Ahh, the miracle of birth. No doubt, after nine months, finally holding your precious little one is nothing short of amazing. However, traveling that nine month road can be grueling and more than uncomfortable for many women. The physical, not to mention emotional, changes a women’s body experiences as it, essentially, transforms is overwhelming. Of course, in trying to protect the budding bundle of joy, most pharmaceuticals aren’t safe. How, then do they alleviate heartburn, back pain, round ligament pain, headaches, sciatica, edema, tension, and anxiety (to name a few)? Many are turning to massage therapy for much needed relief. Interestingly, the moms-to-be aren’t the only ones who benefit from massage therapy.
A study published in Infant Behavior and Development (2009) showed “The infants of the women who received massage, in comparison to a similar control group, were less likely to be born prematurely or at a low birth weight.”1 Additionally, a study was conducted at the Department of Pediatrics, University of Miami School of Medicine with eighty-four depressed pregnant women. The women were randomly assigned to a group receiving standard prenatal care or massage therapy (20 minute sessions, twice a week, for sixteen weeks beginning at the start of the second trimester). “Immediately after the massage therapy sessions, the women reported lower levels of anxiety and depressed mood and less leg and back pain.” By the conclusion of the study, the massage group exhibited greater reduction of anxiety and depression by recording higher levels of dopamine and serotonin. They also benefited from greater reduction of stress and pain by recording lower levels of cortisol and norepinephrine.2 Not only is massage therapy beneficial for the expecting women, but for their babies as well. It is important to note, all massage therapists are not trained in pregnancy massage. Before receiving massage while expecting, make sure your therapist has specialized training in this modality.
Let’s take a hypothetical look at how massage therapy can help reduce pain and anxiety associated with pregnancy. Mrs. Sue Namama arrives for her first massage appointment twenty-four weeks into her pregnancy. Her primary concern is constant heart burn; though she is also experiencing low-back pain, headaches, and frequent mood swings. Mrs. Sue Namama also claims she has difficulty sleeping through the night: she wakes multiple times due to anxiety or discomfort.
Mrs. Namama is unable to lay flat on her stomach or back, so the massage therapist arranges the specialized Body Support System to support her body comfortably (some massage therapists will use pillows supporting side-lying positioning). Just as every pregnancy is different, each prenatal massage is different. Notify your massage therapist to any aversions to particular scents; though the smell of lavender is usually pleasant to her, today she finds it off-putting and Mrs. Namama selects a different scent cream for this session. The massage therapist begins the session with a gentle assessment of muscle tension and range of motion constrictions. The therapist notices tension in the rib cage
and intercostals muscles, and little movement in the sacro-iliac (SI) joint. After utilizing Swedish massage techniques and gentle stretching, Mrs. Namama claims she feels like she can take a full deep breath for the first time weeks. She mentions feeling very relaxed.
Returning the following week for her second appointment, Mrs. Namama was elated to report sleeping soundly through the night. She also felt little to no heartburn during the week, but did notice it a bit the day prior to her second session. Since her body is changing daily, she’s now noticing bouts of sciatica and more frequent headaches. The therapist again addresses the SI joint and gluteus attachments. Alleviating muscle tension on gluteus muscles and piraformis reduces the pressure placed on the sciatic nerve. Focus is also placed on the scalene and upper trapezius muscles to increase blood and oxygen circulation to the neck and brain. Mrs. Sue Namama fell asleep during this session. After the massage, she described feeling well-rested, relaxed, and pain-free. She continued with weekly massages throughout her pregnancy to adapt to her body’s continual changes. Mrs. Namama was thrilled with sleeping through the night and the reduced mood fluctuations.
Mrs. Sue Namama’s experience with massage therapy displayed common results: improved sleep quality, decreased headaches, reduced anxiety, and pain alleviation. During a massage session, endorphins (such as serotonin) are released to increase feelings of well-being and lesson anxiety. Likewise, the body’s natural pain killers are released; a reduction in pain leads to a greater sense of relaxation. Pregnancy massage is unique because the symptoms presented can vary dramatically session to session. A general sense of relaxation between sessions is extremely beneficial in adapting to continual transitions. Most pregnancy pain symptoms are not chronic issues, but rather responses to transient hormone and physical changes.
For the expecting woman, massage therapy is beneficial for herself and for the growing baby too. Improved circulation not only nourishes the woman’s cellular system, but aids in the baby’s growth and development (as seen in the earlier research studies). While finding a qualified massage therapist is always important, it is essential for pregnancy massage. When scheduling your appointment, ensure your therapist has specialized training in pregnancy massage. These sessions are an excellent opportunity for relaxation, nurturing, and energizing the “soon a mama’s” transforming body.