Although pregnant women can choose from a number of systems of pre-natal bodywork, two stand out in their usefulness. Within the western systems, standard Swedish massage tends most to benefit expectant mothers due to its ability to gently relax general muscle tension and improve both blood and lymphatic circulation through mild pressure applied to the various muscle groups. While in the Chinese system of Tui-Na, practitioners use not only gentle muscle massage techniques, but also finger pressure on specific acupuncture points to address the hormonal imbalances that cause so many of the common discomforts experienced during pregnancy. Either system will address such conditions as anxiety, depression, general muscle and joint pain, improving the overall labor experience and ease of birthing.
Help Control Hormones
Regulation of the hormone levels through basic relaxation to reduce stress levels helps maintain cardiovascular health and reduce the depth of hormonal mood swings. Studies over the last decade have shown marked reductions in levels of stress hormones, such as norepinephrine and cortisol, while increasing both serotonin and dopamine levels in women who receive bi-weekly massage for as little as five weeks. This hormonal regulation has resulted in a marked reduction in birthing complications as well as the increased health and overall weight of the newborn child.
A very common problem found in far too many cases is edema, or swelling of the joints, due to reduced circulation and vascular pressure caused by the increase of pressure from the enlarged and heavy uterus. By increasing lymphatic and blood circulation, massage helps to stimulate soft tissue and move out fluids and waste products built up from metabolism.
Especially common during later stages of pregnancy are sciatic nerve pains induced by the uterus resting on the muscles of the pelvic floor and lower back. As additional weight bears down upon this region, the pressure upon the sciatic nerve creates low back and sciatic pain spreading down into the lower extremities. By relieving this pressure and pain, the future mother not only sleeps better, but the increased oxygenation creates more energy and relaxation.
What about the question of safety? Although many facilities/practitioners prefer to avoid massage during the first trimester because of the possibility of over stimulating the mother-to-be, a trained pre-natal massage therapist may actually begin therapy during any trimester.
Massage therapy is now also used for support during labor as it has been shown to reduce the length of labor by 25%, reduce the use of Oxytocin by 40%, reduce narcotic use by 30%, reduce the need for forceps added delivery by 30% and reduce the use of epidurals by 60%.
Aid Post-Partum Recovery
During the post-partum period, massage therapy has been shown to improve breastfeeding, reduce basic muscle tension and pain, allow the mother to spend more time with the new baby, decrease the effects of post-partum depression, assist the recovery of the abdomen, aid in the emotional and physiological recovery of the mother, and promote the realignment and tone of the spine and pelvic region.
One of the greatest findings reported in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology is that women who undergo massage therapy during pregnancy have babies with significantly reduced levels of postnatal complications and a lower rate of premature delivery.
In conclusion, the use of Massage therapy during both the pre- and post- natal periods is not only enjoyable for the mother, but leads to significant health benefits for both the mother and the baby. However, the therapist needs to be trained in not only the techniques to be used, but also the contra-indications of pre-natal massage. Additionally, your OBGYN needs to be aware of your use of massage therapy, and in some cases will need to provide approval for the therapy to begin. A wonderful experience, and a better quality of life, can be achieved through the use of massage for the mother-to-be and the baby.
Melanie Krueger, OMD, EAMP, L. Ac., LMP/NCTMB, has practiced in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the past 18 years, specializing in Women's healthcare, pediatric care, and Doula/delivery pain relief, as well as injury and trauma therapy. She can be reached at 480-839-0243.