Pregnancy can be so uncomfortable! Time for a massage — but do you need a special kind of massage when you’re pregnant? What’s different about it besides the fact that you might not be able to lie on your stomach? Here’s why the experience, techniques and benefits of a prenatal massage are different from a standard massage.
When you’re expecting a baby you’re likely to feel all kinds of aches and pains. The added weight you’re carrying, along with the way it’s centered in the front of your body, can cause changes in your posture and gait as your body tries to compensate for your changing center of gravity. But as the uterus expands, the baby grows and your hormone levels shift, it’s more than just backache that can ensue.
There are several ways in which a real prenatal massage is different than the average relaxation massage you receive at a typical day spa. These differences become more important and more pronounced as your pregnancy progresses — with more adjustments made in your second and third trimester vs. in your first trimester.
Prenatal massage techniques are designed to …
- Reduce swelling. Special manipulation techniques can be used to stimulate soft tissues to reduce edema (fluid retention). Edema is often caused by the fact that the heavy uterus can reduce circulation and increase pressure on major blood vessels, notes the American Pregnancy Association based on research published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
- Relieve sciatica. Sciatic nerve pain is a common complication during pregnancy because the uterus rests on the pelvic floor and lower back muscles. The pressure radiates pain through the sciatic nerve into leg muscles, in turn causing those muscles to swell and put pressure on nearby nerves. Massage therapy can reduce inflammation in the nerves by helping to release the tension on nearby muscles. Many pregnant women experience significant reduction in sciatic nerve pain through regular massage.
- Balance hormone levels. Recent studies have shown that massage during pregnancy significantly improved regulation of the hormones norepinephrine, cortisol and serotonin — hormones associated with stress, relaxation and mood. These improvements can help expectant mothers balance out mood swings and reduce the risk of low birth weight or complications with delivery, reports the APA based on an article on massage therapy effects on pregnant women suffering with depression, in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
- Keep baby safe. The intensity of the pressure applied to the muscles and tissues, and the positioning of the mother’s body, should be adjusted to ensure that the baby is protected.
5 tips for getting the right prenatal massage for you
- Tell your massage therapist how far along you are and when your due date is.
- Ask for a massage therapist experienced in prenatal massage techniques. These professionals specialize in prenatal and postnatal massages.
- Advise the therapist of any particular troubles, concerns, aches … Point out where you’re feeling pain or discomfort, when it tends to be at its worst, and what activities seem to aggravate it or cause it to flare up.
- Be specific. “Feels like” comparisons are helpful here — does it feel like a needle in your back every evening, or a dull ache in your hip when you try to bend?
- Ask about Swedish massage. Swedish massage is a recommended prenatal massage method because it is effective at relieving many discomforts related to the changes in hormone levels, spinal and joint alignment, and circulation that are often experienced by pregnant women. Swedish massage aims to relax muscle tension and improve lymphatic and blood circulation. The therapist uses long, gliding strokes and kneading and tapping techniques on the top layer of muscles; and may also manipulate the joints gently to improve range of motion.
Be sure to consult your doctor first about whether a massage is suitable for your condition.
When you’re nearing delivery, schedule yourself for a postnatal massage. This type of therapy is differs from a prenatal massage in that it focuses on toning a new mother's body and reducing fluid retention. And of course, it can help ease the stresses of all the change you’re experiencing at home (like getting up with the baby in the middle of every night) — and that release and renewal can help you be a better mom.