Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 52, Winter 1999.
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Massage is the act or art of treating the body by rubbing or kneading to stimulate circulation and to relax muscles. This dictionary definition is a good technical description of massage but it doesn’t make me want to run out and get one. When I first began working as a massage therapist I did exactly what the dictionary says; I rubbed my clients’ bodies. I soon realized that massage is much more than what I learned in school. Massage affected my clients on all levels: mind, body and spirit. I especially noticed this with pregnant women. During a massage, they were able to connect with themselves and their baby while being surrounded by soft candlelight, soothing music, fragrant aromas and a loving touch.
Massage during Pregnancy
Why should we massage and touch pregnant and laboring women? The book Pre- and Perinatal Massage Therapy (Carole Osborne-Sheets, 1998) states the benefits of massage as stress reduction and relaxation, improved circulation, improved physiological functioning, reduction of musculoskeletal strain and pain, and labor preparation and facilitation. Although these reasons are very valid and the book is excellent for anyone wanting to massage pregnant women, my heart and my clients told me these weren’t the only reasons. I recently questioned many women that I’ve worked with over the past year about their experiences with massage therapy during pregnancy and labor. Most of the answers were what I had expected and others were not. The most common reasons given for seeking massage were relaxation, stress management and relief from aches and pains.
One client described experiencing “an incredible bonding feeling with my unborn baby.” Another woman, who had gone through a miscarriage during a previous pregnancy, said massage therapy helped her “work through the fear and uncertainty.” Yet another said, “after a massage, I would slow down and remember to enjoy being pregnant.”
When people find out I do pregnancy massage they are usually surprised a woman can get a massage while pregnant. I even get this reaction from pregnant women. They assume that massage is one of the “no no’s” of pregnancy, like going on roller coasters and drinking alcohol. By using side-lying, semi-reclined, and side-tilt positions, a full body massage is possible. The mother is supported in these special positions with the use of pillows and cushions. Most of my clients can’t believe they can feel so comfortable, and they often mimic the massage positions while sleeping at home.
Massage is not recommended during pregnancy when the mother has morning sickness, nausea or vomiting; vaginal bleeding or abnormal discharge; a fever or diarrhea; or when she notices a decrease in fetal movement over a twenty-four hour period, excessive swelling in her arms or legs, or is experiencing pain in the abdomen or anywhere else in her body. Even if a woman’s pregnancy is considered “high risk” and she is on bed rest, massage is still possible in most instances. These women are often the ones who need and appreciate massage most. It is always best for a woman to consult her midwife or doctor when there is any question that massage may harm her or her baby. While massage is considered safe during pregnancy, it is important to find a certified therapist who has had specific training in the dos and don’ts of pregnancy massage.
Massage during Labor and Delivery
Just as the benefits of massage and touch can enhance the pregnancy experience, they can also help create a wonderful labor and delivery experience. My involvement with labor support and massage during labor was a direct result of my pregnancy massage work. I was asked to attend the homebirth of a client and I said, “Yes!” It didn’t matter to her that I had never attended a delivery before.
Her baby was posterior and I did a lot of rubbing, as did everyone else involved. I couldn’t believe we didn’t rub the skin off her lower back. Being with her and helping her felt natural to me. I had assumed I would be scared and wouldn’t know what to do, but it was the opposite. She was supported, assisted and loved during her entire labor and we never left her side. That day I realized love and support is a necessary part of birthing babies.
During the labors I attend I use a lot of touch and massage. As with pregnancy massage, I find that my clients benefit from touch and massage in different ways. One client told me, “Massage eased labor pain in the back immensely. I would have had an epidural without the massage during labor—I’m sure of it! The massage also gave me something to focus on other than the pain of labor.” Another reported that massage made her feel “cared for.” Another said, “Massage definitely reduced stress and anxiety by helping me focus on each stage and get over it.”
In a short period of time, I have learned much from the women I have been blessed to serve. It is my hope that women will begin to realize that pregnancy is a time when they need to rely on their strengths as well as embrace their vulnerabilities. We as caregivers, family and friends all need to show them how important it is that they receive nurturing in pregnancy so they may return the gift to their children. I am convinced that massage and touch is one way to do this.
For more information on pregnancy massage contact:
The National Association of Pregnancy Massage Therapy (NAPMT), 888-451-4945.
For more information on Birth Doulas/Labor Assistants contact:
DONA International: www.dona.org