by Cathy Allison
hen I was in my third trimester I suffered terribly from sciatica and my doctor suggested that I go for a massage. I had received back rubs from my husband before but I had never seen a professional massage therapist. I was nervous about the idea of being touched by a stranger but I was desperate for relief from the pain so I went and was wonderfully, delightfully surprised by the experience.
"Pregnancy seems to be when women, often for the first time, think of receiving massage and allow themselves that nurturing because they know it is also benefiting their baby," says Ann Liebau, a certified Pregnancy and Infant Massage Therapist who is in the process of registering as a midwife. "For women who live very busy lives, who work full time or have other children, sometimes receiving pregnancy massage is the only time they have to really focus on themselves and their babies."
Why get a massage?
There are multiple benefits of massage during the childbearing year. Pregnancy massage focuses on areas that tend to be problematic for pregnant women like the weight-bearing joints, the neck and back. It can help to reduce edema, promote relaxation and facilitate preparation for labor by loosening muscles and using passive stretching movements to open up hip joints.
The use of touch and massage is also valuable during labor. It helps a woman to relax and the more relaxed she is, the more efficient her labor will be. When a woman is stressed she releases adrenaline which counteracts the effect of oxytocin, the hormone that produces contractions.
If a woman is fearful it can shut her labor down. Massage techniques used during labor are simple and Liebau finds women usually like the same motion over and over, often deep lower back massage for back pain. During labor Liebau encourages a woman's partner to use touch to calm and support her through the work of birth.
As a children's dance teacher, Anne-Michelle Saugstad used massage therapy as a treatment for a sports injury so it was natural for her to turn to massage to help with back pain during her second pregnancy. She has two daughters only 21 months apart and carrying a toddler while pregnant took a toll on her back, giving her lower back aches so intense she could barely walk. Massage gave her relief that lasted for about two days.
More than pain relief
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But relief of physical aches and pains is not the only reason Saugstad highly recommends pregnancy massage. She believes that it "helps you celebrate your body and feel cared for in an essential way." While she loved being pregnant, there were moments when she felt uneasy about the weight she was gaining. Society puts such an emphasis on thinness that many women can begin to feel insecure about their body image as their bellies grow.
Saugstad had a wonderful massage therapist who told her that it was a privilege to touch pregnant women because their bodies are such miracles. She remembers the therapist saying that of all her clients, pregnant women were her favorite and their bodies were the most beautiful. It was a message that Saugstad needed to hear.
"It's hard to put the feeling into words," says Saugstad, "but while I was pregnant I felt a need to be cared for and having a massage was almost like being mothered."
That need to be nurtured through touch is a fundamental part of being human. "In general in our society the only forms of touch we are familiar with are either violent or sexual," points out Liebau. "Healthy nurturing touch is often absent and yet it is so important to our health and well-being."
She believes that massage teaches a mother-to-be "to receive, and that having the experience of being completely nurtured by another person without any expectation of giving anything in return can help a woman learn how to nurture her own child." The modeling of healthy and healing touch that occurs during a massage session can help a woman connect with her mothering instincts. The mother personally experiences the benefits of touch and once her baby arrives she can use infant massage to help promote parent-infant bonding, soothe her child and aid in the relief of colic and other digestive upsets.
Not just for the pregnant mother
Massage can also help a woman adjust during the post-partum period. It can promote healing, especially from Caesarian section, facilitate the realignment of the spine, pelvis and muscles stretched by pregnancy and address the physical strain of carrying and caring for a newborn baby.
It is important to choose a therapist who has received special training in working with expecting women. There are some conditions that are contraindicated for massage during pregnancy and there are specific precautions that need to be taken. For example, essential oils are often used during massage for their aromatherapy properties but some oils can be dangerous to the developing fetus.
As a woman begins the work of mothering her child, she needs to remember to mother herself as well. "I think what is important is to continue that self-nurturing once the baby is born because parenthood is very demanding and if we don't nurture ourselves it is hard to nurture someone else," says Liebau. "After all, children are the greatest motivators to live a healthy, balanced, joyful life."
Cathy Allison is a freelance writer and fulltime mother who lives in Vancouver, BC.
- The Pregnant Woman's Comfort Book has many ideas to help you nurture yourself while you grow your baby. Very recommended.
- Fit Pregnancy magazine is filled with tips for making pregnancy and the post-partum period a healthy, happy experience. Great recipes and product reviews.
- The National Association of Pregnancy Massage Therapy can help you locate a professional masseuse who specializes in pregnancy massage near you.
- Still can't get behind the idea of going to a professional masseuse? This article on partner massage in pregnancy might be better for you.