No one said pregnancy would be comfortable.
During pregnancy, the expectant mother likely has backaches resulting from her changing posture as the baby grows. Her neck and shoulders also may hurt because the baby leaning on her diaphragm interferes with its function, forcing neck and shoulder muscles that assist in breathing to work harder. The changes in the mother’s body and hormone fluctuations cause both physical and emotional stress. A good night’s sleep is a fading memory.
Massage is a gentle, non-invasive way to cope with these issues, making the expectant mother more comfortable by relieving aching muscles, reducing leg cramps and improving her sleep. Endorphins released during massage ease irritation and anxiety. Massage also can lessen edema (swelling) in feet, ankles and hands and lower high blood pressure.
In addition, women who receive massage during pregnancy are less likely to have premature babies, and their babies are less likely to have postnatal complications. Labors of women who had regular massage averaged three hours shorter than women who did not receive massage, according to a study reported in Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. The study group receiving massage also reported less pain during labor and required less pain medication.
Differences in how a massage therapist works with pregnant and non-pregnant clients are minor. Unlike most massage clients, who lie face up or face down on the massage table, at some point in pregnancy the mother-to be can’t breathe or get comfortable on either her back or her stomach. The massage therapist props the pregnant woman who has reached this stage with pillows into a semi-reclining position or has her lie on her side with pillow support. The massage therapist uses only light to medium pressure strokes with the pregnant client and may avoid abdominal work completely.
One of pregnancy’s many myths is that massage on the feet or ankles is dangerous and should be avoided during this time. According to traditional Chinese medicine, a specific massage technique used on a specific point above the inner ankle may cause uterine contractions and encourage the onset of labor. While I’m not aware of any empirical research proving or disproving this technique’s effectiveness, most massage therapists either avoid or use very light pressure in that area for pregnant clients as a precaution.
Although massage is safe during every stage of a normal pregnancy, it might not be advisable during a high risk pregnancy. If a pregnancy is considered high risk, the mother should consult with her doctor before scheduling a massage.
When you have a pregnant friend or family member, she would love to receive a shower gift that is for her comfort in addition to pastel sleepers and blankets for the baby. Consider giving her a gift certificate for a massage.