Massage for Moms-to-Be
There is something so special, so thrilling, about massaging a pregnant woman. It is an honor and a privilege. It also comes with tremendous responsibilities. Competent and appropriate training in this specialty is essential for the safety of mother and baby. And creating a nurturing, nonjudgmental working environment is paramount to achieving desired treatment outcomes. It is not advisable to go to a spa or gym where there is no one trained in this special work.
Since stress has negative effects on pregnancy, labor, and postpartum recovery, one of the main goals of a prenatal massage practitioner is to control and lower maternal stress and anxiety. Common pregnancy-related physical discomforts—such as backaches, nausea, swelling—and any emotional concerns may add to maternal stress levels. Long-term exposure to heightened stress levels can lead to potentially serious health problems, such as suppressed maternal immune function, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Massage and bodywork, when appropriately administered during pregnancy, can have a powerful influence in mitigating the effects of stress. Massage sedates and restores the nervous system. Proprioceptors of the deeper soft tissues relay messages to the central nervous system about muscle tension and blood pressure. The heat produced by massage signals both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems to balance, correct, and restore these self-regulating mechanisms.
Effects of Stress on Pregnancy
• Delayed infant neuromotor development.
• Elevated maternal heart rate and blood pressure.
• Higher incidences of miscarriage.
• Increased stress hormones.
• Increased labor pain.
• Increased likelihood of (maternal) unhealthy lifestyle habits.
• Low fetal birth weight and premature labor.
• Maternal depression.
• Obstetrical complications.
• Prolonged labor or failure to progress.
• Uterine vasoconstriction.
Effects of Stress on Fetal Development
• Behavioral problems, such as ADD.
• Cleft lip and cleft palate.
• Cognitive delays, such as autism and autistic spectrum disorders.
• Diabetes later in life.
• High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease later in life.
• Low birth weight.
• Neuromotor delays.
• Obesity later in life.
• Premature labor.
• Slowed brain development.
Relaxation is further enhanced by the pain-reducing, or analgesic, effect it provides. Blood vessels dilate, waste products get reabsorbed and excreted, tissues become oxygenated, and pain is diminished. Beta-endorphins and serotonin (a neurotransmitter) are secreted during massage and work together to inhibit the central nervous system and produce that “feel-good” response.
Prenatal massage also addresses many of the musculoskeletal discomforts expectant women experience—abdominal pressure, backaches, hemorrhoids, sinus congestion, and swelling can all be relieved or reduced by appropriate prenatal massage. In addition, the emotional and psychological effects of prenatal massage cannot be overlooked or underestimated. The nurturing and respectful touch given by a qualified practitioner helps the expectant mother achieve a sense of peace during an unsettling time. A woman who feels validated and affirmed through someone’s loving touch is also more likely to display better parenting skills, be more attentive to her baby, and touch her child in a loving, supportive manner.
Each time we practitioners massage a pregnant woman, its important to remember the loving work we are doing has a positive impact on both her and her growing baby, not only while the baby is in utero, but throughout the baby’s life. Everything the mother feels is transmitted to her baby through biochemical agents. The experiences she has while pregnant, and the type of birth she has, leave lasting patterns in her baby.
Physical, Emotional, and Psychological Changes of Pregnancy
Pregnancy and becoming a mother is a defining and life-changing experience for many women. It can be an emotional roller coaster ride, especially for first-time moms who may not be aware of all the dynamic changes pregnancy causes to the body and psyche.
Many of these changes are brought on by hormonal shifts, particularly the elevated levels of estrogen and progesterone, which are increased to nearly 10 times their normal levels. Emotional liability, or the ups and downs of pregnancy, and conflicting feelings are part of the experience. But it can be disconcerting for women who expect to feel one way, but actually feel another.
For some women, their growing bodies bring tremendous satisfaction and pride, while others dislike their shape and have a poor self-image. The aches and pains from the common discomforts of pregnancy add to their malaise. Fears and concerns about the pregnancy and impending childbirth, parenthood, and relationships with their partners, families, and friends are also factors in this richly emotional, sensitive time. The support a woman has—or doesn’t have—has a tremendous impact on her pregnancy and labor.
Past traumas can also leave indelible scars on the pregnancies of some women.
Maternal stress has a direct impact on the baby’s health. A study on the effects of maternal stress on the baby indicated that fetal heart rates of stressed mothers stayed higher longer, suggesting a heightened reaction to stress. These responses to stress have been linked to delayed or stunted fetal development, low birth weight, preterm labor, and higher incidences of cardiovascular disease and diabetes later in life for the babies. The study went on to say that the women who regularly employed relaxation techniques—such as massage, meditation, and yoga—had lower blood pressure and fostered a healthy in utero environment, thereby producing calmer babies.
Stress can affect blood flow to the uterus by as much as 65 percent, denying the growing baby essential nutrients and oxygen, which in turn may lead to low birth weight, preterm labor, and a long, difficult labor for mom. It is important that, in addition to relieving her aches and pains, the massage provides a safe haven of comfort, nurturing, respect, and stress reduction that impacts both the mother and her baby.
When/ Why / How often ?
One of the most common themes I find with pregnant clients is the idea that they come in "once" during pregnancy, usually about the 39th week, maybe seeking relief, maybe on a gift certificate. This is actually a common theme with regular clients as well, who come once a year and/or view massage as a "treat" . While I fully understand there may be economic reasons why, I would like to offer some thoughts on the importance of making massage part of a regular wellness regimen, and it is for these reasons that I offer prenatal massage, labor support and postpartum care, and it makes a wonderful package to help through the entire pregnancy process. Especially the postpartum massage, which may be the most important massage you will ever get.
All the benefits of prenatal massage have been detailed above but what about pre-labor, when the baby is ready. While I am not suggesting that you hire a massage therapist for the delivery room (but you may, and or may want to consider a doula) I am suggesting that this may be a time when you want to make your last pre-delivery massage appointment to help ease the stress and facilitate a smoother delivery. I also offer labor support workshops for couples whereby I can show your partner some techniques to help keep you calmer, relaxed and more focused.
A funny thing happens during childbirth. For nine months your body is slowly and steadily undergoing massive changes in structure, bio-mechanics, and chemistry (hormones). The good news for many is that you have people around you who love and support you. In the delivery room all eyes are on you - but the moment that baby comes, the focus shifts to him/her. Its instant! What about mom?
In the time it takes for the pregnancy to mature, about 40 weeks, you body has changed. But immediately after birth, ALL the same physical and chemical changes happen in reverse but the process is much quicker. Further, in addition to coping with these ongoing rapid changes, you have a new baby to care for, 24/7. This can be mentally and physically taxing and can bring about new kinds of stresses. In many cases this can lead to "blues" or worse "depression". Because of the massive physical and emotional changes taking places, along with the additional responsibilities placed on a new mother postpartum massage may be the most important massage you ever get.
So, all together, this is a very significant part of your life, why not take care to make it easier on you. Consider a program of 3 to 10 treatments, as your budget allows, that takes you through the early stages, right up through and past delivery, with at least 1-4 treatments devoted to the post delivery stage.
Parts abridged from text by Elaine Stillerman.
I write about things that I myself need to be mindful of. ways in which I would like to improve. It is not from the perspective of preaching - but rather writing helps me work out what I myself need to do - we are all in this together.