As midwives, it is important that we are able recommend supplementary care to make pregnancy and postpartum as comfortable as possible for the women we serve. In this piece, Carole Osborne, an internationally recognized maternity massage therapist and instructor, shares some of the benefits of prenatal and perinatal massage, and what makes this kind of care effective for mothers-to-be. She also gives direction for finding an effective maternity massage therapist for you to partner your midwifery care with.
Expecting a baby is usually joyful, but, as we know, it can also be stressful. A woman changes dramatically, and some of these changes are uncomfortable. Prenatal massage uses techniques designed specifically to make healthier moms and babies, despite pregnancy’s challenges, and to enhance its joys. Recent research is beginning to show that prenatal massage therapy may have these benefits:
- Encourages relaxation
- Helps alleviate muscle and joint pain
- Improves breathing and digestion
- Improves mom and baby’s physical and emotional health by reducing the negative impacts of stress on both
- Helps a new mom feel more at home and in touch with herself and her baby
- Contributes to easier, shorter labors
- And it feels so good!
After giving birth, postpartum massage therapy may help abdominal recovery, reduce the strain of baby care on mom’s body, support satisfying breast feeding, and nurture mom and her family. Moms more quickly and fully touch their babies in loving, nurturing ways, after receiving massage, and that leads to a more peaceful world for us all.
In recent years, thousands of American massage therapists have trained to become pre- and perinatal massage therapy specialists. However, nurturing touch during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period is not a new concept. Midwives have been valued for centuries for their highly developed hands-on skills. Massage and movement during the childbearing experience was and continues to be a prominent part of many cultures’ maternity care. Most of the world’s more peaceful cultures use touch prominently during pregnancy and early childhood.
How Is Prenatal Massage Therapy Effective?
Changes during pregnancy span the psychological, physiological, spiritual and social realms. A typical session performed by a therapist specializing in pre- and perinatal massage therapy can address pregnancy’s various physical challenges: postural changes, pain in the lower back, pelvis hips, or ribs, and edema. The stress-reducing effect of massage not only may relax mom, but it may also improve uterine blood supply and fetal and maternal outcomes. Prenatal massage therapy also may facilitate ease of labor by preparing selected musculature and joints to either soften or support during childbirth.
Beyond these physical effects, an effective pregnancy massage therapy session provides emotional support. In the safe care of a focused, nurturing therapist, many women unburden their fears and other childbearing worries. Therapeutic massage and bodywork may help the mother-to-be develop the sensory awareness necessary to birth more comfortably and actively. If laboring women whose partners learned and provided basic massage strokes to their backs and legs had shorter, less complicated labors, imagine the benefits that might be generated by the skilled hands and compassionate heart of a trained touch specialist!
The Postpartum Period
Beginning with the baby’s birth, a new mother must cope with many changes. She weighs less, yet still habitually holds her body for an anterior weight load posture. A postpartum massage therapy session may facilitate a gentle return to the body’s pre-pregnancy functioning, alleviate pain and to bring about a renewed sense of body and self. Upper back muscles, which now support larger breasts and the carried infant’s weight, appreciate massage to reduce strain and to help maintain flexibility despite the physical exertion and repetitiveness of infant feeding and care.
Regardless of methodology, an hour focused on her own relaxation and comfort works wonders for a new mom’s mood. Another empathetic ear hearing her birth story may further resolve any residual emotional conflicts that can emerge during labor and early mothering. Several recent studies suggest that massage therapy may help prevent or reduce prenatal and postpartum depression. For post-cesarean mothers, specific therapeutic techniques also may reduce scar tissue formation and facilitate the healing of the incision and related soft tissue areas, as well as support the integration of her childbearing experience.
Identifying Qualified Pre- and Perinatal Massage Therapists
Parents and childbirth professionals will want both a safe and effective massage therapist. Seek out a maternity massage therapy specialist, not just a general massage therapist. A certified specialist is knowledgeable and also skillful in adapting her techniques to safely meet women’s needs. She will approach her pre- and perinatal clients with deep respect for the normalcy of pregnancy, its joys and its many challenges.
When identifying maternity massage therapists, look for those who observe detailed, research-based protocols and contra indications. A comprehensive hands-on training in prenatal and perinatal massage therapy requires at least 32 hours; ideally it also includes a performance evaluation to certify the therapists’ proficiency. Maternity specialists have the knowledge and skills to collaborate well with perinatal health care providers to offer effective and empathetic touch to moms. After seeing their greater comfort, midwives and other providers might even find themselves scheduling their own hour of timeless, nurturing touch!