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There's nothing like carrying a baby bump around for many months to leave your poor feet feeling, well, a little abused. After all, they're literally bearing the weight of two human beings, and are bound to feel pretty achy at the end of the day. Jessica Bissonnette, certified prenatal massage therapist and owner of Massage Therapy Boston in Newton, Massachusetts, says that because women gain weight so rapidly during pregnancy, the feet quickly become strained. Enter the ultimate TLC for pregnant ladies: the foot massage, which can ease swelling, tension and soreness.
You only went to the grocery store and the dog groomer, but your feet feel like they were run over by a Mack truck. This is because while the extra weight you've gained serves to nourish your precious bun-in-the-oven, it also throws your body out of whack. Bissonnette explains that a pregnant woman "shifts her center of balance with the gained weight, which strains muscles that normally wouldn't be used in her lower back, glute muscle group, and calves in order to brace against the increased weight of her stomach. This puts stress on the fine bones and tendons in the feet, and often a basic foot massage helps her to feel human again."
Foot massage helps with circulation, too, which is limited by the pressure the baby places on the nerves and stomach muscles, says Bissonnette. "It's very important that a pregnant woman move the blood from her feet back up to her heart. As far as I'm concerned, foot massage is more important for a pregnant woman to receive than it is for any other population." Another benefit: reducing edema, which is the abnormal buildup of fluid in the ankles, feet and legs. A 2007 study at Adnan Menderes University in Turkey found that a daily 20-minute foot massage significantly decreased edema in women in the late stages of pregnancy.
You might opt to book the next available appointment with a certified prenatal massage therapist and be on your way to bliss. But if you're way too exhausted to think of leaving the house after another loooong day on your feet, you might consider asking your partner to help you out. "Occasionally, a woman gets lucky and has a partner who is good at foot massage," Bissonnette says. "At home, the best bet for someone untrained is to use medium pressure in long strokes. Due to the pressure points around the ankles, it's best if someone who doesn't know where they are to use lotion and whole-hand stroking to offer relief."
If your hubby doesn't have the time -- or the knack for it -- you can also go the DIY route. "The soon-to-be mom can roll the arch of her foot on a tennis ball for two to three minutes a day, which will loosen the plantar tendon and give her some relief from possible heel pain," Bissonnette explains.
Those nine or so months have passed and -- hallelujah -- your baby is on her way out. But before she's actually swaddled in your arms, there's a good chance you're going to be kind of (or very!) uncomfortable for a while. Foot massage can help to relax you during the waves of pain and pressure that accompany labor. "Foot massage during the early stages of labor is an excellent idea," says Bissonnette. "It distracts from the pain and helps the mother concentrate on her feet rather than labor pains."
If your pregnancy is high-risk, you'll want to avoid having specific pressure applied to any portion of your feet and to keep a foot massage light, says Bissonnette. But if you're presenting with certain symptoms, it's best not to receive a foot massage from your partner or a massage therapist not trained in dealing with pregnancy complications. As Bissonnette notes, "A therapist needs to be careful about edema and the inflammation that is caused by pregnancy. The skin of the calves and ankles can be tight and tender and shouldn't be massaged by anyone untrained for these issues."