Prenatal Massage Benefits & Research

Pregnancy can be one of the most wonderful and unforgettable times in a woman’s life; however, it can also be a time of physical and emotional stress.  Massage during all stages of pregnancy has many health benefits for both mother and baby.

Women who are having a healthy pregnancy can have a prenatal massage at any time, from conception to birth.  For those experiencing complications, massage by a certified prenatal massage therapist is usually perfectly safe but will require prior approval from your doctor or midwife. You can find a Physicians Permission form on my “New Clients”page. If you are experiencing complications, please bring this to your appointment.

  1. What are the benefits of prenatal massage?

Some of the most important health benefits of prenatal massage include:

Tranquil relaxation and stress reductions (stress causes the body to release a hormone called cortisol. Massage therapy can help to lower the amount of cortisol in the blood and raise the amount of the “feel good” hormone dopamine.)

  • Relieves tension and fatigue
  • Improves circulation
  • Relieves muscle cramps
  • Relaxes and tones muscles
  • Aids in a quicker recovery after delivery
  • Prenatal massage not only helps the mother relax, but it is also an excellent way to relieve many of the common discomforts associated with pregnancy, including:
  • Headache
  • Fatigue and insomnia (helps soothe the nervous system, making it easier to fall asleep)
  • Reduced hip and lower back pain (massage around joints can help realign the body and reduce pain)
  • Eases back and foot pain due to changes in posture
  • Edema (swelling) of the feet and lower legs: this is a common problem in pregnancy because fluid builds up in the extremities. Massage increases the circulation of blood and lymph, helping to carry the excess fluids from the extremities and thereby decreasing the swelling.
  • Carpal tunnel (caused from pectoral girdle restrictions and edema)
  • Leg cramps
  • Sciatic pain (ease pressure by stretching piriformis muscle)
  • Improves digestion (foot reflexology and acupressure)
  • Improves breathing (correcting restrictive postural deviations and improving neck, chest, and abdominal mobility)
  • Improves skin elasticity, reducing stretch marks
  • Promoted relaxation and deep breathing, which will help a woman learn skills that are helpful during labor
  • Reduces anxiety and depression (massage increases secretion of dopamine and serotonin, which help ease depression and reduce anxiety)
  • Provides emotional support to the pregnant woman, which can help release emotional tension

With all of these benefits it is important to get on a consistent prenatal massage schedule, especially during the second and third trimester. During this crucial time, I offer prenatal massage package specials. If the baby comes early or if there is not enough time to use the entire package of prenatal massages they change to postnatal – nothing to lose. See: Prenatal Package Deals

  1. Can any massage therapist give a pregnancy massage?

Although most massage training institutions touch on massage therapy for women who are pregnant, it is best to find a massage therapist who is certified in prenatal massage. Most massage therapists are not certified in pregnancy massage. When making your appointment for a pregnancy massage, it is important to make your therapists aware of your current condition, trimester and any complications you might be having in your pregnancy. You should ask how they administer the massage. When you arrive for your massage ask to see their prenatal massage certification. Prenatal Massage Therapists are honored and proud to show their special certification. This special certification ensures that you and your baby will get the best, most knowledgeable massage available. Don’t assume that just because they offer pregnancy or prenatal massage that they are qualified to attend to your special needs.

  1. How frequently should I get a prenatal massage?

Based on the research I have found by the American Pregnancy Association, I would recommend twice a week.  According to Dr. Natasha Balbas’ article Surprising Benefits of Prenatal and Postnatal Massage, “Women who received biweekly prenatal massages for five weeks were found to have decreased levels of stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. This is important, as this could lead to a strengthened immune system and decreased inflammation (read: less pain) throughout the body. Not only did levels of stress hormones decrease, but the levels of “relaxation” hormones dopamine and serotonin were increased also. Low levels of either of these hormones are associated with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.” To read the entire article click here.

My best recommendation is as often as you can afford. Even just one massage can help to make you more comfortable as your body undergoes many changes. In my experience, I have found that if you have financial restraints, the following schedule seems to work well for most women.

Most popular schedule:

Once or twice a month for the first two trimesters, or whatever you can afford. During the third trimester your body undergoes many changes as the baby starts to gain weight at a rate of about a half a pound per week. During this time, I recommend you come in at least every two weeks. It is a good idea to come in shortly after your appointment with your doctor. This way, you will be able to share any of your doctor’s concerns and we can proceed with the massage in an informed direction. During the last month of pregnancy, and any weeks that you go past your due date, once or even twice a week may be necessary. Prenatal massage provides both physical and emotional support.

In my practice, first time moms who have come in according to these recommendations have had labors much shorter than the average twelve hours and have the ability to relax and push effectively during the last stage of labor.

Prenatal Massage Research

Certain types of massage are intrinsically relaxing, encouraging a woman to turn inward, concentrating on her own body and mind rather than on external events, giving a particular sense of letting go that is soothing to most women and perfect preparation for coping with the demands of labor and birth.  (Samuels and Samuels 1996).

In preparation for labor, perinatal specialists recommend women practice deep, sustained levels of relaxation for 45-60 minutes without falling asleep, especially in the last 6 to 8 weeks of pregnancy (Samuels and Samuels 1996). This is the exact length of most massage therapy sessions.

When relaxed, an expectant woman will have steadier blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory rates; regular blood flow to uterus, placenta, and fetus; and healthier immune system functioning, emotional states, and responses to stressful stimuli, and she feels less fearful and anxious (Nichols and Humenick 2000).

Massage reduces the immediate pain level. Multiple sessions are potentially even more powerful in pain reduction and in diminishing anxiety and depression (Moyer et al. 2004).

Massage can create the same positive physiological states and increased alpha wave activity as meditation. Massage movements provide variations in pressure, rhythm, and positioning that flood the sensory nerve pathways with input that increases body awareness and overrides signals of pain and stress (Juhan 1998).

As a Certified Prenatal Massage Therapist, I provide not just soothing, nurturing touch, but I also bring focused, individualized attention to my clients’ concerns. This regular, caring contact can be vital component to pregnant women’s support system.

A Touch Research Institute (TRI) study shows that regular professional massage provides less prematurity, less leg and back aches.

Anthropological studies indicate that most of the world’s most peaceful cultures use touch prominently during pregnancy and early childhood (Prescott 2005).

Mothers that are nurtured and massaged are more able to care for and nurture their babies.

In one study, pregnant women who were massaged twice weekly for 5 weeks experienced less anxiety and less leg and back pain. They reported better sleep and improved moods, and their labors had fewer complications, including fewer premature births (Field et at. 1999).

Women and their partners who learn relaxation techniques are better able to adapt to stress, both during pregnancy and labor and in the days and years of parenting (Nichols and Humenick 2000; Hetherington 2007).

Massage therapy supports expectant women because it generally makes them feel good, function more efficiently, and/or feel more optimistic.