Massage. Even the word sounds relaxing, bringing to mind scented oils, quiet music, soft lighting, and a firm touch kneading the tension out of the body as the stress melts out of your system. Massage therapy does more than relax, however. It loosens tight muscles, increases blood flow, and helps flush out toxins. It revitalizes the mind and body, improves posture, and facilitates a feeling of well-being.
"Massages are good anytime, but especially when you're pregnant," says Cherie Roff, mother of three. Roff, who had difficult pregnancies, says massage therapy helped her to sleep and move better. "I hurt all over because my muscles stretched [with the pregnancy], and I was having trouble walking because the baby was riding so low."
Additionally, massage therapy during labor can ease a woman's stress and keep her connected with her body and baby, often with dramatic results. After delivery and postpartum, massage can help a mother re-establish good posture, work out kinks caused by the many activities of motherhood, and better cope with the challenges of child-rearing.
The goal of prenatal massage therapy is to promote overall health and prepare a pregnant woman physically and psychologically for labor. "Our intent is not to fix anything, because the body continues to change, so we try to instill a mind-body connection," says Laura Miller, a massage therapist who specializes in pregnancy and labor massage.
Miller says prenatal massage concentrates on easing poor postural habits and the stresses they put on the body. A woman's posture is constantly challenged in pregnancy. She must adapt not only to the evolving size of her belly and breasts, but also to the hormonal changes that loosen her ligaments and allow her bones to move. This puts special strain on the pelvic muscles, a common cause for lower back pain, especially in the third trimester. "The pelvis rotates forward slightly due to the weight of the baby and stress on the pelvic girdle," says Miller.
A good therapist will spot this and can stretch the muscles and work the pelvic area to relieve the pressure. She may also recommend exercises such as pelvic tilts to keep the pelvis in place.