Pregnancy can be a strange time. At any given moment, you may find yourself feeling amazed at the fact that you're, like, creating a new human, only to be freaked out 10 seconds later that your body is stretching beyond recognition in its quest to accommodate that miraculous little being. Your mind races at all hours with concerns that you didn't even know existed six months ago. As your pregnancy progresses, your newfound mental unrest is accompanied by random aches and pains brought on by such strenuous activities as sitting or standing, and you're waking up 17 times a night to complete an elaborate series of maneuvers once known simply as "turning over."
Sound familiar? You, my friend, are in dire need of a pregnancy massage.
What is pregnancy massage?
We know what you're thinking: You don't even want to be touched, having already had your belly groped by five admiring strangers today, and you can't possibly be expected to lie on your stomach -- two facts that might lead you to believe that a massage is out of the question. But an experienced practitioner will quickly put your mind and body at ease, and by the end of your first session, you'll wonder how you made it this far without your own personal masseuse.
Just like regular massage, the goal of pregnancy massage is to ease your aches and pains, calm your racing mind and give you a deep sense of relaxation. But while any massage performed during your pregnancy might technically be called a maternity massage, a therapist trained in prenatal massage will use techniques specifically designed to target your trouble spots while accommodating your pregnant form.
For starters, your massage therapist may use a table with cut-outs designed to make room for your expanding belly and breasts, or she may have you lie on your side with the help of pillows, bolsters or wedges to support you in a comfortable position. Of course, for some pregnant women, the very idea of lying down in a comfortable position already sounds like a treat, but don't stop there or you'll be missing out on the benefits of pregnancy massage. Read on!
Benefits of Pregnancy Massage
A great maternity massage can work wonders on joint and muscle pain -- particularly the lower back and leg pain that so many pregnant women experience. But studies show that prenatal massage can also help to lower an expecting mother's stress and anxiety, alleviate insomnia and improve mood by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine. Massage may also help to improve circulation and reduce joint swelling. Sadly, we can't find any evidence that it will eliminate cankles, so you may be stuck with those until after the baby is born.
While it's harder to gauge the immediate effects of massage on the baby (after all, he's relaxing 24/7, enveloped in warmth and soothed by the sounds of your maternal heartbeat), there's some evidence that regular maternity massage can have a positive impact on your newborn's health. Massage has been shown to decrease levels of the stress hormones norepinephrine and cortisol, both of which have been tied to low birth weights and labor complications.
Of course, as with any activity you engage in throughout your pregnancy, there may be a few risks to consider before you book your maternity massage. We'll check out some common concerns on the next page.
Risks of Maternity Massage
The good news is that most pregnant women can safely enjoy a maternity massage at any stage of their pregnancies, but there are a few precautions to keep in mind. Body positions that put pressure on your abdomen or too much weight on your back are a no-no, as are massage techniques that stimulate pelvic muscles through acupressure points or direct manipulation.
Your doctor might want you to skip the massage outright if you have a high-risk pregnancy or a history of pre-term labor or blood clots. And while some women swear by maternity massage to keep their morning sickness under control, your doctor might advise you to pass if you're having lots of nausea and vomiting.
A massage therapist may want your doctor's permission before giving you a massage, and some may even balk at performing pregnancy massage in the first trimester. There's no real evidence that it's dangerous, but since the overall risk of miscarriage is higher in the first 12 weeks (whether you have a massage or not), therapists may be concerned about their own liability.
As with any massage, a maternity massage is as much an art as it is a science, so results may vary greatly from patient to patient -- and from practitioner to practitioner. To make the most of your massage, get the all-clear from your doctor and take the time to find a therapist that makes you feel safe and comfortable. Then close your eyes, relax and let your maternity massage melt your troubles away!
To find a massage practitioner or learn more about pregnancy massage, check out the links on the next page.
More Great Links
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Easing Back Pain During Pregnancy." August 2011. (May 11, 2012) http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq115.pdf?
- American Pregnancy Association. "Prenatal Massage: Massage During Pregnancy." April 2011. (May 11, 2012) http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/prenatalmassage.html
- Babycenter.com. "Prenatal massage: Help for your pregnancy aches and pains." March 2011. (May 11, 2012) http://www.babycenter.com/0_prenatal-massage-help-for-your-pregnancy-aches-and-pains_11931.bc
- Riley, Laura, MD. "Pregnancy Massage." Parents.com. (May 11, 2012) http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/week-by-week/25/pregnancy-massage/
- WebMD. "Pregnancy Massage." March 7, 2010. (May 11, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/baby/pregnancy-and-massage