Did you hear the one about the lady who was 39 weeks pregnant and ran a marathon then delivered her baby at the end of it? It may sound like the setup for a joke, but it’s a true story from the 2011 Chicago Marathon. Certainly that woman is a highly conditioned athlete, well-prepared for such a feat that most wouldn’t want to do with a baby on board.
Even if she’s not an athlete, a woman’s active lifestyle places demands on her time and energy, especially if she’s pregnant. Today’s expectant moms are maintaining regular exercise regimens along with the responsibilities of work and family. Long gone are the old prescribed inactivity and overeating. Pregnant women are encouraged to exercise to the extent to which they were conditioned before pregnancy and maintain a balanced diet. One thing that is difficult to control is stress, and any reduction of stress for an expectant mom is beneficial to mother and baby.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, prenatal massage has been shown to reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and even improve labor outcomes and newborn health. Just as massage does for any adult, in pregnant women there is a reduction in stress level and stress hormones like cortisol. Pregnant women also show improved mood regulation and cardiovascular health. Biweekly massage for even just five weeks showed significant reductions in cortisol and increases in the pleasant hormones of dopamine and serotonin.
Not that there has to be immense stress or discomfort in order to justify massage. Prenatal massage is beneficial even for the most “unstoppable” of women. Athletic or not, all pregnant women experience reduced circulation and increased pressure on the uterus that causes edema (swelling). Later in pregnancy the uterine pressure spreads to the legs, which can lead to sciatic nerve pain. Massage stimulates tissue and removes toxins via the lymphatic system, which helps improve circulation. It also reduces inflammation, effectively decreasing nerve pain.
The Touch Research Institute, an organization out of Miami devoted solely to touch and its application in science and medicine, further confirms the benefits of maternity massage. A study published in 2010 reported that women who received prenatal massage showed decreased cortisol levels, which apparently decreased excessive fetal activity. It also
correlated a lower rate of prematurity in the massage group. Additionally, women in that study reported decreased depression, anxiety, and leg and back pain. That study also showed a correlation with less labor pain and shorter labors from women who received massage.
Massage is safe in all three trimesters and until delivery. If the pregnancy is high risk, women should get clearance from their healthcare provider to receive massage. Before choosing a massage therapist, verify what position they place their clients during massage. The proper position includes being placed in a side lying or semi-reclining position during the massage. Massage tables with the hole cut out and a sling for the belly aren’t considered safe because they can create strain on the uterine ligaments.
Outdated concerns about acupressure points in a woman’s wrists and ankles causing early labor are unfounded. Only anecdotal reports exist of the stimulation of these points coinciding with the onset of labor. In all reported cases, the pregnant woman was within two weeks of her due date. The amount of pressure used (with the exception of deep pressure to the legs) during the massage should be appropriate to the activity and comfort level of each woman.
A well-trained and experienced Prenatal Massage Therapist should be an essential part of every woman’s team during pregnancy whether she’s preparing for a competitive event or simply her new role in life.
Lorrie Garcia is Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork by NCBTMB and the owner of Evergreen Advanced Bodywork. She has specialized in Prenatal Massage for nine years, taught Pregnancy Massage at The Massage Institute of Memphis, and worked with hundreds of women before, during, and after their pregnancies.