Massage therapy has long been a favored method of relaxation for women around the world, and moms can easily justify the diversion as a well deserved break from the unrelenting demands of everyday life. However, beyond the pure relaxation that massage provides, expecting moms can benefit in a variety of ways from prenatal massage therapy. A study by the Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami's School of Medicine, "Pregnant Women Benefit From Massage Therapy," was conducted in 1999 by T. Field, M. Hernandez-Reif, S. Hart, H. Theakston, S. Schanberg, C. Kuhn and I. Burman. The results of this study show that women receiving prenatal massage experience decreased pregnancy-related pain, less anxiety and better sleep, among numerous other benefits.
A Growing Trend
The American Massage Therapy Association's consumer survey reveals that of those individuals who received massage between July 2010 and July 2011, a greater number (44 percent) received it for medical or health reasons compared with the previous year (35 percent). Just as more and more people seek massage to improve health; pregnant women are also turning to the age-old practice to find relief from an assortment of pregnancy-related health issues. According to Cindy J. Oselio, a registered nurse (RN) and licensed massage therapist (LMT) with a massage therapy practice in Kailua, Hawaii, clients seek prenatal massage therapy for relief from four main complaints: lower back pain, sciatic nerve pain, inflammation (swelling) and sleep issues.
In this day and age, it is rare to get more than you bargained for. However, prenatal massage just might be the exception, as results could exceed the expecting mom's initial expectations. The Touch Research Institute study involved 26 expecting moms who were assigned to either a massage therapy or a relaxation therapy group for five weeks. According to the study, "both groups reported feeling less anxious after the first session and less leg pain after the first and last session. Only the massage therapy group, however, reported reduced anxiety, improved mood, better sleep and less back pain by the last day of the study." The 2010 study "Pregnancy and Labor Massage Therapy" by T. Field found that "women who received massage therapy reported decreased depression, anxiety, and leg and back pain. Cortisol levels decreased and, in turn, excessive fetal activity decreased, and the rate of prematurity was lower in the massage group."
"Pregnancy is a time when a woman's body endures tremendous stress due to dramatic physical and emotional changes," said Oselio. Using various massage techniques and bodywork especially designed for the expecting mother, Oselio works to provide relief from joint pain brought on by the extra weight and postural imbalances of pregnancy. To help reduce swelling, Oselio will perform lymphatic massage, where a very light touch will be used to get fluid drained. For lower back and sciatic pain, she is able to apply regular pressure as one might be accustomed to in general massage sessions. According to Oselio, women are able to receive massage during all three trimesters. At 22 weeks into the pregnancy, or earlier if necessary, Oselio will provide massage with the expecting mom on her side instead of belly down. "In this side-lying position, and with her upper leg bent, she will be more comfortable," said Oselio, "and it will easier to massage muscles associated with sciatic pain." Oselio will place the mom-to-be on her back and at a 45-degree angle to ensure maximum comfort. After all, comfort is fundamental to any great massage.
An expecting mom should always consult with her obstetrician before adding massage to her prenatal care routine. Only use a licensed massage therapist who is trained in prenatal massage. Such therapists will use caution to avoid massaging specific areas of the body, such as the inside of the ankle or leg, which may lead to premature labor. Only a certified prenatal massage therapist will know how to safely massage the belly of a pregnant woman. Once in the right hands, expecting moms can relax and reap the rewards of prenatal massage therapy.