Pregnancy Massage and Birth Outcomes
The importance of pregnancy massage and how it improves birth outcomes
By Sarah Goldberg, Nurtured Birth Melbourne
The practice of massage therapy dates back thousands of years, and has become one of the most commonly used forms of holistic medicine. While massage therapy has evolved since the emergency of its practice, the core tenet of its practice is to use therapeutic touch to support healing and relaxation in the body.
In more recent times, massage for pregnancy has been recognised as an excellent way to reduce physical discomfort and improve birth outcomes. Research has overwhelmingly shown massage during pregnancy is wonderfully beneficial to pregnancy women and supports them to have a positive birth experience.
WHAT IS PREGNANCY MASSAGE?
Also known as prenatal massage, pregnancy massage promotes relaxation in the physical body, which also impacts mental and emotional wellbeing. Regular therapeutic touch helps keep muscles in a relaxed, supple state, and promotes the feel-good endorphin hormones. Hormones have a big role to play during labour and birth, and learning to tap into how you can promote them during pregnancy can impact your birth outcome in positive ways.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
Tense muscles make your body tight, increasing discomfort and limiting your range of movement. As your baby grows, along with the uterus, fluid, and placenta, more stress is placed on your ligaments and joints. When we don’t attend to these normal changes, we experience pain and discomfort, and more tightness. This eventually can lead to tension in your body preventing your baby from getting into an optimal position for birth. Often this leads to contractions that don’t do anything, long labours, tired mamas, and eventually interventions.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PREGNANCY MASSAGE?
There are many benefits to massage during pregnancy, including:
> Muscle tension - massage improves circulation and blood, reducing muscle tension, stiffness, cramps, and knots. This is particularly important for the pelvic area and lower back (sacrum), which can become tight and immobilised.
> Postural imbalance - when muscles are tense, balance is out, causing more discomfort as you try to compensate. Your belly is already creating a new centre of gravity, so massage helps to support these changes, so your body isn’t fighting against it.
> Nerve pain - the changes to balance and muscle tension can make muscle bunch, particularly the buttocks, which then pinch the sciatic nerve. This leads to pain and limited range of movement.
> Swelling - the weight of your uterus and baby slows down circulation and puts pressure on blood vessels, causing a buildup of fluid in joints and tissues.
> Constipation/detox - regular massage can improve the digestive system’s function, preventing sluggish bowels and the discomfort that can cause. It can support the lymphatic system’s ability to move fluid and waste from the body as well.
> Positive for baby - pregnant women who have regular pregnancy massage are less likely to have a premature baby compared to women who didn't have any massage throughout their pregnancies.
The physical benefits of massage during pregnancy are many, leading to relaxed muscles that allows your baby to reach the optimal position for birth. Fetal positioning can make all the difference between a normal, positive labour and a longer, more interventive experience.
Treating the body holistically with massage therapy creates a deep sense of wellbeing.
Aside from being relaxed and more able to cope with the physical demands placed on the body, massage encourages you to tap into your inner resources of mindfulness and strength.
Regular self care enables you to check in regularly with your body and understand what it needs to feel good. This focused self awareness heightens the mind-body connection, bringing a sense of calmness and control that you can access through the birth journey. It reduces anxiety and stress, which translates to a more open and aware frame of mind when labour begins.
WHEN IS IT BEST TO HAVE PREGNANCY MASSAGE?
Massage is beneficial throughout any stage of pregnancy. It was previously believed massage in the first trimester increased miscarriage risk but research has been unable to determine if this is true. The first trimester has the highest risk of miscarriage throughout pregnancy, so it’s important to choose a massage therapist with specialist training and skills.
During the second trimester, when early pregnancy symptoms have disappeared, massage can become a regular part of your prenatal support. Massage can help reduce stress, and improve sleep, which can increase your positive mindset. Your therapist can keep your muscles from becoming tense and causing problems later on in pregnancy.
Prenatal massage in the third trimester is highly recommended, as this is the time when you really reap the benefits. Your body is starting to feel uncomfortable, sleep becomes more challenging, and your mind starts getting in the way of your calm outlook. Your body begins to prepare for labour weeks before birth happens, and pregnancy massage therapists can maximise your treatments to ensure your baby is in a good position and you’re producing plenty of endorphins. This hormone helps oxytocin, the hormone that’s responsible for birth, and keeps stress hormone levels low.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU GET A PREGNANCY MASSAGE?
The answer to this will depend on your individual pregnancy and needs. Talk to your therapist about a treatment plan, but it’s common to have one session a month until around the third trimester, then shift to twice a month until you reach 36 weeks. After that, a weekly session until you give birth will optimise the benefits for you and your baby.
Put yourself and your baby in the hands of experienced therapists who have a deep and extensive knowledge and training of pregnancy and labour. At Nurtured Birth, your treatment is tailored especially for you, regardless of where you are in your pregnancy journey.
We are members of the Nourish Melbourne community, which means if you are a member and book a pregnancy massage session with us, your first massage is 20% off our regular price, and subsequent treatments are 10% discounted. You can find out more about becoming a member of Nourish Melbourne here and visit Nurtured Birth for more information about pregnancy massage here.