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Prenatal massage (massage during pregnancy) and postnatal/postpartum massage have become popular all over the world within the past two decades, but it is certainly not a new concept. Ancient and modern hilots, as well as other practitioners of traditional Eastern medicine, have long known about the benefits of massage during and after pregnancy. Even Hippocrates, the father of medicine, has been said to note the benefits of “rubbing” on the human body.
Prenatal Massage: So good, even the baby loves it!
While you may not care about much else other than getting a little R & R from a prenatal massage, you’ll be happy to know that there is a myriad of health benefits in store, both for you and your baby. As an added bonus, some therapists may even teach your husband or partner a few massage techniques to do in between the sessions. Lita Nery, a Manila- based certified therapist for prenatal, postnatal, and lactation massage, makes it a point to involve the partners whenever possible, by giving them just a few tips to help keep stress at bay. “Being an active participant helps the partner show his support for the pregnant woman, which is a big deal for her,” she says. Ms Nery believes that the bond between the parents-to-be is equally important to that between parent and child.
One of the most important benefits of a prenatal massage is hormone regulation. According to the American Pregnancy Association, research over the past 10 years have shown that when massage therapy is made part of prenatal care, levels of hormones associated with stress and relaxation are significantly altered, such that they lead to better regulation of mood and improved cardiovascular health. Most importantly, better regulation of hormones can lead to reduced chances of complications during birth and fewer complications in the baby.
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Women who received biweekly prenatal massages for five weeks were found to have decreased levels of stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. This is important, as this could lead to a strengthened immune system and decreased inflammation (read: less pain) throughout the body. Not only did levels of stress hormones decrease, but the levels of “relaxation” hormones dopamine and serotonin were increased also. Low levels of either of these hormones are associated with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
Prenatal massage improves cardiovascular health not just from better hormone regulation but also from the physical action of stroking the muscles and tissues of the body. Massaging stimulates the blood and lymph to flow more freely throughout the body. Better circulation means better oxygen and nutrient delivery throughout your body, increasing the amount of goodies being delivered to your baby. Your body will be better able to flush out toxins and cellular waste through the lymphatic system. Finally, improved circulation will help to reduce swelling in your joints.
Prenatal massage is best known for alleviating common musculoskeletal pains associated with pregnancy, such as low back pain, foot pain, and nerve pain (typically due to sciatic nerve being irritated and/or compressed). Pain is reduced by several ways: first, massage stimulates the release of endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain killers. Next, the increase in circulation allows for better delivery of anti-inflammatory substances, which can help reduce the sensation of pain. Finally, muscles will become less tense and more relaxed, releasing any pressure on sensitive structures like the sciatic nerve, which may cause pain in the back of the leg, or the femoral nerve, which can cause pain in the side or front of the thighs. You may also consult with a chiropractor, who is especially trained in assessing the body for areas of nerve dysfunction that are causing the discomfort in your neck, low back, pelvis, even the legs and feet.
Remember to consult your Ob-Gyne and/or midwife before proceeding with prenatal massage. Though it is generally safe during all three trimesters, most practitioners insist on waiting until at least the second trimester, usually because most miscarriages tend to occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is not recommended for women with high-risk pregnancies, such as those with placental abruption, pre-eclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension, prior history of pre-term labor, and those still experiencing nausea, vomiting, or other signs of morning sickness.
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A typical pre-natal massage session lasts anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, with many therapists recommending doing it at least once per week for about 5 weeks, depending on your own medical needs and circumstances. Expect that the first session will take longer, as the therapist will conduct a thorough assessment of your pregnancy history. Prenatal massage can be done in two positions: side-lying or sitting (sometimes reclined). A massage therapist will stroke the body using her fingers and palms (called an “effleurage”) putting gentle-to-medium pressure on specific areas like the low back, feet, legs, and shoulders. Trained therapists will know to avoid certain pressure points that could induce unwanted effects, such as premature contractions. Conversely, they may use pressure points that could target specific areas of the body for improved relaxation.
Postnatal Massage: Adding icing to the cake
So you’ve had several massage sessions, felt great, had an easy (or at least, uncomplicated) delivery, and you’re already a mom. Why stop there? For best results, consider doing a postnatal massage routine to help finish off your journey smoothly. Nyssa Feredo, manager of Neo Day Spa in their Fort Bonifacio branch, acknowledges that most women tend to forget about themselves and put all their attention into caring for their newborn. She believes that postnatal massages are a great way to alleviate both physical and mental stresses plaguing new mommies.
Just as with prenatal massages, postnatal massages can help to relieve body pain. Even after birth, pain or discomfort may persist in the legs, thighs, arms, neck and back. This is due to the fact that the body is taking time to return to its pre-pregnancy state. The hormone relaxin, for example, stays in your system for about 6 to 9 months postpartum, which affects the way your ligaments (and therefore muscles and joints) move and feel. Additionally, new activities can cause some discomfort if done incorrectly, such as breastfeeding, which can lead to neck, arm, and shoulder pain. Having a postnatal massage routine can help make these transitions much easier.
Improved circulation will help flush out excess water, cellular waste, and other toxins, which could help you lose a few unwanted pounds. You may even look a little less flabby, as massaging will help the body regain some firmness and elasticity by maintaining muscle tone.
Stress has also been shown to reduce milk supply. By keeping your psychological and physical stresses low with regular massages, you can essentially maintain healthy levels of milk production. Less stress also promotes healthier emotional states. In all her years as a certified therapist, Lita Nery has claimed to be witness to this fact, herself observing very little to no cases of postpartum depression among clients who have received both prenatal and postnatal massage.
Postnatal massages are recommended approximately 12 weeks after birth; however, if you’ve had a C-section, it’s best to wait until your wounds are healed so that you are able to lay either on your side or on your stomach without discomfort. Some therapists will encourage you to nurse while receiving a massage in a side-lying position to foster mother-child bonding, as well as relieve any anxieties you may have about leaving your newborn.
IMPORTANT: Make sure to check with your doctor or birthing expert before you proceed with either a postnatal or prenatal massage. When choosing a massage therapist, be sure that they are certified and properly trained, and don’t hesitate to ask questions - a good therapist will be able to address your concerns easily without being pushy.