August 23, 2019
Pregnancy is a wonderful and challenging time in a woman’s life. The physical and chemical transitions that take place over the course of the pregnancy and beyond can add whole new levels to the daily grind. Anna and I enjoy working with pregnant mothers because there are many specific benefits to massage that make it a helpful and effective self care method for pregnant women.
Pregnancy affects much more than the progressing baby bump. Blood levels increase, hormone levels change to support the developing fetus, ligaments loosen to accommodate labor and the body structure grows and changes in order to make room for baby and help mom get around during the process. All of these changes manifest physically and not always pleasantly. Massage can help to manage many of these symptoms and provide for a happier and more comfortable experience.
Sinus congestion – One of the early physical changes of pregnancy is increased blood production. Mom needs more blood in her body to accommodate the proper care and maintenance of the newly formed embryo. Not only does the body make more blood, hormone levels tell the blood vessels to get bigger so that they can move the increased blood more efficiently. This can lead to inflamed sinuses which can cause congestion, snoring and even changes to the voice! Massage that concentrates on the face, head and neck can relieve tension in the surrounding muscles and soft tissues and encourage sinus drainage. Positioning the mother in an elevated position during the first part of the massage can be an added bonus because gravity helps the drainage as the tissues are relaxed and the sinus channels are opened.
Tingling in the hands – Pregnant women are more prone to a condition called DeQuervain’s syndrome. When present, this syndrome presents as pain and weakness at the base of the thumb that can get worse with use. This thumb pain is often caused by a combination of the swelling that frequently accompanies pregnancy, hormones that change the elasticity of tissues and the posture that anyone who uses a computer or cell phone is often guilty of exhibiting; slouching forward and huddling over a screen. Massage can minimize the symptoms by reducing tension and restriction in the muscles of the hands, forearms and neck. It can also help to open up the connective tissue lines that are contributing to the pressure placed on the thumb base.
Constipation – A million years ago when I was pregnant, I thought I would lose my mind if one more person told me to drink more water. It wasn’t until massage school I realized why water is so important. The increase in blood volume required in order to make food delivery and waste removal possible for the developing baby requires our system to have more water. If we aren’t drinking enough water, our brilliant bodies will beg, borrow and steal water molecules from any cell or system they can. This frequently results in dehydration in our gastrointestinal system which can make bathroom time something pregnant ladies dread. Massaging the abdomen can help manage this uncomfortable condition by triggering something called peristalsis. Peristalsis is the tiny contractions our digestive tract makes to keep everything moving along as it should. Dehydration slows this process down, but the manual stimulation of the intestines through the abdomen can invigorate the sluggish tissues and get the process moving again. I feel like a traitor saying this, but it truly is important to try and get more water in. I know that means more time in the bathroom, but that’s going to happen one way or the other and the amount of water you drink can have a major impact on whether or not that time is pleasant.
Sore muscles – As baby grows, so does moms’ waistline which involves some major changes not only to the abdomen, but to the ribs, hips and legs. A pregnant woman’s center of balance is constantly changing and shifting; as the baby grows mom’s hips tip forward which frequently contributes to low back pain. Massage can help release tension in the tight tissues and relieve overstretched tissues to help mom feel more in balance and less in pain.
- Headaches are a common result of pregnancy related changes. Massage can relieve the tension in the neck, shoulders and chest that have to work hard to balance out the baby bump and can contribute to headaches.
- Shorter waisted women may suffer months of toes and fingers being dug into rib cages. Massage can help open the muscles and connective tissue and give mom a reprieve from the significant discomfort those little digits can cause.
- The deep muscles of the pelvic girdle do progressively harder work as the fetus develops. The piriformis muscle is a small muscle that lies deep beneath the gluteus maximus and is frequently called on to help keep the hips in balance. Reducing tension in the piriformis can help tremendously with sciatic nerve pain and make it much more comfortable (and sometimes possible) for mom to get a decent night sleep.
An IMPORTANT note about the legs – The increase in blood volume caused by pregnancy means that pregnant women are prone to two potentially dangerous conditions: deep vein thrombosis and preeclampsia. These are potentially fatal conditions and one of the reasons many massage therapists are hesitant to offer pregnancy massage. In our office, we assess for any preexisting conditions or indications that either condition may be present and only perform light touch work on the legs during the session.
I love working with pregnant women. Some of them come in looking completely put together with a happy smile and great attitude and then burst into tears two minutes into the session because they’re so grateful to have the time and space to let loose. Some come in looking like they just stepped out of a wind tunnel with bags under their eyes and bedroom slippers on their feet and are asleep and snoring as soon as they settle onto the table. Pregnancy is an exciting, exhausting, amazing time and massage can help every mother get the most they can out of the experience.
The content of this newsletter is not intended to replace professional medical advice. If you’re ill, please consult a physician.
Stilerman, Elaine. Prenatal Massage: A Textbook of Pregnancy, Labor and Postpartum Bodywork, Mosby Elsevier, 2008.