Lower back pain, leg cramps, swollen feet, heartburn. Pregnancy is beautiful, but it’s anything but comfortable. Expectant mothers can help their bodies adjust with diet, massage, yoga, and even by taking a dip in the pool.
Studies indicate that massage therapy performed during pregnancy can reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and improve labor outcomes and newborn health. Massage therapy addresses different needs through varying techniques. From the first to third trimester, prenatal massages can have profound physical and psychological benefits.
While we always suggest getting your doctor or midwife’s advice before booking your prenatal massage, a massage therapist with prenatal massage experience and education will know how to ensure a safe, relaxing experience for you.
First Trimester Massage – Many women have been led to believe it isn’t safe to get a massage during this period. Women can begin massage therapy at any point in their pregnancy – during the first, second, or third trimester. But many facilities will refuse to offer massage to a woman who is still in her first trimester because of the increased risk for miscarriage associated with the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
During the first trimester, a prenatal massage can help relieve some of the headaches, constipation, and yes even morning sickness. Along with the physical benefits of a massage, taking the time to deeply relax will do wonders for your well-being as you prepare for motherhood!
Second Trimester Massage – Many women find this stage of pregnancy to be easy going compared to the first and third trimesters. However, as your belly grows, your posture will change as your center of gravity shifts, resulting in back pain. Prenatal massages can ease those tense back muscles as well as enhance your posture and bodily alignment. Your body and mind will benefit greatly from the healthy habits you’ve adopted.
Studies done in the past 10 years have shown that hormone levels associated with relaxation and stress are significantly altered when massage therapy is introduced to women’s prenatal care. This leads to mood regulation and improved cardiovascular health. In women who received bi-weekly massages for only five weeks, hormones such as norepinephrine and cortisol (hormones associated with stress) were reduced, and dopamine and serotonin levels were increased (low levels of these hormones are associated with depression).
These changes in hormone levels also led to fewer complications during birth and fewer instances of newborn complications, such as low birth weight. The evidence strongly suggests there are maternal and newborn health benefits when therapeutic massage is incorporated into regular prenatal care.
Third Trimester Massage – You may find that the anticipation of delivery has increased your stress levels. This is the perfect time for you to book yourself a massage. You’ll find that regular prenatal massages during this last trimester can enhance your sleep, reduce pain and swelling, and generally assist in lowering stress as the delivery day draws near.
Massages during the third trimester can even help prepare your pelvic muscles for the birthing process. Some women find deep tissue massages especially helpful during the final stretch of pregnancy, though it’s always best to consult with your obstetrician and massage therapist beforehand.
Many women have experienced a significant reduction in sciatic nerve pain during pregnancy through massage.
Potential benefits of prenatal massage –
- Reduced back pain
- Reduced joint pain
- Improved circulation
- Reduced edema
- Reduced muscle tension and headaches
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Improved oxygenation of soft tissues and muscles
- Better sleep
Precautions – As with any therapeutic approach to pregnancy wellness, women should discuss massage with their prenatal care provider. The best way to address the risks of prenatal massage is to be informed and to work together with knowledgeable professionals.
Women who have recently experienced bleeding, pre-term contractions, or have any of the following conditions should speak with a healthcare provider prior to receiving a massage –
- High-risk pregnancy
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH)
- Previous pre-term labor
- Experiencing severe swelling, high blood pressure, or sudden, severe headaches
- Recently gave birth
The benefits of massage can improve overall prenatal health for many pregnant women. Along with the guidance and advice of a prenatal care provider, massage therapy can be incorporated into routine prenatal care as an emotional and physical health supplement shown to improve pregnancy outcome and maternal health. Consult with your midwife or obstetrician before beginning any new therapeutic practice.
From the early stages to the days before delivery, prenatal massages offer numerous benefits for your body and mind.