During pregnancy, a woman's skeletal structure increasingly supports more weight and her organs shift to accommodate her growing baby. The journey can be uncomfortable. Linda Guttman, a Massachusetts-based, nationally certified and licensed massage therapist trained in pregnancy massage says, "A massage therapist can do very specific muscle manipulation throughout a woman's pregnancy to alleviate discomfort in many areas of her body."
Researchers at the Touch Research Institute (University of Miami School of Medicine) have found evidence to support the use of massage therapy in pregnant women. Massaged women reported a decrease in depressed mood, anxiety, and pain. These women also showed a more positive attitude following the first massage during labor. Massage was associated with other benefits, too, including shorter labor times, shorter hospital stays, and less
Betsy, a 41-year-old woman pregnant with her second child, receives weekly massage therapy. "Massage has allowed me to be active and healthy all the way up to these last days before I'm due," she says. During this pregnancy, morning sickness is much less problematic than last time. Massage helps her back pain, and she sleeps better the night after a massage. She has not had leg cramps or swelling in her hands or feet.
"Without massage as a regular part of this pregnancy, I would have lost my mind after the fourth month!" Betsy says. She credits pregnancy massage with quieting the voices of fear and anxiety, and relaxing her body and her spirit. "For me, massage is a very important tool in surviving pregnancy."
Pregnancy massage is generally very safe and satisfying, but it is not for everyone at all stages of pregnancy. That is why it is important to use a prenatal massage therapist.
Claire Marie Miller, a nationally certified massage therapist, and Wanda Sundermann, a nationally certified massage therapist and certified doula (therapist trained for labor and delivery care), are instructors in the Nurturing The Mother certification program—a pregnancy massage training course. They say that massage to ankle reflex points—areas of the ankles that correspond to the uterus and ovaries—should be avoided unless a woman wants to bring about labor. Massage directly over varicose veins is not a good idea, but treatments done to surrounding areas will improve circulation and relieve tension in the varicose tissues.
In general, some swelling is normal in pregnancy, and massage can help relieve some of the discomfort. However, fairly rapid and/or severe swelling of the hands and face late in pregnancy can be a sign of potentially dangerous conditions and requires immediate medical care; massage is not the appropriate therapy in this case.
If you have other conditions, it is important that you talk to your doctor before you schedule an appointment with a massage therapist. For example, if you have a high-risk pregnancy, high blood pressure, or pre-eclampsia, seek advice from your doctor first. If you are experiencing pre-term labor, massage can help improve circulation and relax you, but massage of the abdomen should be avoided.
Miller and Sundermann recommend pregnancy massage on the same schedule a woman sees her doctor. If you were a regular massage junkie before you became pregnant, more frequent visits may be fine. If your budget, schedule, and doctor approve, once a week would be ideal. If you are unaccustomed to massage or are in the first trimester, seek the advice of your doctor and a prenatal massage therapist to learn when to start.
Infant massage can be a healthy model for family massage. The whole family can participate, which helps create a bond between parents and child. For premature babies, it has been shown to decrease the length of hospitalization and help improve weight gain. It helps infants become acclimated to a loving touch and helps them relax. A good time to do infant massage is after a bath.
Begin with the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA)—a governing body for all massage therapists, including those trained in pregnancy massage. The AMTA has a chapter in each state and can provide you with a list of certified therapists in your state. Also, ask other medical professionals you know. Chiropractors, obstetricians, and other professionals often have a network that you can tap into.
Once you have a list of names, ask the following questions to help make the experience a positive, healthy one:
- How long have you been practicing?
- What is the special training you have had in prenatal massage?
- How much massage experience do you have with pregnant women?
- How will you handle positioning me as I progress in my pregnancy?
If the therapist cannot answer these questions to your satisfaction, find a therapist who can.