Maisey Wooten was in the third trimester of her pregnancy when she came down with a cold and cough which caused her to pull a muscle in her ribcage. “Since I was pregnant, I didn’t want to take pain killers or medicine,” recalls this mother of two. “So I asked my doctor about going to a prenatal massage therapist. He thought it was a great idea.”
Many women today are seeking relief from the aches and pains of pregnancy through prenatal massage therapy. “It has been proven to safely eliminate or reduce many of the normal discomforts of pregnancy,” says Kathy Roberts, a 25-year veteran registered nurse and licensed massage therapist.
Beth Alexander, another licensed massage therapist, says prenatal massage can be a great alternative to medications when you have those pregnancy aches and pains. “When you get pregnant you’re going to have pain,” she notes. “The ligaments are loosening up, the spine and skeleton are shifting, and there is a lot of stress on the joints. Since you want to avoid taking drugs, massage therapy is a good way to take care of those discomforts without the use of medication.”
Jennifer Stempel another mother who used prenatal massage during one of her pregnancies, found this to be true. “During my second pregnancy, I had a lot of sciatic pain to the point where I couldn’t walk,” Stempel remembers. “The massage therapist worked on me for three days in a row, and when I left, I was fine.”
Though pain relief is the main reason mothers receive prenatal massages, there are emotional benefits too. “Some women may have had a hard time getting pregnant or may be stressed during their pregnancy,” states Alexander. “The massages can help you relax.”
The relaxation aspect was a big thing for Wooten. “I was pregnant with my second child and was already doing so much with my first,” she says. “I could just go and relax. It was amazing!”
But before getting a prenatal massage, Alexander highly recommends that women should check with their doctor—especially if there’s been a history of miscarriage or any predisposition to conditions that may be of concern.
There are also acupressure areas that may bring on contractions. But according to Roberts, this should be of little concern if the right massage therapist is chosen. “If a mother goes to someone certified in prenatal, the therapist will know what areas to avoid and how deep to work.”
Therein lies the difference between a prenatal massage and a regular one. “With a regular massage, we work deep tissue,” says Alexander. “But with a prenatal massage, we have to work at a lighter level.”
Positioning is different too. For example, Roberts has a special prenatal massage table so she can have the mother lie face down if needed. “We also do side-lying positions—it’s whatever the mom prefers,” Roberts adds. “Her head also needs to be elevated, and her body should be tilted to the left, so the baby isn’t pressing on the large vessels.”
Along with asking the soon-to-be mama how she prefers to lie down, the therapist will also check in on what their client wants worked on. “When I went during my third trimester, the massage therapist suggested I lay on my side with pillows between my legs and under my head,” recalls Wooten. “She would ask if there were certain aches and pains that needed to be addressed. Since I got a lot of headaches and leg cramps, she focused on those muscles. The massage would alleviate the pain and I would feel better. Then I would return the next month.”
And, with your doctor’s OK of course, women can have multiple prenatal massages throughout their pregnancy. “I usually have clients coming in about once a month during their last trimester,” says Alexander. “I know some women who schedule their massages to coincide with their OB appointments.”
But where does one look for a massage therapist? Stempel networked with the massage therapist she had before she got pregnant. Wooten called a local parenting resource center.
You can also ask your doctor or childbirth class instructor for a recommendation or check with friends who may have had prenatal massages.
Most important, Robert suggest you call and talk with the therapist. “Ask specific questions and find out what [their] background is,” she says “Be sure the person is a licensed massage therapist, nationally certified in massage and body works, and certified in prenatal massage.”
There’s also a website from the American Massage Therapy Association that you can use to find a therapist in your area. “Once you find one locally, call and ask for their qualifications,” adds Alexander.
And the benefits don’t stop when you’ve delivered your baby. “Postpartum massage therapy is as important as prenatal,” says Roberts. “It’s a time when your body is going through so many changes. There are so many demands on your time, and you get so little sleep.”
In fact, Wooten went back regularly for months after her son was born. “It was just what I needed,” she notes. “Some women may think the money can be used for something else, especially when she’s raising a family. I know—I used to think that too. But I found it made me a better wife and mother. It was worth every dime!”
BENEFITS OF PRENATAL MASSAGE THERAPY
Some of the benefits of prenatal massage therapy can include:
-Ease backaches, headaches, shoulder, and neck pain
– Decrease pain in the pelvic/hip area
– Increase circulation
– Improve digestion
– Reduce fatigue
– Improve sleep
– Help reduce swelling in hands and lower legs
– May reduce sciatic pain
– May reduce leg cramps
– Can alleviate stress on weight-bearing joints
– Promote relaxation and deep breathing
– Help stabilize hormone levels by lessening anxiety
QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN LOOKING FOR A PRENATAL MASSAGE THERAPIST
Once you’ve found a therapist, consider asking him or her these questions to determine if they’re a good fit:
“What are your qualifications?” They should be a licensed massage therapist (LMT), nationally certified in massage and body works and certified in prenatal massage.
“Are you affiliated with a larger organization?” Organizations such as the American Massage Therapy Association, the Association for Bodyworks and Massage, or the International Massage Association may encourage continuing education.
“Are you experienced as a labor assistant?” If you think you may want a doula during labor, ask up front. Also ask if she or he is willing to teach your labor partner.
And finally, a question to ask yourself:
“Am I comfortable with this therapist?” Find someone you are comfortable with. For most women, it is another female. Look for someone who is sensitive to your needs and your present condition.
Denise Yearian is a guest contributing writer, the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children and six grandchildren.
Image courtesy of iStock.