Prenatal massage is a form of massage designed especially for pregnant women. Prenatal massage is different from traditional massage in many ways beyond the fact that the person being massaged is pregnant. The physical changes a woman undergoes while pregnant require adjustments to typical massage techniques and arrangements depending on the stage of her pregnancy.
When receiving prenatal massage, a woman must be positioned and supported uniquely — usually on her side (or even seated upright or in a semi-reclining position) rather than on her stomach or back, especially after the 20th week of pregnancy. Prenatal massage therapy near you will take advantage of more pillows, padding and bolsters to support your knees, back and feet than may ordinarily be the case.
A woman’s pregnancy will also affect the specific massage techniques applied. Therapists providing massage therapy near you will be less likely to use high pressure strokes, except around your shoulders or areas far from your abdomen. Strokes used during prenatal massage are generally long and gliding strokes — effleurage — familiar to women who’ve received Swedish massage.
What are the benefits of prenatal massage?
As a woman’s abdomen grows over the course of her pregnancy, her center of gravity changes and requires or imposes changes to her posture. Those postural changes can place unaccustomed stress on certain joints and muscles and produce pain in her lower back, pelvis and shoulders. Prenatal massage can provide some relief from those aches and pains, particularly pain in a woman’s back and legs.
Fluid build-up and swelling is normal during pregnancy, particularly in a woman’s legs, ankles and feet. Prenatal massage may provide some relief from fluid accumulation caused, in part, by the pressure of a woman’s growing uterus on the veins in her legs.
Many pregnant women experience difficulties sleeping for a variety of reasons ranging from physical discomfort (particularly as pregnancy advances into later months), stress and anxiety. Some studies have found an association between receiving prenatal massage and improved sleep quality and reduced insomnia.
Stress isn’t only a factor when a pregnant woman is trying to sleep, but can impair her day to day functioning and quality of life, too. A number of studies have established a link between receiving prenatal massage and decreases in stress hormones (cortisol, particularly), improved immune system performance, decreased depression and anxiety, and decreased stress.
Are there risks associated with prenatal massage?
There are a limited number of studies examining the risks of prenatal massage, particularly massage for women with increased risks of preeclampsia, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes or bleeding.
Physicians may recommend deferring prenatal massage until your second trimester of pregnancy. Recommendations to that effect do not rely on research linking massage and miscarriage — there is no research making that link — but on the generally higher risk of miscarriage during your first trimester.
If you have a high-risk or potentially complicated pregnancy, you should exercise particular caution before receiving prenatal massage, including by consulting with your physician or midwife before scheduling a massage. If you’re a woman with the following types of increased risks, extra care should be taken to obtain medical clearance for massage, to provide a detailed medical history to your massage therapist and to work only with a certified or licensed massage therapist with specific training and experience in performing prenatal massage.
If you are interested in exploring the benefits of prenatal massage to ease physical or emotional sensations related to your pregnancy or general health, consult with a physician, midwife or massage therapist to discuss your health, well-being and goals. Licensed and experienced massage therapists will work with you to provide relief while ensuring the health of your fetus at the same time.