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Massage During Pregnancy

Feb 23, 2022 | 3 minutes Read

Massage during pregnancy has gained a lot in popularity in recent years. Previously, it tended to be limited to groups of women who favored alternative therapies. But now it is seen as a valid and useful means of reducing general pregnancy discomfort. Recently research and evidence have shown a scientific basis for its benefits, though pregnant women seemed to have known this for a very long time.

How do I find a pregnancy massage?

If you are thinking about having a pregnancy massage, it is important to find a qualified therapist who specializes in the field of ante-natal massage. Ask your maternity care provider who they recommend or do a search in your local area for a practitioner. When you do find a massage therapist, ask them about their qualifications and what training they have had.

The  American Massage Therapy Association American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) is the largest nonprofit association in the massage therapy profession, serving the community for over 75 years. Check their website to locate a therapist near you who is a member of the AMTA. Some physical therapists have a particular interest in pregnancy massage and provide massage services, too.

What does pregnancy massage involve?

One of the most popular forms of pregnancy massage uses the principles based on Swedish massage techniques. This is because of its particular benefits in reducing muscle tension and improving blood flow and lymphatic drainage.

Some massage therapists use aromatherapy oils and burn incense to heighten the sensory experience. There is, however, a range of oils which need to be avoided as they can prompt uterine contractions. These include oregano, nutmeg, peppermint, thyme, basil, sage, and rosemary. You may prefer that the massage therapist uses non-scented or very low scented oils.

How much skin you expose during your massage is entirely up to you. Some women are comfortable wearing very little clothing; others want to feel more covered. It is worth bearing in mind though, that for you to get the most benefit from your massage the therapist needs to be able to access as much of your skin surface area as possible.

What makes pregnancy massage different?

Prenatal massage differs from general massage because there can be some risks if particular pressure points are stimulated. These are located within your wrists and ankles and massaging them can stimulate the uterus to start contracting. There also needs to be a level of sensitivity and gentleness extended by the therapist, which factors in the baby as well.

Some expectant couples book a massage therapist to give them both a massage. They find this is a good way of connecting and enhancing their emotional connection. You may find that your massage therapist is willing to show your partner some massage techniques you could try for yourselves.

But I can’t lie down!

Equipment required for pregnancy massage can be different to the standard issue. Body position during prenatal massage is important to maximize the effectiveness of the massage and to fully gain its benefits. Many health and massage professionals recommend a side-lying position for pregnant women during massage.

Current research supports the use of standard massage tables, rather than those which have a hole cut out in them to accommodate the pregnant belly. Cut-outs can allow the abdomen to dangle unsupported and cause stretching of the uterine ligaments. However, if cut-out tables or pillows are used, these should not be used for extended periods of time. Tell the massage therapist that you’d prefer not to be lying in the same position for too long and if at any stage you feel uncomfortable.

It may be useful for you to contact your massage therapist before your initial appointment and clarify which positions you will be placed in during your massage. Lying on your back is not recommended past the first trimester so your positioning will be restricted to your tummy or your side. The massage therapist should have a range of pillows and foam cut-outs to support your belly and avoid extra muscular strain.

Some therapists offer a mobile massage service and have portable massage tables which fold up into a suitcase size. If, because of the size of your pregnant belly you feel insecure or unstable on the massage table, tell your massage therapist. Between both of you, you can decide on a comfortable and safe alternative as a base to lie on. Prices vary for pregnancy massage services.

Benefits of prenatal massage

There are many benefits to prenatal massage when done correctly, including:
  • When done effectively, it helps to reduce stress hormones within a pregnant woman's body. It also increases the levels of hormones which tend to be low in women who are depressed.
  • It leads to a reduction in anxiety and free-floating concerns. There is often an improvement in general mood following a massage.
  • Pregnant women often find a massage rejuvenates their energy because it gives them an opportunity to rest and completely relax.
  • For some pregnant women, massage can relieve nausea and heartburn. In others, it can make these worse.
  • It relieves the everyday discomforts of pregnancy such as an aching neck, sore back, heaviness in the pelvic bones, leg cramps, swelling of the ankles and feet, and oedema (fluid retention).
  • It leads to muscle relaxation and relief of joint pain. Pregnancy massage can be particularly helpful for women who experience sciatic nerve pain.
  • It builds a sense of connection with another person. Many pregnant women experience a change in their intimate relationship with their partner and suffer from being touch-deprived.
  • Pregnancy massage may improve the progression of labor with better health outcomes for both the mother and her baby. Relaxed mothers may have a lower risk of interventions during labor and birth.
  • Pregnancy massage can provide an opportunity for women to completely stop what they are doing and focus on the pleasure of having someone else do something just for them.
  • it is associated with improved sleep due to feeling less muscle tension and generally less uncomfortable.

When to avoid having a pregnancy massage

There are many benefits to prenatal massage when done correctly, including:
  • When done effectively, it helps to reduce stress hormones within a pregnant woman's body. It also increases the levels of hormones which tend to be low in women who are depressed.
  • It leads to a reduction in anxiety and free-floating concerns. There is often an improvement in general mood following a massage.
  • Pregnant women often find a massage rejuvenates their energy because it gives them an opportunity to rest and completely relax.
  • For some pregnant women, massage can relieve nausea and heartburn. In others, it can make these worse.
  • It relieves the everyday discomforts of pregnancy such as an aching neck, sore back, heaviness in the pelvic bones, leg cramps, swelling of the ankles and feet, and oedema (fluid retention).
  • It leads to muscle relaxation and relief of joint pain. Pregnancy massage can be particularly helpful for women who experience sciatic nerve pain.
  • It builds a sense of connection with another person. Many pregnant women experience a change in their intimate relationship with their partner and suffer from being touch-deprived.
  • Pregnancy massage may improve the progression of labor with better health outcomes for both the mother and her baby. Relaxed mothers may have a lower risk of interventions during labor and birth.
  • Pregnancy massage can provide an opportunity for women to completely stop what they are doing and focus on the pleasure of having someone else do something just for them.
  • it is associated with improved sleep due to feeling less muscle tension and generally less uncomfortable.

Massage during labor

Massage can also be used very effectively during labor to relieve back pain and generalized muscle tension. It is a good, practical way of partners being an active part of labor. Not all women like to be massaged when they are in labor and find it to be distracting and a major irritation. Some massage therapists or doulas use aromatherapy oils to induce labor. These combined with massage are thought to enhance the progression of labor.

The information of this article has been reviewed by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at health4mom.org.