A prenatal massage always sounds nice, but what are the healthful benefits it can have on my pregnancy and beyond?
Answer: Almost too many to count! There is ample research to support the benefits of prenatal massage during pregnancy for both the pregnant person and the baby. Dr. Tiffany Field has conducted many studies at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine that examined the benefits of massage for the pregnant client, infants, and caregivers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3319349/
So, what are some of the benefits?
Massage promotes relaxation – Massage therapy, in general, elicits the parasympathetic (rest and digest) response in the body. Why is this so important in pregnancy? All of the body’s systems are able to function more 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.
Massage minimizes nausea – Studies have shown the benefits of acupressure to specified points for the reduction of nausea / morning sickness in pregnancy. Acupressure can be applied by the massage therapist, and/or the therapist can teach the client self-massage techniques. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1291716/
Massage decreases swelling – Massage improves circulation which can reduce edema in the limbs. Your prenatal massage therapist should evaluate your swelling to determine whether massage is safe (extreme swelling, or “pitting edema” is a contraindication for massage.) Once you are cleared, the massage therapist will use “lymphatic drainage” techniques to assist the lymph flow. This is why during a pregnancy massage you can expect lighter, upward moving strokes on the legs during the session. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20854342
Massage alleviates discomfort and muscular tension – This is one of the MOST beneficial aspects of prenatal massage. 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. Sleeping in the side-lying position is appropriate, but can also create tension in the neck, shoulders, and low back. Furthermore, it is recommended that the pregnant client does NOT take NSAIDS to treat muscular pain. 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.
Massage improves digestion and sleep – Remember, massage helps the body to get into the parasympathetic “rest and digest” state. When the body is relaxed, its systems work more optimally. Constipation is a normal pregnancy symptom and the moving aspects of massage can assist with stagnation in the body. Pregnant clients often have sleep disturbances due to muscular tension and cramping, anxiety, or other reasons, and massage can help to improve sleep by treating the symptoms.
Massage improves body awareness – Sometimes pregnant clients might cope with the stress of the rapid changes in the body, or their discomfort, through a dissociative response (disconnecting from an awareness of the body.) Clients with a history of trauma may dissociate from the body during pregnancy, as it is a period when things are happening to the body that are out of their own control. Massage can help the client reconnect with their bodies, identify pain and discomforts so they can be treated, as well as create positive experiences of pleasure and relaxation in the body. http://besselvanderkolk.net/the-body-keeps-the-score.html
Massage decreases anxiety, reduces depression, and elevates mood – Various studies have shown that massage helps to decrease anxiety and elevate mood. How can this be proven? Researchers use various techniques, such as asking questions of the recipients before and after the massage, and measuring the amounts of cortisol (stress hormone) and oxytocin (casually called the “love” hormone”) before and after massage. In the studies, consistent findings show that massage recipients have a reduction in cortisol and an increase in oxytocin. Why is an increase in oxytocin especially important to the pregnant client? Oxytocin is the hormone that gets labor going naturally in the body. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3183515/
Prenatal massage assists in preparation for labor – Prenatal massages provide the pregnant client with the opportunity to experience the parasympathetic response- this state will be a point of reference for labor, as labor will progress optimally when the client is relaxed both physically and emotionally. There are also many benefits of massage for labor, postpartum recovery, and for infants, but those each deserve their own articles!
Massage supports a healthy in utero environment – In general, massage improves circulation. In pregnancy, this also impacts the circulation of oxygen and nutrient-bearing blood to the fetus, as well as the transportation of deoxygenated blood and waste away from the fetus. So, prenatal massage is not only good for the pregnant client, but for the baby as well!
Prenatal massage may even have an effect on preventing premature labor – In a recent study of 84 pregnant clients conducted by Dr. Tiffany Field at TRI, clients who received 12 weeks of twice-weekly massage (and yoga) sessions had greater gestational age and birthweights for their babies than the control group which received nothing. There is always room for more study, but this is a promising and significant outcome for the benefit of prenatal massage for the fetus as well as the client! https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3319349/
Sounds more than just “nice”, right? Massage therapy is an important health care practice. Enjoy!