The Benefits and Risks of Pregnancy (Prenatal) Massage

pregnancy massage
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What Is Pregnancy Massage?

Pregnancy massage is a type of massage therapy specifically tailored to the needs of a pregnant women. It is also called prenatal massage.

Why Women Get Pregnancy Massage

While every pregnancy is unique, a woman's body changes as the baby grows, which can cause discomfort for a mom-to-be. As the abdomen grows outward and your body's center of gravity shifts outward, for instance, your posture changes to realign your center of gravity over your hips. For some women, the stress on the joints and muscles results in low back, pelvic, neck, shoulder, or sciatic nerve pain.

Certain ligaments in your pelvis (known as "round ligaments") relax and stretch to accommodate the growing baby. This change can cause sharp pains on one side of the pelvis or the other. The discomfort or pain often lasts for just seconds, and usually occurs when you change position.

Some swelling, or edema, is also normal during pregnancy. The fluid buildup tends to be more pronounced in your legs, ankles, and feet because the growing uterus puts pressure on the veins in the legs. Massage may help to reduce the fluid buildup.

Designed to relieve discomforts of pregnancy, prenatal massage is also used to boost mood, improve sleep, and enhance overall well-being.

How Pregnancy Massage Differs from a Typical Massage

A pregnant woman's body must be properly positioned and supported during the massage for the comfort and safety of the mother and growing baby. After about 20 weeks for instance, lying on your back can put excess weight on your abdomen, restricting blood flow.

Moms-to-be are usually positioned lying on their side rather than on their stomach or back. This is particularly important during the later stages of pregnancy. Pillows, bolsters, or padding may be used to support your back, knees, and/or feet. Alternatively, your massage therapist may suggest that you sit upright or in a semi-reclining position.

The most common massage technique used during pregnancy massage is effleurage, a long, gliding stroke used in Swedish massage. If you're used to strong pressure, you'll likely find the pressure during pregnancy massage gentle and light. While the massage therapist may use deeper pressure in certain areas distant from your belly like your shoulders, the overall pressure may be much lighter than what you are used to.

The massage should be tailored to your health concerns. If you are experiencing morning sickness, for example, your massage therapist may avoid using rocking techniques.

Safety and Risks Associated with Prenatal Massage

Few studies have examined the risks of prenatal massage in depth. As with any new therapy, consult your doctor before booking a pregnancy massage treatment. Your doctor, for instance, may recommend avoiding massage therapy during your first trimester. Little is known about the risks of pregnancy massage for women with a high-risk pregnancy and pregnancy-related issues such as preeclampsia, high blood pressure, bleeding, or gestational diabetes.

A qualified massage therapist will ask you to fill out a medical history form. You should provide information on health conditions, medications, allergies, family history, and your pregnancy. Be sure to communicate with the massage therapist and let him or her know if you feel any discomfort during the treatment.

Seek a registered massage therapist who has additional training and certification in prenatal massage. A qualified, experienced massage therapist will know how to position your pregnant body (for example, side lying reduces the added pressure you would have lying on your back) and which techniques are safe to use.

Properly trained pregnancy massage therapists will know which areas to avoid for your stage of pregnancy and condition. Some massage therapists may avoid additional areas such as pressure points in the ankles, foot, and sacrum (a large triangular bone at the base of the spine).

The safety of essential oils (used in aromatherapy massage) during pregnancy isn't known and there's concern that they may trigger uterine contractions. Avoid essential oils in your first trimester and consult your doctor if you're considering using them in your second or third trimester.

Where to Get a Pregnancy Massage

Look for a licensed massage therapist who has additional certification in pregnancy massage. Your doctor may be able to recommend a qualified massage therapist in your area.

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