With all the physical discomforts that come with pregnancy (back pain, swelling, sore neck, fatigue, the list goes on), expectant women really do deserve a massage. Now, the key to having a successful prenatal massage is finding a good therapist, knowing what is safe, and basking in the benefits. Here’s your guide to the who, what, when, why and how of pregnancy massage. But, as always, consult your doctor prior to any treatment.
When choosing a prenatal masseuse, double check that they are licensed. While there is no nationally standardized certification for prenatal therapy, there is a continuing education certification. A good sign is if the masseuse has a private practice that specializes in prenatal therapy.
While there are many types of massage therapy out there, prenatal uses a combination of techniques to suit a pregnant woman’s needs, rather than just focusing on one. “The most common type of prenatal massage technique offered by therapists utilizes a combination of Swedish, deep tissue, lymphatic drainage, and shiatsu,” says Anne Heckheimer of the Prenatal Massage Center of Manhattan. “Some massage therapists may integrate reiki, cranial sacral, or Mayan abdominal massage into their sessions if they have training.” There is also a “stimulating massage which will address pressure points,” Heckheimer adds, “which can potentially help move the woman into labor.”
Many of the reasons people get massages in general also apply to prenatal massage. There are the psychological benefits (reduced anxiety, improved mood, ameliorated sleep patterns, higher endorphin levels) as well as the physiological ones (pain relief, possible reduction in premature labor, increased circulation and lymphatic flow, ease of muscle tension). The beneficial effects are not just for gestation and during delivery. Massages may also help women postpartum, as well as their infant. Lauren N. Lessard, PhD MPH of Central Valley Health Policy Institute in Fresno, Calif. explains that “after birth, infants of mothers diagnosed with depression who underwent massage therapy show increased interaction and motor skills as compared to infants of depressed mothers did not receive massage therapy. This is likely a result of reduced stress hormones—cortisol—during pregnancy, which has been shown to impair fetal growth and development.”
All sources agree: positioning the pregnant body correctly is key to having a successful, safe massage. Laura E. Riley, MD, medical director of the labor and delivery department at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of You and Your Baby: Pregnancy, notes: “At various points in pregnancy, the limiting factor for massage will be positioning. After about 20-24 weeks, pregnant women should not be flat on their backs, the large uterus causes compression on the vena cava—large vessel returning blood to the heart—and they will feel queasy and lightheaded.”