Prenatal massage refers to massage techniques performed on pregnant individuals. In use for millennia, prenatal massage has evolved over the years to include strategies from several different methods.
What Is Prenatal Massage?
Prenatal massage, a special form of massage therapy, is designed to address massage needs during pregnancy. The origin of prenatal massage likely goes back to the invention of massage itself. Ancient texts attributed to Ayurvedic medicine (developed in India as one of the world’s first medical systems) describe gentle massages for pregnant women as early as 3000 years ago.
Modern versions can include several different techniques, but Swedish massage might be the most relied upon because of its wide range of applications (it can be used on any part of the body) and benefits (muscular, circulatory, psychological, and more).
Prenatal massage has been found to reduce depression while also alleviating pain and general discomfort. However, it is imperative that this type of massage is performed by a trained professional, as improper procedures can cause harm to both mother and fetus. Prenatal massage is not recommended for women experiencing high-risk pregnancies unless specifically advised by their pregnancy care provider. Otherwise, prenatal massage appears to offer benefits that may be applicable to the majority of pregnant women.
How Can Prenatal Massage Help?
Studies suggest prenatal massage is beneficial in a number of ways. Massage during pregnancy can decrease feelings of anxiety and depression while also reducing swelling, muscle aches, and joint pain. Those who receive prenatal massage may also get better sleep. Prenatal massage has also been linked to improved labor outcomes and healthier newborns. This sample of results, though relatively small, demonstrates that prenatal massage has the potential to be useful during pregnancy in many cases.
Some benefits of prenatal massage make it ideal for treating specific conditions likely to be experienced during pregnancy. Many individuals develop swollen leg muscles and persistent pain in late pregnancy as the shifting of the uterus places increased pressure on the sciatic nerve. Prenatal massage can help alleviate this problem by releasing tension from adjacent muscle groups and redirecting pressure away from the nerve.
What Does a Prenatal Massage Session Look Like?
In terms of atmosphere and general experience, prenatal massage sessions are typically similar to sessions in most other types of massage. Clients are asked to disrobe but remain completely covered by a sheet, with the exception of the body area being worked on. The room may be dimly lit and silent, but some massage therapists may play soft music to encourage relaxation.
Participants are usually asked to lie on one side while receiving the massage, but a few massage clinics may have tables with adjustable “pockets” for the abdomen and breasts that allow pregnant clients to lie face-down. Some massage recipients find this position comfortable and liberating since they cannot lie in that way at home. However, the face-down approach can be risky, as a lack of support on the abdomen can cause strain on the ligaments of the uterus and surrounding areas. For this reason, empty holes that let the abdomen “dangle” should never be used.
The actual massage is reportedly similar to other Swedish-influenced approaches, but with prenatal massage, less pressure is placed on the lower back.
Prenatal Massage Precautions
Massage can be part of a healthy prenatal care routine if two critical guidelines are followed. Those who are considering massage should always discuss the idea with their regular prenatal care provider first to ensure they are not at an increased risk for complications. Prenatal massage is usually not recommended for those with high-risk pregnancies or for anyone experiencing increased hypertension. Massage can be safely performed at any stage of pregnancy, but many therapists avoid giving massages during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy because of the increased risk of miscarriage in that period.
It is also essential that those seeking massage choose a trained, certified massage therapist to deliver their prenatal massage. Massage therapists who have not received training in prenatal massage may not be able to recognize warning signs that may indicate serious concerns such as blood clots, and they may lack the necessary training in preventing damage such as uterine ligament strain.
- Field, T., Diego, M. A., Hernandez-Reif, M., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (2004). Massage therapy effects on depressed pregnant women. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 25(2), 115-122. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01674820412331282231
- Field, T., Hemandez-Reif, M., Hart, S., Theakston, H., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (1999). Pregnant women benefit from massage therapy. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 20(1), 31-38. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/01674829909075574
- Govindan, S. V. (1996). Ayurvedic massage for health and healing. Abhinav Publications. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=RNMroJI2ogwC&oi=fnd&pg=PA5&dq=Ayurvedic+prenatal+massage&ots=faSFfUGIAs&sig=g5bZO7U5Sa6GiOdTy0yBWRgBdFg
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- Howell, J. (2002). Prenatal health through massage therapy: For women and their babies. Retrieved from https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Prenatal+health+through+massage+therapy%3A+for+women+and+their+babies%3A…-a098250301
- Massage and pregnancy – Prenatal massage (Sep 2, 2016). Retrieved from http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/prenatal-massage
- Simpson, P. (n.d.) History of pregnancy massage. Retrieved from http://paulsimpsonlmt.com/Pregnancy/History%20of%20Pregnancy%20Massage.html