Benefits of Pregnancy Massage

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(authors Phyllis Edgerly Ring,; Kate Jordan, LMT, Clinic of Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, CA; Massage Magazine August 2007 issue135)

When I first found out I was expecting, I was excited to learn and experience all of the physical changes my body would go through.  Not only was there microscopic changes happening on a daily basis, but there would soon be a very noticeable physical change.  I embraced all of it, even some of the not so pleasant side effects of pregnancy such as nausea, heart burn, sluggishness, and not being able to enjoy a robust cup of coffee in the morning.

 Pregnancy also comes with a lot of changes.  Not only is pregnancy a time of physical change, but there is also changes in finances,  work related issues, life style changes and the slow realization that your life will no longer be your own.  It can be a very overwhelming and stressful time.  And studies have shown that if the mother is feeling stress or anxiety, the unborn baby is also being subjected to those same ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline surges as well.

 Studies have shown that when a pregnant woman is feeling stress, the baby’s heart rate increases and stays elevated for a longer period of time.  Certified Massage Therapist, Steve Traylor explains, “Tense muscles constrict blood vessels that pass through or between [mother and child], decreasing blood flow from an area of the body.  Massage therapy relaxes tense muscles so that blood flows more freely.”  Traylor further explains that massage therapy also helps increase circulation in the lymphatic system, which helps to remove excess fluid from the body and helps diminish swelling in the legs.

Pregnancy massage can help to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety the mother is feeling and bring about a sense of calm and well being.  Pregnancy massage helps relieve fatigue, headaches and some of the gastro-intestinal discomfort associated with pregnancy.

In addition to helping to relieve stress and anxiety, pregnancy massage helps to control blood pressure and relieves pain on the sciatic nerve, which often gets compressed in the later stages of pregnancy.

Many women are told that receiving a massage while pregnant is not safe and can cause harm to both mother and child.   That’s a somewhat out dated and very narrow thinking. According to Kate Jordan, LMT at the La Jolla Clinic of Integrative Medicine, “Between 4-10% of pregnancies are considered high risk because of maternal circumstance (e.g. being over 40, diabetes, cancer, lupus, heart disease, or high blood pressure) or complications that may develop during pregnancy.  Women in high risk pregnancies often benefit the most from pregnancy massage.”  Most women with high risk pregnancies are placed on bed rest.  Bed rest can lead to reduced cardiac output, which decreases the ability of the cardiovascular system to return blood to the heart.  Not only that but bed rest, whether at home or in a hospital can lead to increased levels of anxiety, depression and a sense of isolation.  Receiving a massage while on bed rest can be restricted to just the hands and feet for a simple relaxation, to a light full body massage to relieve the aches and pains that come with being restricted to bed rest.  It also provides a boost in spirits and a sense of connection with another person.

As always, anyone with a high risk condition should consult with their physician and is strongly advised to get a note or a release from your physician before seeking pregnancy massage.  Most massage therapists will require this before working on anyone in a high risk pregnancy situation.  During the first trimester, massage should be avoided only because massage may increase the intensity of any morning sickness or nausea you may be experiencing.

After the 24th week, women should not spend more than 4 minutes lying on their backs.  Massage therapy is often performed while the mother is in a reclined position or lying on her side.  There are massage tables that have a cut out for a pregnant belly to slide into, so the mother can lie on her stomach.  The draw back to this position is the extreme downward drag it places on the lower back, and also creates more pressure on the uterus. This is why a side laying position is a safe and most preferred position for pregnancy massage.

Deep tissue work and deep pressure work should also be avoided.  Deep tissue work releases metabolic waste and toxins trapped in muscle tissues.  Deep tissue massage flushes those toxins into the pregnant woman’s system too much.  This can especially be a problem for women who are currently smokers or have recently given up smoking.  The toxins from smoking can linger in muscle tissues and deep tissue work can release them into the blood stream again.  This can have a negative effect on the baby.

After the labor and delivery, postpartum massage helps to address the discomfort that comes along with your body’s rapid shift in body size and shape.  Postpartum women need help to reorient their bodies to pre-pregnancy structure, otherwise there is a tendency to maintain the forward positioning of the shoulders and pelvic girdle.  These forward positions lead to neck, upper back, shoulder, and low back pain later in life.

Speaking from personal experience, pregnancy massage feels fantastic!   We all know: When Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy!

Dawn Peterson, LMT is the mother of happy, healthy, and feisty identical twin girls.  During her pregnancy (before she became a massage therapist) massage therapy was one of the best experiences of being pregnant with twins.

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