A prenatal massage always sounds nice, but what are the health benefits it can have on my pregnancy and beyond?
A: Almost too many to count! There is ample research to support the benefits of prenatal massage during pregnancy for both the pregnant woman and baby.
A few benefits (among many) include improving relaxation, sleep and digestion, minimizing nausea, decreasing swelling and supporting a healthy environment in utero. In general, massage therapy elicits the parasympathetic (rest and digest) response in the body. All systems are able to function optimally when the body is relaxed. The brain or central nervous system’s response governs the body’s functions and also signals to “let go” of muscular tension.
Why is this so important in pregnancy? The pregnant body experiences a change in the center of gravity; muscles are recruited in a different way for movement; hormones like relaxin are at work on the tissues, and weight gain can put pressure on various parts of the body. It is generally the goal of the prenatal massage to reduce muscular tension (especially low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, tension headaches and the pain patterns associated with the stretching of the uterine ligaments). Decreasing muscular tension can also help to improve posture, which can prevent the tension from increasing further.
Circulation in pregnancy also impacts the flow of oxygen and nutrient-bearing blood to the fetus, as well as the transportation of deoxygenated blood and waste away from the fetus. In other words, it’s not only good for the pregnant client, but for the baby as well!
Prenatal massage may even have an effect on premature labor. In a recent study of 84 pregnant patients conducted by Dr. Tiffany Field, those who received 12 weeks of bi-weekly massage and yoga sessions had babies with a greater gestational age and birth weight than those who did not. There’s always room for more study, but this is a promising and significant outcome for the benefit of prenatal massage!
When looking for a therapist, it is especially important to work with someone who has completed training in specific prenatal massage techniques. They will be able to adapt safe practices to treat you properly with massage, and they will also know the best protocols to give you an optimal experience. Your therapist can teach you how to bolster yourself for sleep at home, demonstrate self-acupressure techniques and even show your partner or caregiver some basic massage tricks for at home.
After the massage, they may ask you additional questions about your immediate results, make recommendations for self-care practices between sessions and suggest how often to come for sessions during pregnancy. Sounds more than just “nice,” right? Massage therapy is an important prenatal health care practice.
—Kiera Nagle, MA, LMT, Director of Asian Holistic Health and Massage Therapy for Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.