Massage therapy

What is pregnancy massage?

Congratulations on your pregnancy. This is a time that is full of excitement and an eagerness to meet the life that is growing inside you. Unfortunately, it is also a time when you may be feeling anxious and nervous about your future. These nerves will be creating knots, stresses and tension throughout your body. Moreover, you are carrying more weight than your body is used to and the baby is probably finding it appropriate to poke his or her arm or foot into your ribs, kidneys, lungs, bladder and any other organ or muscle that is in the way.

Even though they may be small in size compared to what they will become, having a baby laying on your bladder can make you feel so full that you are running up and down those stairs more often than you can find the time to sit. This is putting strain on your knees, your ankles, your back. Having to wake up in the middle of the night many times, whether for the toilet or because you need to find a more comfortable position might be driving you crazy. Not having a good night’s rest is making you constantly tired, drained and lacking energy.

Additionally you are likely to be experiencing more fatigue, heightened emotions and possibly feeling vulnerable and strained. This a great time to experience a bit of self-care and attempt to recuperate. Experiencing a pregnancy massage can achieve exactly what you need to make the last few months bearable.  

Are pregnancy massages safe?

The first thing that will cross the minds of many mothers when considering a massage during pregnancy is whether or not it is safe. This is because your maternal instinct has kicked in and you already want to nurture your child and not hinder the progress.

In most circumstances, yes! It is absolutely safe and the benefits can be noticed immediately. Meaning that you go home feeling relaxed, and secure in the knowledge that you and your baby are okay.

There is an ever growing research base for why prenatal massages are excellent. To date, there has been no research that has suggested that it is unsafe.

As long as you have a qualified therapist who is specifically trained in prenatal massage, and your pregnancy is not considered to be high risk or complicated, then you can feel confident that your choice of self-care through massage will be a great decision.

If you are aware of any complications then you should check with your GP or midwife first, just to be on the safe side. This includes having an increased risk of premature labour. Although it has not been proven yet, there are thoughts that certain pressure points may trigger contractions. As much as therapists love babies, it is unlikely that they are trained in how to deliver them.

As the massage increases the flow of blood, soon to be parents with preeclampsia or high blood pressure may be at an increased risk of complications arising from pregnancy massages. This therapy can also release previously formed blood clots so if you have a clotting disorder, please check first to ensure safety. Additionally, mums who have problems identified with the placenta may wish to get advice as this carries blood flow directly to your baby. If your doctor or midwife believe that it is okay to go ahead with the massage then you can get booked in.

It is unknown at this point whether essential oils; often used as a part of aromatherapy massages are safe. There is no evidence to suggest that they are not, however some people are concerned that they may trigger contractions. There are alternatives to essential oils, so with discussion, we should be able to decide on a substitute that you feel comfortable with.

Extra safety measures for pregnancy massages

Many of the precautions are not just related to massages. People who practice therapies for individuals who are pregnant will keep up to date with the latest guidance for mums to be so that they can update their practice to suit it.

Massages should be avoided during the first trimester of a pregnancy. This is not because they are believed to be dangerous but because the risk of miscarriage is highest during this stage. Neither you, nor the therapist, will want to be tormented by the what if’s.

As your masseuse is qualified and specifically trained in practicing pregnancy massages you will be guided about any other precautions as you progress through the session. For instance, you may find that you are asked to sit upright or in a semi reclining position instead of on the massage table. It is also possible that the therapist may use pillows or padding to support your back and knees or you may be asked to lay on your side rather than your stomach or back. The practitioners are always happy to explain any precautions to you as well as the thinking behind them.

Laying on your side is a preferred position when any mum to be lays down on any surface, for any reason, from the 24 week point. This is because your uterus is likely to expand during this trimester and the pressure can compress the vessels that circulate blood, nutrients and other essentials to your baby.

During your third trimester, you may be surprised to find that the practitioner does not massage your abdomen. This is because we do not want to trigger contractions or create an uncomfortable feeling. Our priority is to ensure that you and your unborn child are comfortable and safe at all times.

What are the benefits of a pregnancy massage?

Although no research has been found to prove that pregnancy massage is unsafe, there is a multitude available to show that it has a wide range of benefits.

As your body changes shape and your posture alters, stress is put onto joints and muscles that are not used to being depleted in this way. The results are lower back pain, aching of the shoulders and neck, in addition to increased issues with the sciatic nerve. Research shows that a pregnancy massage is good for relieving these aches and pains by soothing the muscles, the joints and the connections. Choosing a massage instead of painkillers can also be a rewarding option for you and your developing baby.

A further ailment that tends to present itself in pregnancy is swelling and blocked lymph nodes. The build-up of fluids tend to be most noticeable in the legs and ankles. The aching is due to the pressure that is being put on your veins. It is believed that massage can help to reduce this build up and allow the fluids to flow again.

In 1981 Janepanich and Tuchinda studied 45 people who were given a massage on the front of their lower legs and placing constant pressure on the right upper leg for 1 minute. This continued for 5 minutes while the patient was laying down. They found that the temperature of both feet increased, pointing to improved blood flow. In addition, the heart rates and blood pressures decreased. Can you imagine the sigh of relief as your feet, ankles and calves are suddenly relieved of their aching?

Insomnia is a condition that many pregnant women experience. There are many reasons for this, maybe you are unable to find a comfortable position or the stress and worry of carrying a baby is keeping your mind active, maybe it is the heart burn, whatever the reason, sleep issues are very common in women who are pregnant. Pregnancy massages have been shown to relax your mind and body so that you can get a good night’s sleep. As sleep is important for your health and wellbeing this is a benefit that will usually be accepted with open arms.

Speaking of the mind, several studies have shown that pregnancy massages heighten your mood, decrease cortisol and adrenaline (the stress hormones), while increasing dopamine (the neurotransmitter that decides how we feel pleasure, focus and strive) and serotonin (a key hormone for stable moods and happiness). Furthermore, the practice will boost your immune system so that you can rest assured that your baby is getting everything that it needs. Other researchers have concluded that this mood boosting, hormone balancing therapy can reduce depression.

As depression is becoming more common in mums to be and mums who have the ‘postnatal blues’, partaking in a regular session of pregnancy massages could prevent the onset. As the technique can also be used postnatally, there is potential for the depression to not occur at all or for a milder version to be experienced.

If this is not enough, there have also been correlations found between regular massages and decreased preterm deliveries meaning that your baby could remain safely inside your womb until it is fully developed. When your baby does arrive, mothers who have had regular prenatal massages tend to have babies that are of a healthy birth weight.

What to expect from a pregnancy massage?

When you first arrive your therapist will ask you about your medical history and any pregnancy information that you have. This will include any known issues in addition to how far along you are. If you have been pregnant before then it is useful to have a history of how that went and whether there were any complications.

Your therapist will talk about which, if any, areas are causing particular distress for you and which techniques you would prefer them to use. The practitioner will avoid any deep tissue or muscle manipulation techniques to avoid causing you to feel uncomfortable and to allow you to feel safe. Often, patients mention that the touch is much lighter than they are used to if they have had massages before. This is to be expected and perfectly normal for a pregnancy massage.

Do not forget that this is your chance to give us as much information as possible, no matter how trivial you think it may be. If you have any worries that are floating around your mind while the therapist works then you will not relax. If you are unable to relax then the intention of the massage will be counteracted. In fact, if you are overly tense about what is happening then the stress from the massage is likely to make you feel more achy and drained.

As your therapist will be appropriately trained and qualified they will be full of wonderful ideas to aid your ability to enjoy the pregnancy massage. For example, if you are suffering with morning sickness then a rocking motion would not be ideal and may add to the nausea. The therapist would therefore avoid that type of technique and spend more time on another one.

Once the therapist has been given all of the information that they need and they have answered any questions that you have, whether about the techniques or for reassurance, they will ask you to either lay on a couch that has an area for your bump to be cradled or ask you to get into a sitting, semi-sitting position. It is also common for pregnant ladies to lay on their sides to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

You will find that the environment is clean, hygienic and that you are using freshly laundered linens. The therapist will then thoroughly wash their hands before beginning the massage.

Having discussed areas that you may be uncomfortable with the massage will include all of your body unless decided otherwise. While in the second trimester, this can include your bump unless you request that the masseuse avoids that area. Even if you feel okay with it initially but then change your mind at the time, all you need to do is tell your therapist that you are uncomfortable and they will stop or move to another area.

You will be asked throughout the massage how you are feeling so that you will have plenty of opportunity to raise any worries or concerns.

Before and after the massage it is highly important that you rehydrate. When the pregnancy massage has finished the therapist will offer you a glass of water and remind you of the need to replenish your fluids.

As massages release the built up metabolic toxins from the body they will make their way into your urinary tract, ready to be expelled. The toxins are carried around in a fluid like plasma which is filtered by the lymph nodes. The essential nutrients are reabsorbed back into the body but the toxins are eradicated. This process can cause the body to become dehydrated, especially if there was a build-up of fluid that was not being filtered appropriately. It is therefore recommended that you continue to drink plenty of water for a while after the massage has ended so that you can replenish your fluids.

What techniques are used in pregnancy massage?

There are a wide range of massages available and although your therapist will be trained and able to do any that are advertised on their website or brochure, the most common practice within a pregnancy massage is the effleurage technique. This is a stroke that is most commonly used in a Swedish massage. It is a long, gliding caress that follows the length of your muscles and soft tissues. If you can imagine the hand that will hopefully be rubbing your back when you are in labour, it will be similar to that. If you have had it confirmed that you are experiencing Braxton hicks or false labour then the technique should be soothing to your contractions. Although pressure is applied within a pregnancy massage, it is a gentle, considerate pressure that will not cause any harm to you or to your baby.

This technique, together with the calm and relaxed atmosphere should leave you feeling energised, relaxed and ready to give birth to your little one.


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