This is not one of those articles that will tell you that massage therapy is for you because you deserve to be pampered and nurtured during pregnancy before your life changes forever. It will tell you that in a round about way, but having been pregnant myself I know that it’s not enough for someone just to say ‘you need this’. Now you need facts and the ‘why’s’ before you believe massage is something that is right for you. So here they are.
A pregnant woman’s body is in a state of flux. Her only constant is that there is no constant and she will be different each day. For that reason it is important that her massage therapist is qualified and trained to understand the complexities of her body and mind. A pregnant woman is not sick, but she is also not the same as everyone else. She is carrying at least two lives within her body and it is absolutely imperative that any therapist working with a pregnant woman is aware of the delicate interplay that is ever evolving within her.
In pregnancy all the physiological systems of a woman’s body are affected in some way. The interplay of hormones is significantly altered, the cardiovascular system is put under increased strain, an increase in interstitial fluid is observed, changes occur in the renal system, respiratory system, the immune system and more, everything is impacted in some way. This is before we consider the changes that are happening physically and emotionally for the woman as she steps along the path toward a new life.
Still, despite all of these significant changes, women will often choose to battle through rather than seek help to alleviate the physical symptoms that may be presenting. However pregnancy massage (as with any massage) offers much more than the alleviation of physical ailments. So what if you knew that massage could improve not only your pregnancy, but your labour, the health of your unborn child, your mental health and your relationship. We are learning that the fetal environment profoundly affects fetal development, and while some of this is genetic a lot of it is environmental. Results of studies undertaken by the Touch Research Institute in Miami are proving to the Western World why massage is so important during this time.
These studies are finding that pregnant women who receive massage have reduced anxiety, improved mood, immune function1, better sleep and less back pain. Additionally their stress hormone levels decrease. They have fewer complications during labor and their infants had less postnatal complications2.
Women who receive massage are less likely to go into premature labour. Unfortunately, prematurity continues to be the leading cause of neonatal death and developmental disability, however massage therapy reduces this risk due to its combative effects on the stress hormone cortisol3.
We also now know that women who are supported through labour with massage by their partners are more positive and have a significantly shorter labor, a shorter hospital stay and less postpartum depression4
Early studies are showing us that massage and bodywork may have a role to play in reducing the affects of stress on an unborn child. A fetus that absorbs excess cortisol from the mother, will behave as she does in that blood will be shunted from the organs and suppress forebrain function5.
Beyond pregnancy, studies are linking infant massage to mothers with postnatal depression. When a mother performs massage on her infant, she both defeats the depression in herself and combats its effects on the baby. The development of the infant is enhanced and mother child bonding is increased. The child’s improved sleep and release of oxytocin (the love hormone) in the mother can help her to see her baby and her role as a mother in a new and more positive light6.
Massage is more than the alleviation of physical symptoms; it will enhance the life of a pregnant woman while her child is growing inside her and in turn enhance the life of the developing baby. As Nathanielzs writes “programming a lifetime of health by the conditions in the womb is equally if not more important than our genes in determining how we perform mentally and physically during our life”7. We all want to give our families the best beginning and massage therapy has so much to offer a pregnant mother, her growing child and her partner.