You walk into the spa, instantly relaxed with soothing music and the soft glow of a Himalayan salt lamp in the backdrop. Your private room is even more tranquil with the warm scent of a vanilla candle greeting you at the door. You are ready for a luxuriant prenatal massage!
If you’ve been wondering how a prenatal massage could benefit both you and baby, read on for the facts about this ancient therapeutic practice. We’ll discuss how massage can ease both physical and mental tension while offering a few pointers to find the most qualified therapist.
History of Prenatal Massage
The roots of prenatal massage can be traced back to more than 3,000 years ago as an extension of Ayurvedic medicine, which aims to keep the body in balance. Additionally, doulas (caretakers of pregnant women) have employed prenatal massage as one of many natural techniques to support the mother’s whole health. Jamaica, Malaysia, and Japan are just a few countries that perform prenatal massage rituals.
How is prenatal massage different from regular massage?
Performed after the first trimester of pregnancy, prenatal massage is gentler than most types of body work. Deep tissue pressure should never be applied, as it could be harmful to you or your unborn baby. Instead, a flowing Swedish style is the norm, along with bolsters, pillows, and other supportive objects to make you feel comfortable.
Because of the changing needs of your body, the entire prenatal massage will take place on your back or on your side, but never on your abdomen. A therapist with experience in prenatal massage will knead possible problem areas (like the feet) to reduce pregnancy-related swelling.
A good prenatal massage is custom-designed to your preferences as well as your specific needs as an expectant mom.
Benefits of Prenatal Massage
What makes prenatal massage so special? For one, it is a natural healing method that can be a godsend when your body is working double time. According to Dr. Abigail Dennis, an ob-gyn at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore:
“Pregnancy does a number on your posture. It compresses your lower back, weakens your core, and places a lot of pressure on your legs and feet.”
A good prenatal massage can help counteract all those pregnancy issues. Here are the top 5 benefits of prenatal massage.
1. Reduced back and joint pain: The second and third trimesters of pregnancy can take a toll on your lower back as well as your joints. Prenatal massage can help rub through those muscle kinks, leaving you with better posture as well as more mobility and freedom. In fact, massage therapy may be a viable alternative to over-the-counter pain medications containing acetaminophen.
2. Balanced hormone levels: Pregnancy drastically alters your hormone levels, which you may notice in everything from mood swings to acne. Regulated hormones help you feel better and can even have a positive impact on your baby.
3. Lower stress and anxiety levels: Bringing a new person into the world can make your mind race with worries and projections about the future. Such worrying can spiral into depression, which has been shown to increase the risks of premature labor and low birth weight. Unwinding with an hour-long prenatal massage can combat this anxiety and, simultaneously, reduce stress-related symptoms including headache and insomnia.
4. Improved circulation: If blood is flowing smoothly through the circulatory system, then bothersome symptoms like edema (swelling) may be reduced. A prenatal massage promotes the flow of fresh blood and oxygen as the therapist’s hands stimulate your lymph fluid to flush away waste materials.
5. Increased energy: While a good prenatal massage might initially make you feel sleepy, ultimately you should feel rejuvenated. In one study, prenatal massage has even been proven to decrease feelings of anger and facilitate more harmonious relationships. Plus, looser muscles, fewer aches, and unrestricted circulation can lead to a healthier, more enduring energy boost than any cup of coffee.
Are there risks to prenatal massage?
Prenatal massage, like any type of body therapy, does carry some potential risks. Dizziness and nausea are possible side effects of a prenatal massage, but these issues can be avoided or alleviated by drinking a full 8 ounces of water, which will also help your body flush any additional waste from your system.
In terms of more serious risks, opinions conflict about whether massage during the first trimester can lead to miscarriage. Women’s Health asserts that massage “will not cause a miscarriage…or trigger contractions.” To be safe, though, only get a massage once you’ve entered your second trimester, and don’t be afraid to tell your therapist if the pressure is too much.
To further minimize any potential risks, be sure to do your homework before booking an appointment. When researching massage therapists, look for those who have the letters CMT (Certified Massage Therapist) or LMT (Licensed Massage Therapist) after their names. Finding a therapist who specializes in prenatal massage is also advisable. Finally, choose a clean, reputable spa that inspires feelings of confidence.
Alternatives to Prenatal Massage
Some women may prefer not to get a professional massage, whether for financial or personal reasons. If your budget doesn’t allow or you don’t feel comfortable in the hands of a stranger, ask a partner or friend to massage your shoulders for a few minutes. Or, try this 5-minute fix yourself:
Find a quiet corner at home, sit down, and close your eyes. Roll your head around slowly in each direction. Then, sit in stillness and massage your temples in a circular motion. Breathe deeply as you perform this self-massage, letting your hands travel to any muscles in the body where tension is held. Next, recline on your back and stretch your arms over your head. Place your arms down at your sides and continue the rounds of deep breathing — falling asleep is OK, too!
Prenatal massage is one facet of a healthy pregnancy, but as with every other aspect of motherhood, it is highly individual. Do whatever helps you personally to relax — whether it’s watching a movie in the living room, curling up with a novel, or heading to the spa. You know what’s best for yourself and for baby!