How Essential Is Pregnancy Massage?

3 min

Therapeutic massage has been used for centuries to improve overall health, reduce stress, and relieve muscle tension. Pregnant women have often received ambivalent responses from the health community regarding the safety and purpose of massage during pregnancy. Modern investigation and research is proving that prenatal massage therapy or pregnancy massage can be a very instrumental ingredient in women’s prenatal care and should be given careful consideration.

Although most massage training institutions teach massage therapy for women who are pregnant, it is best to find a massage therapist who is certified in prenatal massage. The APA does work with some massage therapists who are trained to work with pregnant women, but it is still important to ask about qualifications.

The benefits of prenatal massage or massage during pregnancy:

Studies indicate that massage therapy performed during pregnancy can
reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches
and joint pains, and improve labor outcomes and newborn health.

Massage therapy addresses different needs through varying techniques,
one of which is called Swedish Massage, which aims to relax muscle
tension and improve lymphatic and blood circulation through mild
pressure applied to the muscle groups of the body. Swedish Massage is
the recommended prenatal massage method during pregnancy because it
addresses many common discomforts associated with the skeletal and
circulatory changes brought on by hormone shifts during pregnancy.

Hormone regulation

Studies done in the past 10 years have shown that hormone levels
associated with relaxation and stress are significantly altered, leading
to mood regulation and improved cardiovascular health, when massage
therapy was introduced to women’s prenatal care. In women who received
bi-weekly massages for only five weeks, hormones such as norepinephrine
and cortisol (“stress hormones”) were reduced and dopamine and serotonin
levels were increased (low levels of these hormones are associated with
depression). These changes in hormone levels also led to fewer
complications during birth and fewer instances of newborn complications,
such as low birth weight. The evidence points strongly to maternal and
newborn health benefits when therapeutic massage is incorporated into
regular prenatal care.

Reduction of swelling

Edema, or swelling of the joints during pregnancy, is often caused by
reduced circulation and increased pressure on the major blood vessels
by the heavy uterus. Massage helps to stimulate soft tissues to reduce
collection of fluids in swollen joints, which also improves the removal
of tissue waste, carried by the body’s lymph system.

Improvement of nerve pain

Sciatic nerve pain is experienced by many
women in late pregnancy as the uterus rests on muscles of the pelvic
floor and lower back. The pressure of the uterus spreads tension to the
muscles of the upper and lower leg, causing them to swell and put
pressure on nearby nerves. Massage therapy addresses the inflamed nerves
by helping to release the tension on nearby muscles. Many women have
experienced significant reduction in sciatic nerve pain during pregnancy
through regular massage.

Other potential benefits of prenatal massage:

  •     Reduced back pain
  •     Reduced joint pain
  •     Improved circulation
  •     Reduced edema
  •     Reduced stress and anxiety
  •     Improved oxygenation of soft tissues and muscles
  •     Better sleep
  • Reduced muscle tension and headaches

What precautions should be taken when seeking prenatal massage?

As with any therapeutic approach to pregnancy wellness, women should
discuss massage with their prenatal care provider. The best way to
address the risks of prenatal massage is to be informed and to work
together with knowledgeable professionals.
Body position during prenatal massage

professionals consider the best position for a pregnant woman during
massage is side-lying. Tables that provide a hole in which the uterus
can fit may not be reliable and can still apply pressure to the abdomen,
or allow the abdomen to dangle, causing uncomfortable stretching of the
uterine ligaments. Consult your massage therapist before your first
appointment to verify what position they place their clients in during
the massage.

Seek an appropriate massage therapist

It is important to seek care from a certified prenatal massage
therapist. Certified therapists have received training beyond the
national standards for massage therapists and know how to address
specific pregnancy needs and sensitive areas of the body.
Be aware of sensitive pressure points

Trained prenatal or pregnancy massage therapists are aware of
pressure points on the ankles and wrists that can gently stimulate
pelvic muscles, including the uterus. Certified prenatal massage
therapists are trained to avoid very specific and intentional pressure
to these areas during pregnancy. Any woman who has experienced pre-term
contractions or consistent Braxton-Hicks contractions should alert her
therapist to that fact so that pressure points can be avoided

Women with the following conditions should speak with a health care provider prior to receiving a massage:

  •     High risk pregnancy
  •     Pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH)
  •     Preeclampsia
  •     Previous pre-term labor
  •     Experiencing severe swelling, high blood pressure, or sudden, severe headaches
  •     Recently gave birth

Is prenatal massage safe throughout the entire pregnancy?

Women can begin massage therapy at any point in their pregnancy –
during the first, second, or third trimester. Many facilities will
refuse to offer massage to a woman who is still in her first trimester
because of the increased statistics for miscarriage associated with the
first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Incorporating Massage Into Your Prenatal Care

The benefits of massage can improve overall prenatal health for many
pregnant women. Along with the guidance and advice of a prenatal care
provider, massage therapy can be incorporated into routine prenatal care
as an emotional and physical health supplement proven to improve
pregnancy outcome, and maternal health. Consult with your midwife or
obstetrician before beginning any new therapeutic practice.