Massage can be a great help, especially when the stresses of life–good or bad–become more intense than usual. Pregnancy is one of those times of life that, for most, is an exciting and anticipated event, but which brings with it challenges that massage can help you handle.
Our resident expert in prenatal massage, Christie Ellis, LMT is a former employee of The Good Life Massage and has special training in prenatal massage. As a prenatal massage expert we consulted with her to share some of the fundamentals and benefits of prenatal massage.
What exactly did your special training consist of, Christie?
“Most people don’t get a lot of training other than just very basic contraindications (signs that prenatal massage should be avoided). So I actually got extra training in prenatal techniques at Bastyr University. Carol Osborne was my instructor there, and she is one of two or three national experts on training massage therapists in prenatal massage. So I took her training, which was four days, and it was all just exclusively prenatal and post-partum massage. So I’m certified in that, and I just have more experience in working with that population than most.
You’re a mom. Did you have any experience getting prenatal massage during that time?
I did, once. That was for my first pregnancy. It was actually my first-ever professional massage. I don’t think I even began to understand the positive impact that massage can have on the pregnant body. I think I totally thought of it as a luxury service, just getting pampered. But I didn’t know it would have an impact on my bodily structures. I think that was something I didn’t really understand until after I had my second child and was post-partum and was having all kinds of problems after having two babies.
What are some of the major benefits of prenatal massage?
I would say that there is stress relief, which is really valuable. It effects the nervous system, and is able to calm down everything when there’s anxiety, potentially, about becoming a parent, giving birth, and just preparation for the big event–it lets the brain kind of take a break for a while.
And then, I think, dealing with common pre-natal concerns like psiatica, low back pain, and pain in the shoulders can be alleviated or mitigated with prenatal massage.
What’s the value of one session versus regular sessions for expecting mothers?
Essentially, there is value in one treatment. When you’re doing fewer treatments, the value is more for the nervous system. It takes longer for lasting value and lasting change for the muscles.
I think weekly massage is very reasonable for pregnancy, and is not overkill. Definitely monthly, weekly, or twice a month is great to be able to address issues and kind of help compensating muscles as the baby’s growing and putting stress continuously, increasingly over the pregnancy.
Are there any safety concerns?
Prenatal massage completely safe. Our bodies are protective, and there are a lot of protective structures in between the outside of our body and the baby.
Having said that, there are precautions that need to be taken. Someone adequately trained should be taking those precautions, such as using a side-lying position later in pregnancy or elevating the side of the pelvis, and avoiding areas of inner-tension, such as the inner-thigh. That is, the inner thigh should be an area where caution is used in late pregnancy and post-partum. When you have a practitioner who is trained, and who knows those caution areas, it’s just as safe as any other time. There shouldn’t be any alarm about it causing any harm to the baby.
There’s an increased volume of blood in the inner thigh during prenancy, and most women have a good amount of blood clots in the inner thigh. The hormones released in giving birth cause those to dissovlve on their own, but heavy pressure on the inner thigh can dislodge them and cause problems. It’s better to just keep the pressure light. And then, a few months post-partum, regular pressure can resume.
Are there a lot of signs or contraindications women should be aware of to avoid prenatal massage?
If there is a complication, such as preeclampsia, that is probably the biggest red flag to not proceed. Some of the indicators of preeclampsia include high protein in the urine, and high blood pressure to the point where it could cause fetal demise. It’s a highly managed complication. If someone has it, they’re in with their doctor a few times a week, probably.
Where there’s high blood pressure, massage would have to be at the discretion of the healthcare provider as to whether or not the person could tolerate that.
But for the bulk of people who just have aches and pains, maybe a little nausea, but no medical complication: with proper positioning, there are no concerns.
What session enhancements would go particularly well with prenatal?
I think one of the things that is most helpful is hot stone spot treatment. This is because, especially with late pregnancy and the positioning being on their side, getting on the deep pressure can be more challenging. But if the practitioner has a tool, such as a stone, to really go into the muscle with added heat, it can really get to a deeper muscle change than without it. Those are really nice. For work along the spine and pelvic work, it’s really nice to get to those with hot stones.
I also think aromatherapy is a nice enhancement for stress relief and also, again, since the positioning forces us to use less pressure, and because pregnant women are more sensitive to pressure, aromatherapy using something like the deep blue fragrance, or something that will relax the muscles is a nice way to still get the muscle change you want with the limitations on pressure.
Are there any myths about prenatal massage that are worth dispelling?
That it can put you into labor! That is a myth! Massage does not cause labor. Acupressure can precipitate labor, and that would be on the level of applying direct pressure on a very specific spot for two or three minutes every fifteen minutes over the span of about forty-eight hours.
So there’s no way to come in for a prenatal massage and come out a mother?
(laughs) No! And to be clear, acupuncture and acupressure are very different than massage. We’re using much broader strokes with massage and there’s absolutely no concern that a nice foot massage could put a woman into labor.
Another myth I would point out is that abdominal massage can cause miscarriage. That’s out there, too, especially for people who are concerned about the first trimester.
I do think it’s important to have someone that’s trained for any sort of abdominal work, but massage in general is very safe for expecting mothers.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have about your particular case:
As with everything on this blog, none of this information should be construed as medical advice or care. The employees of The Good Life Massage, including the writers of this blog, are not medical doctors. Consult with your physician before making any changes to improve your health.
Tom Gunn is the marketing director and blog editor at The Good Life Massage. Find him online at TGunnWriter.com