It's About More Than Just Relaxation
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When I called Elaine Stillerman, a licensed massage therapist in New York, to chat about some of the benefits of massages during pregnancy, little did I know that I would be talking to the pioneer in the field.
A new idea for pregnancy
When Stillerman first started working as a massage therapist in the late 1970s, massage wasn't even considered for a woman once she was pregnant. "The general idea at that time was that you stopped getting massages during your pregnancy," she relates. When she had a client come to her during her pregnancy who wanted to continue her massages; however, a lightbulb went off for Stillerman.
After 10 years of extensive research, Stillerman introduced Mother Massage, a now nationwide training program for practitioners to understand and practice massage during women's pregnancies.
What is pregnancy massage?
Well, first of all, let's get one thing straight — pregnancy massage is just a massage. "This is regular massage," states Stillerman firmly. "These are regular people who happen to be pregnant."
While she maintains that there's no reason to rush and panic and categorize "pregnancy" massage any differently than any other massage, Stillerman also explains that pregnant women do have different physical needs, and that understanding those needs makes up the basis of the philosophy behind Mother Massage. "Once you learn the dynamic changes that occur, you can adapt the massage to support their body," she explains.
She goes on to say that certain parts of a pregnant woman's body, like the lower back, may need extra support and attention, while special consideration needs to be had for physical changes, such as increased blood volume and blood clot risk.
The benefits of massage during pregnancy
All risks and considerations aside, women who receive massages during their pregnancies will benefit tremendously.
- Stress reduction: Stillerman calls stress reduction the "overriding" benefit of massage during pregnancy, allowing more oxygen flow to support the developing baby.
- Faster labor: When a mother is stressed, her body preps her for fight-or-flight syndrome and as a result, her labor may be slowed down.
- Calming environment: Not only are there physical benefits to massage, but the calming environment itself of a massage room can induce a state of relaxation.
- Relief of pregnancy discomfort: Any woman who has been pregnant knows how uncomfortable pregnancy can be, especially in the last few weeks. But a massage can help relieve some of that discomfort and soothe sore muscles.
- Soothe baby: Stillerman explains that when a mom is stressed, those hormones also reach the baby and can lead to a baby who's at increased risk for colic, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and is harder to soothe. Pregnancy massage can help counteract those stress hormones, so calm mom equals calm baby.
- Induce labor: While pregnant with my own babies, I begged my massage therapist to induce labor with the infamous labor pressure points — but to no avail. So is there any truth to the idea? Absolutely, says Stillerman. "Your body has to be ready," she says. "Once your body is ready, those labor pressure points will absolutely speed up labor."
- Postpartum healing: Massage for pregnancy isn't just for those nine months of gestation, it's also for that painful "fourth trimester" of healing after birth. Booking a massage in the postpartum weeks can help you heal faster, cleanse your body and rebalance your muscles. "It's emotionally supportive," Stillerman explains. "So it's some 'me' time, both physically and emotionally."
- The ability to lie on your stomach: Ok, so this isn't an official benefit, but it's one that, as a regular pregnancy massage client, I had to mention. At almost eight months pregnant, the ability to plop my giant body onto that pregnancy pillow, built to accommodate my growing belly and bust, is absolutely heaven. I'd dare say that it's worth the money alone just to be able to nap on my stomach again. A-a-a-a-h...
Massage isn't for everyone
Unfortunately, not all pregnant women are created alike, and because of that, women with certain complications during their pregnancy should avoid getting massages. Those conditions include any woman with high blood pressure, suspected blood clots, vaginal bleeding, any decreased movement of the baby over eight to 10 hours, preeclampsia, placenta previa, placental abruption, ectopic pregnancies, migraine headaches (could potentially be indicative) or extreme swelling.
If you have any doubts if a massage during pregnancy is safe for you, please speak with your health care provider before booking the procedure.