Pregnancy massage
Pregnancy massage

What is Pregnancy Massage?

What is Pregnancy Massage?

Generally defined, pregnancy massage—also referred to as prenatal massage—is a massage focused on helping pregnant women manage pregnancy-specific conditions and possible pathologies.

“Therapeutic touch, gentle range of motion, and breath work can all help the mother’s nervous system shift and help her adjust to the many changes taking place,” says Danielle Dickey-Heifets, a licensed massage therapist.

How is Prenatal Massage Performed?

At the start of a prenatal massage session, a thorough intake is gathered that should include gestational stage, any prenatal diagnoses, past pregnancy problems, medications, prior physical trauma, exercise habits, and prior massage history. This information should be updated before every pregnancy massage session.

Many doctors and midwives encourage a side-lying position for pregnant clients to help ensure placental and fetal circulation, and the left side allows for maximum cardiac function and fetal oxygenation, so is generally accepted as the safest option. Often, massage cushions, sternum pads, and bolsters are used to help comfortably and safely position the client.

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“Prenatal massage is performed much like any other massage,” says Julia Costello, licensed massage therapist and Owner of Portland Prenatal Massage. “It is not a modality, but rather a niche. A massage therapist’s skills are utilized the same way they would be on a standard client.”

The strokes and technique used during prenatal massage are very similar to Swedish massage, though there are some key differences. With prenatal massage, for example, strokes may be slower and gentler, and may include techniques like feathering and cranial sacral therapy. Additionally, certain areas, such as the calves, may require caution because of the increased risk of blood clots.

Many massage therapists who regularly see clients who are pregnant consider taking advanced continuing education on the topic necessary to stay updated on the latest research and ensure they continue to practice safely.

What are the Benefits of Prenatal Massage?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, research has shown that prenatal massage therapy can help reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and improve labor outcomes and newborn health. One of the studies mentioned by the American Pregnancy

Association showed that women who received bi-weekly massages for five weeks had reduced levels of hormones such as norepinephrine and cortisol (stress hormones) and increased levels of dopamine and serotonin (low levels have been associated with depression).

Other potential benefits include:

• Reduced back pain

• Improved circulation

• Improved sleep

• Reduced edema

• Reduced labor pain during childbirth

What are the Risks of Prenatal Massage?

Before booking a prenatal massage session with a client, make sure they’ve received clearance from their doctor to receive massage and noted any cautions. Although massage therapy is considered generally safe throughout pregnancy, massage therapists should be sure to check for any conditions that would contraindicate massage, including pre-eclampsia, deep vein thrombosis, and placenta problems such as prevue, accreta, or abruption.

“Proper positioning is of the utmost importance during the massage to prevent strain on the uterine ligaments or to prevent pressure on the baby,” Dickey-Heifets adds. Some positions, like having a pregnant client supine, can trigger hypotensive syndrome and cause dizziness, weakness, nausea, and shortness of breath because compression of the vena cava causes a drop in blood pressure.

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According to Sherry Christiansen of Very Well Health, other common contraindications include any spotting or bleeding, any kind of infection, toxemia, sudden swelling, or increased blood pressure, or high blood pressure that is not being managed by medicine.

Additionally, some essential oils are not recommended for use with pregnancy and should be avoided. “I’d also like to dispel some myths,” says Costello. “You will not accidentally put a woman into labor or cause a miscarriage with prenatal massage.

Massaging the feet or ankles will not put a woman into labor.”

This article is meant to provide a general overview of prenatal massage and is not intended to cover every situation. Information presented here does not replace the independent judgment of a practitioner. Before practicing any new technique, massage therapists should check with their state regulatory board to ensure they are practicing within their state’s defined scope of practice.