Recently I came across a concern that I realized was still common, regarding whether massage therapy affects a pregnant woman negatively. The simple answer is “No.” However, to say that massage therapy is right or wrong for a pregnant woman is not so simple.
The idea is that massage therapy is risky for an expectant mother especially in her first trimester. Research has shown however that whether she is in her first trimester, second, or her third/final trimester this is unfounded.
The concern is that somehow, massage causes miscarriages or induces labor. The reality is that 25% of pregnancies end in a miscarriage during the first trimester regardless of any outside factors. Massage or lack thereof has not been proven to effect this number.
The most common misconception is that rubbing or putting pressure on the expectant woman’s ankles or feet will some how induce labor. If this was the case then thousands of women during the past several hundred years would have had miscarriages. Wearing shoes especially sandles or boots, put far more pressure on the feet and ankles than a licensed massage therapist would use.
There are also long establish theories that say different pressure points or acupuncture will induce labor. How we wish this was true as it would be far better than the chemicals that are currently used. Unfortunately studies have been done that attempted to induce labor with use of these techniques, that are believed to induce labor on women that were overdue. No induction of labor was accomplished with these techniques. On a side note, even if acupressure and acupuncture were reliable as a form of induction, it requires several points on the body that have to be stimulated simultaneously in order to induce labor. Most massage therapist work solo, so the likelihood of that happening is negligible.
How massage affects you!
So why should a woman receive massage therapy? Oh my goodness! Why shouldn’t she is the better question. Think about how much you enjoy massage when your body is in its normal size and shape. Now add the increased weight gain from a growing fetus and fluid retention, to the incredible shifts in the spine and hips to accommodate the baby. Not to mention the fluctuations in the mother’s hormones. Oof! That is just crying out for a soothing and comforting touch.
So here is what massage does to help all of that. To start with, massage helps to decrease anxiety and stress. It also increases the general sense of well being with a release of dopamine and serotonin while decreasing the levels of nor-epinephrine and cortisol. (these are the hormones that are associated with stress)
So what else does massage do for the expectant mother? It provides relief by decreasing the edema (swelling) to the extremities. As the baby grows and the uterus grows, they begin to put weighted pressure on the major arteries due to their position. They are sitting right on top of those vessels. Then because of the increase fluid volume in her system to support the baby, her blood pressure goes up, putting pressure on the smaller vessels, not to mention the gravity working against her heart pumping the fluid back to the heart. Massage helps move the fluid/ lymph back to her heart and out of her body. It makes it so much more comfortable to walk on feet that aren’t swollen.
Finally, massage alleviates the muscle strain of carrying that baby around. Your back muscles and upper leg muscles are getting a constant workout to carry that bundle of joy around. Not only that, but massage can help improve muscle tone. You will move and sleep so much better having massage.
How massage affects Baby.
We’ve talked about the benefits of massage for you, the mother, how about baby? With massage decreasing the amount of stress in the your body, the infant has a lesser chance of being born with a low birth weight. Infants born with full birth weight have less incidents of complications when born and both mother and baby have a much easier birthing experience.
That being said, there are some precautions when considering massage as part of your pregnancy. First, if you have had multiple miscarriage, you should check with your ob/gyn and get a release from them. Also you should be assessed later in your pregnancy for risk of placental previa. If you are a low risk, then there should be nothing to be concerned with but I always recommend discussing it with your Doctor should you be concerned.