You already know that therapeutic massage can improve your health, soothe your stress, and ease your muscle tension. Could it also help you feel more relaxed, centred and comfortable throughout your pregnancy?
Prenatal massage is a hot topic among the pre-birth community. Is it safe? If so, when do you have the green light to start?
Though the benefits of massage are long proven, there are naturally some concerns about booking a session in this stage of life. The good news? Modern medical research shows that it’s not only safe, but it can deliver some powerful benefits to both a new mom and her baby.
Today, we’re diving into a few of the reasons to give prenatal massage a try. Along the way, we’ll quell some rumours and show you how to find a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) near you.
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.
What is Prenatal Massage?
As the name implies, prenatal massage is a form of therapeutic massage performed on a woman at any stage of her pregnancy. During those critical nine months, a woman’s body experiences far more than physical changes. In addition to a constantly-shifting body shape, she’ll also have new emotions to contend with, including stress, anxiety and of course, joy.
Not only can prenatal massage ease the physical aches, pains and strains associated with pregnancy, but it can also ease the emotional tension that can accompany this special time.
While there are varying forms of prenatal massage, one of the most common types is called Swedish Massage. Using this technique, a pregnancy massage therapist will apply mild pressure to key muscle groups, relaxing tight muscles while improving lymphatic and blood circulation at the same time.
As pregnancy can cause hormone shifts that affect a woman’s skeletal and circulatory system, Swedish massage is an oft-recommended approach that aims to ease those discomforts.
Prenatal vs. Perineal Massage
It’s important to note that while they might sound similar, prenatal massage is different from perineal massage. The latter is the process of manually stretching a woman’s birth canal tissue to prepare for childbirth and help prevent the risk of episiotomy, tearing or other trauma.
The Benefits of Prenatal Massage
Wondering if prenatal massage is right for you? Here are a few benefits you can expect when you book a session!
Hormone Balance and Regulation
One of the most significant changes that your body goes through when you become pregnant? Your levels of estrogen and progesterone suddenly spike. The amount and function of a number of other hormones can also fluctuate.
While this activity is necessary to develop a healthy fetus, it’s no secret that it can also have unpleasant side effects. Take the increase in norepinephrine and cortisol, for instance. These are your stress hormones, and when they’re up, you feel it.
On the opposite spectrum, many women also experience declines in their levels of dopamine and serotonin levels, two of the most well-known “happiness hormones.” When these dip too low, it can lead to an increased risk of depression.
Thankfully, studies show that prenatal massage can help.
Not only can routine prenatal massages (bi-weekly for five weeks or more) help keep those stress hormones at bay, but they can also elevate levels of dopamine and serotonin. Not only does this make the pregnancy more bearable, but it also helps encourage a successful delivery with fewer complications.
Muscle, Joint and Nerve Pain Relief
From tension headaches to an achy back, pregnancy can wear on every part a woman’s body. When performed correctly by an experienced RMT, prenatal massage can lead to immediate relief for a variety of physical ailments, including:
- Back pain
- Joint pain
- Muscle tension
Is your pain mainly concentrated in your lower back? If so, you could be suffering from sciatica, a common pregnancy condition caused by irritation to your sciatic nerve.
Beginning in your lower back, this nerve extends all the way to your thigh. Women normally experience sciatic nerve pain in the late stages of pregnancy, when their uterus shifts to rest on their pelvic floor muscles and lower back. This causes their upper and lower legs to become tense and swell, which puts extra pressure on adjacent nerves.
In addition to this change, there are a few other conditions that could lead to sciatica during pregnancy, including:
- A bulging or herniated disc
- Bone changes (e.g. spinal narrowing, stenosis)
- Other spinal conditions, including spondylolisthesis
Prenatal massage can relieve your inflamed sciatic nerve and relax nearby muscles. This can make every stage of pregnancy more comfortable and improve your range of motion.
There’s a reason that many women lament swollen ankles as they get further into their pregnancy.
When you’re carrying a child, your uterus becomes heavier than normal. This extra weight can reduce your circulation and put pressure on your major blood vessels. As a result, your blood vessels begin to leak fluid into nearby tissues, a condition known as edema.
Your massage therapist can stimulate those areas, encouraging the collected fluid to safely drain. This can help improve your circulation and improve soft-tissue and muscle oxygenation, as well.
Benefits for Baby
You’re not the only one who will appreciate a prenatal massage!
In addition to the relief that you’ll enjoy, your baby will also reap the benefits. When your circulation improves, your tissue stays healthy, and your joints and muscles stay flexible, you’ll help create a safe and comfortable environment for your little one to grow and develop!
The power of touch can also encourage a bond with your baby prior to delivery, establishing a feeling of protection and nourishment from the very beginning.
Steps to Ensure Your Safety
While the benefits of prenatal massage are plentiful, it’s important to do your research before booking one. Let’s review a few of the most important steps to take.
Communicate with Your Healthcare Provider
Make sure to speak with your prenatal healthcare provider before beginning any kind of massage therapy routine. This is especially important if you have a classified high-risk pregnancy, or if you’re currently experiencing or have experienced the following conditions:
- Pre-term contractions
- Intense swelling
- High blood pressure,
- Sudden, strong headaches
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH)
Find the Right RMT
To ensure your experience is as safe and effective as possible, it’s important to only visit a Registered Massage Therapist, or RMT, who is certified in prenatal massage.
While most massage training institutions touch on the basics of prenatal massage, pregnancy massage therapists with this specialized certification will have received additional training that goes beyond the realm of national standards. They’ll know how to perform a massage that’s specifically suited for a pregnant woman’s body and associated medical concerns.
This includes knowing how to position clients safely to prevent straining your sensitive uterine ligaments. An experienced RMT specializing in prenatal massage will also know how to look out for any signs of risk, including blood clots and varicose veins.
Prioritize the Right Position
While your RMT should know precisely how to place you on the massage table, it’s helpful to educate yourself on the correct positioning, as well.
Bolsters used to achieve correct positioning for prenatal massages
While most experts will lie you on your side, you might come across some that use a special table that allows you to lie on your stomach, like a traditional massage. Though this might seem the most natural fit, the cut-outs for your uterus aren’t always reliable or well-placed.
When this is the case, it can put extra pressure on your abdomen or allow it to hang down, stretching your uterine ligaments. Both positions are uncomfortable and could heighten the risks to you and your baby. Call ahead and ask your RMT which kind of table they use and request side-lying, if possible.
Looking for more information? This video goes into detail on safe positioning techniques that your therapist should use during a prenatal massage.
Understand the Timeline
One of the most discussed issues concerning prenatal massage is whether it’s safe to receive for the entire pregnancy or just the final few months.
The answer? As long as you work with a licensed, experienced RMT, you can safely enjoy a prenatal massage at any point of your pregnancy.
Keep in mind, however, that some institutions will require that you wait until you’ve passed the 12-week mark to schedule your appointment. However, this precaution is simply in place because those first three months carry the highest risk of miscarriage.
Bask in the Glow of a Prenatal Massage
As long as you do your due diligence, booking a prenatal massage can be one of the best things you do for yourself and your new baby as you journey through pregnancy.
The health benefits extend to both you and your new bundle of joy, helping to ease a realm of physical and emotional concerns.
Knowing this, are you ready to book a massage of your own? Begin by searching for RMT organizations by province, and go from there! In the meantime, you can contact us with any massage-related question or concern!
*We make no claim or recommendation about the medicinal benefits of the products listed in this article. We advise you seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.