For centuries, therapeutic massage has been used to improve overall health, reduce stress, and release tension. Modern investigation and research is proving that prenatal massage therapy can also be very beneficial in women’s prenatal care. Studies indicate that massage therapy performed during pregnancy can reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and improve labor outcomes and newborn health.
Massage therapy addresses different needs through varying techniques, one of which is called Swedish massage, which aims to relieve tense muscles and improve lymphatic and blood circulation. Swedish massage is recommended because, through mild pressure applied to the muscle groups of the body, it addresses many common discomforts associated with the skeletal and circulatory changes brought on by hormone shifts during pregnancy.
Studies have shown that hormone levels associated with relaxation and stress are significantly altered when massage therapy is included in women’s prenatal care. This helps to regulate moods and improve cardiovascular health. These changes in hormone levels can also lead to fewer complications during birth and fewer instances of newborn complications, such as low birth weight. The evidence points strongly to health benefits for both mother and newborn when therapeutic massage is incorporated into regular prenatal care.
There are many benefits to receiving massage therapy during pregnancy. Some of these include reduced back pain, reduced joint pain, improved circulation, reduced muscle tension and headaches, reduced stress and anxiety, and better sleep.
A common symptom during pregnancy is edema (swelling) of the joints. Edema during pregnancy is often caused by reduced circulation and increased pressure on the major blood vessels by the heavy uterus. Massage therapy can help stimulate soft tissues to reduce collection of fluids in swollen joints, which also improves the removal of tissue waste, carried by the body’s lymph system.
Another common complaint is sciatic nerve pain. Sciatica is experienced by many women in late pregnancy as the uterus rests on muscles of the pelvic floor and lower back. The pressure of the uterus spreads tension to the muscles of the upper and lower leg, causing them to swell and put pressure on nearby nerves. Massage therapy addresses the inflamed nerves by helping to release the tension on nearby muscles. Many women have experienced significant reduction in sciatic nerve pain during pregnancy through regular massage.
Women can begin massage therapy at any point in their pregnancy – during the first, second, or third trimester. Trained prenatal massage therapists are aware of pressure points on the ankles and wrists that can gently stimulate pelvic muscles, including the uterus.
Prenatal massage therapists are trained to avoid very specific and intentional pressure to these areas during pregnancy. Any woman who has experienced pre-term contractions or consistent Braxton-Hicks contractions should alert her therapist to that fact so that pressure points can be avoided completely.
Along with the guidance and advice of a prenatal care provider, massage therapy can be incorporated into routine prenatal care as an emotional and physical health supplement proven to improve pregnancy outcome, and maternal health. You may wish to consult with your doctor before beginning any new therapeutic procedure including massage therapy in case there are any complications or contraindications in your particular pregnancy.
Overall, the benefits of massage therapy can improve prenatal health for many pregnant women.