things you can for yourself and your baby when you are expecting.  You eat right, you drop some not-so-great habits, you take your prenatal vitamins, and you visit your doctor when you’re supposed to.  But have you considered adding pregnancy massage to your prenatal regimen?  It’s something that you might find beneficial during this special time in your life when your hormone levels are surging, your body is changing, and quite frankly your emotions are running high.  Also consider the advantages of prenatal massage for your baby.  Overall you’ll find that massage while pregnant can help you and your precious cargo have a happy and healthy nine months with a smoother labor and easier post-partum period.

What is parental massage?  It is very similar to traditional (often referred to as Swedish) massage, but with considerations and special precautions taken for pregnant patients.  It is important, then, to receive prenatal massages from certified prenatal massage therapist.  Why?  These therapists have received specific prenatal massage training above and beyond the standards of traditional massage.  These certified practitioners are familiar with the pregnant woman’s changing bodies and know the areas these women are most likely to experience pain as well the areas of their bodies that should be avoided.  You can find a prenatal massage therapist by asking for referrals from your doctor, your midwife, your current massage therapist, or your friends.  For a list of certified prenatal massage therapists in your area, you can visit the American Massage Therapists Association (AMTA) website.

What are the benefits of prenatal massage?  There are many.  Let’s look at some of the changes that women experience when they are pregnant.  First, pregnancy can be stressful---especially high-risk pregnancies.  You might be concerned about the health of the baby or worried about finances.  Having a baby is a huge life change.  But prenatal massage can really alleviate some of the anxiety, stress and even depression that can present itself during the baby’s gestation.   Studies have shown that massage can reduce the stress hormones norepinephrine and cortisol while increase “feel good” hormones like dopamine and serotonin.  Overall your state of mind will be a little healthier and you’ll find yourself dealing with worries and struggles that arise during this time a little bit better.

Your body, as you can imagine, changes drastically while you are pregnant.  Due to the growing being in your uterus, your center of gravity is thrown off and you tend to change your posture (usually leading with your pelvis) to accommodate it.  Add that to the fact that your pelvic ligaments loosen to make room for the baby to be born and we are talking about some serious aches and pains in your lower back.  Massage helps relieve some of those pains by increasing oxygen to the muscles, and improving overall circulation.  Furthermore, prenatal massage has been shown effective for other not-so-pleasant pregnancies symptoms like shoulder and neck pain, headaches and insomnia.

Another benefit of prenatal massage is the effective management of edema, or swelling, while expecting. During pregnancy you natural create and retain more fluids to nurture your growing baby.  This swelling can often become unpleasant, but massage therapy can help by improving circulation and aiding the lymph system in ridding your body from toxins and tissue waste. 

What can you expect from a prenatal massage therapy session?  It will usually last 45 minutes to an hour and cost between $50 and $100.  The massage therapist will likely place you in the side-lying position while you receive your massage.  This is the most comfortable position for pregnant women.  Health experts do not recommend lying face down while pregnant for obvious reasons---you do not want to put any pressure on the uterus.  That being said, some therapists have special tables with a cut-out area designed to accommodate your swelling uterus, or a specially designed pregnancy cushion system meant to cradle your uterus while in the prone position.  These may be fine for most pregnant women, but keep in mind that pregnancy tables or pregnancy cushions might still exert a small amount of force on your uterus.  On the flip side, your uterus might “dangle” in the cut-out areas of the tables or cushion causes strain on your uterus’ ligaments.  The bottom line is to exercise caution and always speak up if you experience any pain or discomfort during massage.  After positioning you, the massage therapist will start her massage working out sore spots and avoiding risky pressure points that could potentially lead to contractions and preterm labor.  She will probably ask many questions to ensure you are comfortable. 

Some health experts warn that massage during pregnancy can be somewhat risky in the first trimester, when miscarriage is a concern.  Most massage therapists will perform massage on a woman in her first trimester, but many will not.  It is best to discuss the risks versus benefits of first trimester massage with your physician.  Other safety concerns for those women further along in their pregnancy involve the potential of dislodging blood clots during massage.  When a woman is expecting, her blood volume can increase up to 50 percent.  That increase in blood causes the body to create more coagulants which can lead a higher chance of the development of blood clots---especially in the legs.  Trained prenatal massage therapists know not to deeply massage the legs lest a blood clot dislodges and travels to the lungs.

There are many benefits to receiving a prenatal massage.  Studies have shown the effectiveness of massage throughout all stages and post stages of pregnancy.  Make sure to let your health professional know if you are receiving massage in case there is a reason he or she might advise against it.  If you are given the green light, give prenatal massage a try.  You might even get reimbursed from your insurance.  Have a happy and healthy nine months.  

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