We are fortunate to have significant research to show the benefits of prenatal massage. The short message is that it eases many discomforts of pregnancy, and, when received regularly during pregnancy, it increases the likelihood of shorter less painful labor, and healthier babies. What’s not to love?
There are multiple research studies showing that prenatal massage imparts relaxation and reduces stress. They also show that it reduces anxiety and symptoms of depression. Studies show prenatal massage yields higher dopamine and serotonin levels and lower levels of cortisol and norepinephrine. Sleep becomes better and the immune system is strengthened.
Carrying a baby (or babies) places unusual strains on muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which massage can ease. Bodywork helps your changing body adjust so that the changes are integrated into your structure more readily. Even sciatic pain and sacro-iliac (SI) joint dysfunction, often thought to be a normal part of pregnancy, are ameliorated or removed altogether. The same goes for shoulder and upper back strain.
And the benefits don’t stop there. Studies show that women who have received regular prenatal massage have greater a chance of reduced pain perception during labor and delivery. They tend to have shorter labors. Their babies tend to be healthier, as measured by higher Apgar and Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment scores. There is less likelihood of premature birth.
And, we are still not through. After delivery, it has been shown that these mothers have an enhanced ability to touch their own babies lovingly. There is evidence that when a woman is depressed during pregnancy, massage can help reduce depression by the time her baby is born, and that she is more likely to have reduced depression and cortisol levels postpartum.
How often should an expectant mom receive massage to gain the most benefit? The research does not answer that question, yet. My suggestion is to receive a session at least once a month. The gold standard, however is to receive one session in your fourth and fifth months, two sessions in your sixth and seventh months, three sessions in your eighth month, and four sessions in your ninth month. What about that first trimester? We usually do not offer full body massage during the first trimester, but do offer 30-minute Unwind and De-stress sessions that work with the neck, hands and feet.
With each session, your body is practicing more with deeper relaxation, and strain patterns are lessened or erased. There is a cumulative effect as each session builds on the last one. Actually, this is true for bodywork sessions received at any time of life, however, during pregnancy, the effects of this relaxation and ease are far-reaching, both for her and her baby or babies.
Happier and more comfortable pregnancy, shorter less-painful labor, healthier babies – what more could you ask for? Be sure you get a massage from someone trained and certified in prenatal massage. It makes a difference when your therapist understands pregnancy.
Robbin Phelps, MSW, Certified Trager® Approach Practitioner, Licensed Massage Therapist, Reiki Master