The benefits and risks of prenatal massage

For some women, the aches and pains of pregnancy seem to start as soon as they conceive.  Some women never complain and feel like they could run a marathon when they are expecting–others, well, not so much.  Trying to make due with a warm bath, and maybe even a maternity belt to help support your back and growing belly all work to a degree, but when you need more, many women turn to prenatal massage.  I never have been much of a massage gal, though I know that many people love it.  I have to say though, that I might have welcomed it during my pregnancies.  

I used to stand, hunched ever so slightly, over birthing beds to help women push–for hours.  With my belly as big as theirs, the weight in the front of my body brought on major back pain when I tried to straighten up.  I would moan and groan, and the other nurses would laugh–but it was very uncomfortable. I was wishing for someone to rub my back then…

While massage during pregnancy has been shown to help with many different maternal complaints and maybe even boost baby’s health as well, you must remember to do your homework and check with your doctor before hopping up on the table.

Prenatal massage has been shown to reduce stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine, while other levels climbed.  The “feel good” hormones that we count on every day to fight depression increased after only two massage sessions a week for four weeks.  Prenatal massage has also been linked to improved labor outcomes and fewer low birth weight babies. Researchers believe that massage helps to regulate hormone levels which could help improve baby’s growth processes inside the uterus.

Are these promises guaranteed? Certainly not.  Just because you have regular massages does not mean that your labor will be smooth, or your baby perfectly healthy–so take these recommendations lightly, and makes sure to combine any massage with regular prenatal visits, a healthy diet and light exercise.  (That’s my little disclaimer before we continue.) I can’t help but think that someone is making some pretty serious claims to fame about this.  There is so much more to consider for a healthy pregnancy and baby than just massage. So just remember that.

In order to get a safe, effective massage make sure you find a certified massage therapist who has been trained in prenatal processes.  Because there are some differences in the expectant mom’s body, you can’t just flop up on the table and go to town.  Swedish massage is actually the recommended type of massage to receive because of its focus on muscle relaxation and improvement of blood flow. Ask your massage therapist if they have experience in prenatal massage and find out if they are certified.  If not, you may want to keep looking.

Be wary of the massage table with the hole in the center too.  Lying on your stomach may be difficult any other time and the thought of getting to try it on a massage table may be tempting.  However, tables like this can put pressure on the uterus, or a dangling belly may cause supporting ligaments to stretch–leading to more pain.  Most prenatal massages are performed in mom lying on her side. Don’t spend too much time flat on your back either–this compresses large blood vessels to the baby and can drop heart rate and oxygen levels. Left side-lying is preferred most of the time.

Massage therapists should also be aware of certain pressure points in the wrist or ankles that can stimulate pelvic muscles (including the uterus).  Frequent pressure and stimulation of these areas could result in contractions–so they should be handled carefully or avoided all together.

If you have had a complicated pregnancy, a high risk for pre-term delivery, or medical conditions like preeclampsia, hypertension, or extreme swelling, talk with your doctor before you start any prental program.