Massage During and After Pregnancy
Massage during Labor
A goal of prenatal massage is to prepare a woman for labor and childbirth. “We treat a woman like she’s an athlete in training,” Miller says, and part of training is coaching. Many prenatal massage therapists are available to clients as doulas. Those that aren’t are often willing to teach the woman’s labor partner positioning strategies and massage techniques that help ease the strain of labor. There are tricks of the trade, such as trigger points that can induce contractions in some women or ice massage, which are shown to decrease labor pain in some women.
Regular massage sessions can also help a woman learn to relax stressed muscles during labor simply because she’ll have had the experience of knowing how the muscles feel when relaxed.
After childbirth, a mother’s body is faced with new challenges. From carrying babies to changing diapers, breastfeeding to bathing, these activities stress the backs of even the most posture-conscious women. In addition, soreness from delivery, engorgement or sore nipples, and general fatigue can cause a mother to unconsciously slouch, putting additional strain on muscles.
Postpartum massage concentrates on alleviating the strain and regaining health. Miller explains that it includes stretching the back, lengthening the muscles, and balancing pelvic rotation. In addition, deep work and trigger-point therapy help release strain built up over the months of pregnancy.
Posture, of course, determines how well a mother’s body takes the strain. “(Massage therapy) helps you to regain a powerful posture. We lose it when we’re pregnant; we fight to maintain a posture that is erect as best we can and end up getting into compensatory patterns that are not good. I try to teach a woman how she should correct those postural imbalances,” says Miller.
Miller says the postpartum time presents a wonderful opportunity for women. “Doctors usually say the postpartum period is six weeks, when the uterus shrinks back to its normal size, which is true. However, the ligaments in your body take two years to cinch back down into place. A woman has a wonderful open window to get herself into a better place muscularly than she was in before she was pregnant. It’s a chance to work with your body and become stronger for it.”
Massage therapy can help a woman strengthen herself emotionally, too. Massage decreases stress hormones and promotes endorphins—especially beneficial to new moms coping with the radical physical and psychological change from pregnant woman to new mother.
“It’s just my observation, but I’ve seen women with postpartum depression really pull out of it quicker with massage,” Miller says. She also notes that women who have had massage throughout pregnancy seem not to have as many “new-mother” issues. “Having been touched and nurtured during pregnancy really facilitates that same transition between mother and child.”
Certainly, mothers benefit from nurturing experience after their child is born, too. At a time when everything in a woman’s life—from her schedule to her body—is centered around her baby, massage gives her an opportunity to concentrate on her own needs.
“The most powerful aspect of massage is that it’s a time to just feel and learn where her own boundaries are, and that’s especially important when a child is living off her own body,” says Favin. Massage, she adds, gives a woman a chance to reconnect with herself.
And if nothing else, massage can provide a woman with a much-deserved break—a chance to relax and let herself be pampered.
Choosing a Massage Therapist
Consider the following when selecting a massage therapist during pregnancy:
- Qualification: Is the therapist trained in prenatal massage? Certain positions and techniques are not recommended during pregnancy because they may endanger baby or mother. A national certification is preferable, since state standards vary.
- Affiliation with a national or international organization: This shows interest and involvement in continuing education. Organizations to look for are the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) or the International Massage Association.
- Personal comfort: Look for a therapist who is sensitive to your needs and condition. Often women are more comfortable with female therapists at this time.
- Experience as a labor assistant: If you might like to have your therapist with you during labor, ask if she offers doula services or is willing to teach your labor partner.
- Attitude about pregnancy and newborns: Find a therapist who either agrees with or is accepting of your birthing philosophy and who is comfortable with babies (in case you want to bring your newborn to appointments). If you plan on breastfeeding, ask your therapist how she’d handle a nursing baby. For example, is it all right if he nurses while she continues the massage?
You can find a massage therapist by asking your doctor or midwife, asking other women, or contacting the national organizations mentioned for a list of therapists in your area.
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