by Diana Khoury
During pregnancy, a woman’s body goes through changes in physical form, structure, and internal function. While preparing for this important life change, pregnant women need physical and emotional support and are seeking it more often in the form of bodywork.
The March 2010 Expert Review of Obstetrics & Gynecologystates, “Complementary and alternative therapies have become increasingly popular for pregnant women and women in labor…The most common alternative therapies recommended during pregnancy were massage therapy (61%), acupuncture (45%), relaxation (43%), yoga (41%) and chiropractic therapies (37%).”1
As a pregnancy progresses, the body’s weight shifts forward, putting more pressure on the legs and back to stay upright. Blood volume rises up to 50% over normal levels,2 amplifying pressure on the body’s major blood vessels.3 Due to the body’s increased blood volume and shift in alignment, circulation is not as efficient, especially in the legs. Collectively, these changes cause discomfort, pain, and added stress for the expectant mother.
The National Women’s Health Information Center estimates that 14% of women will encounter depression during or just after their pregnancy.4 Pregnant women experience depression due to changes in levels of dopamine and serotonin, important neurotransmitters that regulate mood. In studies, depression in pregnant women has been correlated to premature labor and low infant birth weight.1
Research conducted on expectant mothers with depression demonstrated that regular massage (as little as 20 minutes per week) increased serotonin and dopamine levels, significantly reducing depression and anxiety. Decreases were also noted in heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol, the body’s stress hormone.1 Lowered stress levels increased relaxation and improved sleep in pregnant women.5
According to the American Pregnancy Massage Association, “Massage prepares [the] body for delivery by helping increase elasticity and range of motion in the joints and muscles associated with childbirth. And by helping blood flow in the legs, massage can reduce the chances of edema, varicose veins and blood clots.”4 Massage has also been shown to relieve the pain of sciatica by reducing pressure on the muscles and nerves in the low back and legs.3
Research study participants who received massage regularly reported less pain in their back and legs during the weeks of pregnancy, and a shorter, less painful labor. In fact, in the massage group, labor duration was shortened by an average of 3 hours with a reduced need for pain medication.1
Massage can be sought at any time during a woman’s pregnancy, in cooperation with a prenatal plan established by a medical professional. A massage therapist (or trained partner) should focus on the areas of greatest tension, such as the back, while working within the mother’s pain tolerance. Light pressure may be used on the legs to encourage circulation and relieve pain. Little to no pressure should be applied to the abdomen, and extremely sensitive areas should be avoided.2
Research on massage and pregnancy confirms its effectiveness at relieving physical, mental and emotional tension during the prenatal period. Decreased stress and depression leads to increased bonding between mother and baby before, during and after birth. Massage can be a positive addition to prenatal care for both mother and baby, as well as an important source of physical and emotional support postpartum.
This is an original article from Dreamclinic, Inc. Dreamclinic is a Health and Wellness company committed to sharing information about commonly experienced health conditions and how they may be impacted through the use of bodywork and other natural approaches. Dreamclinic offers massage, acupuncture, and Reiki sessions at its Greenlake and Queen Anne clinics, as well as onsite massage at workplaces around Puget Sound. Contact us to learn more about how Dreamclinic can help you, your family or your workplace experience greater health.