If you’re pregnant, you’ll know all too well that it’s a tough time. You have to contend with back pain, mood swings, and morning sickness – and that’s just for starters! Never fear, there’s lots you can do to make pregnancy a better experience. In this guide, you’ll learn about the wonders of prenatal massage.
What exactly is a prenatal massage?
When people talk about “prenatal massage,” they simply mean “any massage given during pregnancy.” Most regular massages can be adapted for pregnant women. Here are the main types on offer:
This is a clothed therapy that entails the application of pressure to specific points on the body. “Shiatsu” literally means “finger pressure,” although therapists sometimes use their elbows too. According to Shiatsu practitioners, stimulating the body’s natural acupressure points promotes physical and emotional healing.
Shiatsu is carried out on a mat or futon rather than a massage table. Therapists use special cushions, wedges, and blankets to make pregnant clients more comfortable.
2. Deep-tissue massage
As the name implies, this form of massage involves deep tissue manipulation. This is an excellent way to loosen tense muscles and ease aches and pains. The therapist applies long strokes across the skin, using oil to reduce friction.
During pregnancy, blood volume increases by around 50%. Massage therapists avoid applying deep pressure to leg muscles because it could potentially dislodge a blood clot. If you are pregnant, a therapist should only use light strokes on your legs.
Swedish massage is the most common type of massage offered during pregnancy. It is based on long strokes that move towards the heart. As in deep tissue massage, the therapist will use oils.
4. Aromatherapy massage
Some therapists use essential oils during treatment. This is known as aromatherapy. The therapist will dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil before applying it to your skin. Essential oils contain compounds that can affect your mood and nervous system.
For instance, lemon oils can cause birth defects in non-human animals according to aromatherapist Amber Duncan. Others, such as onion, can slow down blood coagulation. There is a small chance they could have a negative impact on the fetus’ health. A therapist should err on the side of caution and stick to oils known to be safe for pregnant women.
What to expect from a prenatal massage
When you make an appointment with a therapist, tell them that you are pregnant. They will ask how far along you are in your pregnancy and whether you have any complicating factors. Always be honest with your therapist for the sake of you and your baby’s health.
If you go for regular massages throughout your pregnancy, you may notice that the positions change over time. Early on in pregnancy, you might lie on your stomach as usual. However, as your body changes, your therapist will use specialized tables, pillows, or both. Women in mid or late pregnancy are massaged while lying on their sides.
The therapist will avoid applying heavy pressure to particular areas of your body. These include the insides of your legs and your abdomen. Some therapists believe that there are a few shiatsu or reflexology “trigger points” that should be avoided at all costs. This is because stimulating them may encourage the uterus to contract, which could harm the baby.
Prenatal massages last around an hour. However, you should allow up to 90 minutes for the first session. You will be asked to give a comprehensive medical history and discuss any pregnancy-related problems you are experiencing.
To undress or not to undress?
You will usually be asked to undress if you are having a Swedish or deep tissue massage. This might make you feel uncomfortable. Pregnancy brings with it many physical changes that make a lot of women feel self-conscious.
However, the therapist can only see one body part at a time. They will use draping techniques to protect your modesty and ensure your comfort. Remember, they are used to massaging people of all shapes and sizes. A professional massage therapist will not judge your appearance. If you like, you can keep your underwear on.
At what point during pregnancy is it safe to get a massage?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, it is safe for a pregnant woman to get a massage at any stage during her pregnancy. However, all pregnant women are at increased risk for miscarriage during the first trimester. Some massage therapists will not treat women in early pregnancy.
Furthermore, some therapists believe that stimulating some of the body’s pressure points can induce labor. If you want to get a massage in your first trimester, you might need medical clearance from your doctor or midwife.
The difference between prenatal massage and chiropractic treatment
Chiropractic medicine is an alternative therapy that focuses on spinal alignment. Practitioners believe that by aligning or “adjusting” the joints and spine, they can reduce or eliminate unwanted symptoms. It’s often used as a treatment for joint and muscle pain, especially pain from chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis.
Some who practices this treatment is called a chiropractor. They use spinal manipulation, pulling, stretching, and thrusting movements to adjust the joints and muscles. No one is completely sure how chiropractic treatment works. Some practitioners believe it reduces pressure on the body’s nervous system.
Medical professionals generally regard it as a safe system of treatment. Most pregnant women can benefit from chiropractic treatment. Practitioners are taught how to work with pregnant clients and those trying to conceive.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the postural and pelvic changes during pregnancy can cause misalignment. A chiropractor can keep the spine and joints in the correct position throughout pregnancy, thus minimizing pain. There is also evidence that chiropractic can safely turn babies lying in the breech position, thus making delivery easier.
You can use both massage and chiropractic treatments during pregnancy. In the video below, you can watch a chiropractic adjustment in late pregnancy:
How prenatal massage can help alleviate common conditions
Always make sure the massage therapist you choose has experience in treating pregnant women. They need to understand what techniques to avoid, and why.
1. Back pain
Many women report lower back pain during pregnancy. The physiological changes lead to looser ligaments, which in turn push the pelvis forward. The weight of the baby exacerbates the problem. Shiatsu massage is particularly good for back and leg pain.
2. Pain in the left shoulder
Your doctor or midwife might advise you to sleep on your left side during pregnancy. This position maximizes blood flow to your uterus. Unfortunately, sleeping in this position every night can lead to shoulder pain. Massage can help by releasing tension and restoring flexibility.
As pregnancy progresses, the uterus becomes very large. By the third trimester, it puts considerable pressure on the lower back and pelvic floor. This pressure can irritate the sciatic nerve, which runs down the buttock and leg. The resulting pain is called “sciatica.” Massage alleviates muscle tension, thereby reducing nerve irritation and discomfort.
4. Swollen ankles
Prenatal massage improves lymphatic drainage, and therefore can reduce excess swelling in the handles, feet, and calves. When the lymphatic system is encouraged to metabolize waste, the end result is reduced weight and pressure on joints.
5. Stress and depression
Anxiety, stress, and depression are all fairly common during pregnancy. The hormonal changes, coupled with the impending challenge of parenthood, can present a mental health challenge.
Regular massage lowers cortisol and norepinephrine, two hormones linked to stress. It also increases serotonin and dopamine. This is noteworthy because serotonin and dopamine deficiency is associated with depression. If you see the same therapist throughout your pregnancy, they can also become a valuable source of emotional support.
6. Poor sleep quality and insomnia
Most women find pregnancy an uncomfortable experience, especially in the second and third trimesters. This makes it hard to sleep. It’s normal to have back pain, swollen feet, and to need the bathroom every hour or so. Massage therapy can lower your stress levels, help you relax, and increases your chance of quality sleep.
Induction of labor in post-term women: Back in 2000, a group of staff at St. Michael’s Hospital, England, investigated the potential of Shiatsu to induce labor. They recruited 66 women who had all reached the 40-week mark. The women were taught how to apply pressure to points on their spleen, large intestine, and gall bladder.
The researchers found that women who used Shiatsu self-massage were more likely to enter labor than a control group. Therefore, massage that makes use of acupressure could potentially induce labor.
Is prenatal massage safe for pregnant women with high blood pressure?
American researchers have shown that massage can reduce blood pressure after just one session. It also reduces associated symptoms such as high stress hormones.
In some cases, high blood pressure during pregnancy can be a precursor to pre-eclampsia. This is a serious condition that requires ongoing monitoring. It’s usually treated by medication but sometimes it’s necessary to induce early delivery.
The effect of prenatal massage on birth outcomes
Massage doesn’t just make you feel good – it will help give your baby the best start too. A study with 84 pregnant women monitored outcomes following regular 20-minute massages throughout pregnancy. Massages were linked to lower rates of premature delivery and low birthweight.
Getting regular massages throughout your pregnancy keeps you in touch with your body. It helps you prepare for birth on a physical and emotional level. This can make the transition to parenthood easier.
Conditions that might make prenatal massage unsafe
Prenatal massage is safe for most pregnant women. However, some women should take extra care and talk to their doctor or midwife first. If you have high risk of miscarriage, morning sickness, nausea, or any other complications, consult your usual care provider.
Medical professionals advise women with placenta previa to avoid strenuous activity. This is because it could trigger bleeding, which may be extensive. Therefore, most therapists advise that women with this condition avoid massage treatments.
Massage lowers blood pressure and blood glucose levels. In most cases, this is beneficial. However, women with gestational diabetes may become hypoglycemic following a massage if they don’t stick to a regular schedule of snacks and meals. Your therapist might offer you a carbohydrate-rich snack after your treatment.
How to find the right therapist for you
For extra peace of mind, ask your doctor or midwife to recommend a massage therapist. If you have a friend or relative who had prenatal massages, ask them for names and numbers.
As long as your therapist is suitably qualified, there is no need to worry about your health or your baby. If you want some relaxing “me time” before the baby arrives, prenatal massage is the ideal treatment for you.