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Massage for Women During and After Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a special time in a woman’s life. She is filled with joy in nurturing a baby and faces the challenges and excitement of preparing her body and mind for the birth. A woman’s body responds to pregnancy to nourish and grow a fetus. It is natural and organic. There is no changing the effects that pregnancy has on the body. There are, however, many ways to cope with and lessen the severity of the anatomical, physiological and hormonal changes occurring within her body and mind during this time. Pregnant women seek massage for relief from physical discomfort, for relaxation or for renewal of the spirit. Therapeutic massage and bodywork has benefits for women throughout the course of prenatal development, as well as throughout the post-partum and nursing phase for both mother and infant.

There are physiological alterations that occur during pregnancy. Anatomically, carrying a baby changes a woman’s center of gravity. The growing fetus, the placenta, and the increase in water and fat retention naturally require the pregnant mother adjust her posture to maintain balance. As the fetal weight increases, the woman’s abdominal muscles are less able to contract to keep the lower back aligned. In order to maintain postural stability and recover balance, the pelvis tilts and the lumbar region of the spine arches. This can put pressure on the lower back and cause neck strain. Increased hormones such as estrogen and relaxin initiate the remodeling of soft tissues, cartilage and ligaments causing the joints to become more mobile and less stable during pregnancy. The muscles that support the body for pregnancy often tighten up to protect and stabilize the joints, which can cause muscle tension or spasms.

There are also enormous demands placed on the circulatory and respiratory systems, especially during the third trimester. The mother’s respiratory rate and lung function increase. Her blood volume increases by almost 50% by the end of gestation. (Benjamin, 2010) As the baby grows and presses down into the pelvic bowl, venous flow, which facilitates circulation for the mother, is hampered. Pressure on the veins and lymph system from the additional weight and decreased physical activity may cause swelling of the hands, legs and feet.

These structural changes that a woman’s body undergoes during pregnancy increase her risk for musculoskeletal disorders and injuries resulting from adjustments in balance and adaptations in her soft tissues. Musculoskeletal disorders include lower back pain, leg cramps, headaches, sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, edema, neck pain, and sacroiliac and hip joint pain.

There are physiological, emotional and psychological benefits to receiving prenatal and postpartum massage. Therapeutic massage assists in remedying many of the common discomforts experienced during pregnancy and alleviates muscular stress on weight-bearing joints and musculo-fascial structures. It offers a safe, natural, drug-free alternative choice for pain or stress relief. Massage supports good posture, easing the body’s response to the adjusting alignment caused by the baby’s weight. Massage increases muscle tone and flexibility, enhancing the ability to carry extra weight while also relieving aches and pains, leg cramps and muscle spasms. Massage increases blood circulation, which provides more oxygen and nutrients to both mother and fetus. Massage also stimulates the lymph system, thereby increasing immunity and facilitating the removal of toxins and fluid retention.

In addition to the physical benefits, prenatal massage provides women with emotional support and nurturing touch. The excitement and joy of pregnancy can also generate mixed feelings of anxiety about the future. Emotional issues may arise over how the pregnancy is proceeding, family relationships, finances and other stressors. Added to these emotional challenges is the potential for anxiety related to the upcoming labor and delivery, as well as the potential for post-partum depression. Therapeutic massage soothes and relaxes the nervous system by releasing endorphins. As a result, the expectant mother may feel more at ease in her ever-changing body and may also sleep more easily and deeply. The sedating effect that massage has on the nervous system prepares the mother-to-be for delivery, promoting relaxation and stress-relief. One study found that pregnant women who received massage over a five-week period had decreased stress-hormone levels. Those mothers also experienced fewer labor complications, their infants had fewer post-delivery problems and fewer infants were born prematurely. (Field, 2001)

Comfort for the expecting mother and her growing baby are of the utmost importance in consideration of the positioning during massage. Prenatal massage can be performed by having the expectant mother lie either on her side or semi-reclined, propped up with pillows and supported by cushions. Most women can receive massage throughout the term of the pregnancy, although many therapists recommend a written notice from a doctor or midwife before receiving massage therapy. Massage performed during the first trimester is generally up to the woman, her practitioner and the therapist. Because many miscarriages happen in the first trimester, some massage therapists and doctors counsel against first-trimester massage simply to avoid any potential liability issues should a miscarriage occur. Pregnancy massage experts argue that pregnancy massage doesn't, in itself, cause miscarriage and no research has been done to show a link between a massage and a miscarriage. (Gaither, 2014) Massage may not be advised if the pregnancy is high-risk or conditions such as pre-term labor, pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, deep vein thrombosis or severe edema are present.

Post-partum massage is designed to help restore the body to its pre-pregnant condition. It may be given as early as 24 hours after delivery, with permission from a doctor or midwife. Massage during the weeks after delivery helps to restore muscle tone in the abdomen and reposition the pelvis. It also addresses the stress of carrying and caring for a newborn. Plus, it can give a new mom some time to relax and possibly a chance for some much-needed quiet time and rest. In addition to helping the mother, massage is also beneficial to the baby. Infant massage can promote bonding, help alleviate colic and fussiness and contribute to the baby’s overall health.

No matter where a woman is in the childbearing year, massage may have many benefits for her and her baby.

Colleen Dumas is a licensed massage therapist for The Oneida Holistic Health Center, 16 West Rd, Marlborough. For more information, call 860-467-6518 or visit TheOCenter.net.

 

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