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An Insider's Guide to Prenatal Massage

Written by: By Nichole Alaracón, LMT 117361

When I first found out that I was pregnant, I had just quit my big girl office job to take my part time massage practice full time. I was beyond excited to bring a brand new person into the world to say the least, but after the excitement came a big wave of Oh crap, how am I going to be pregnant and do my job?! You see, massage therapy is pretty physical, and at the time I was a completely mobile massage therapist. That means carrying my massage table, a bag of linens, lotions and potions and the occasional (and dreaded) three flights of stairs client.

Being in the industry I knew making massage part of my self-care routine was not only beneficial but necessary, especially if I was going to continue with my chosen profession while pregnant. So I made a plan. After getting approval from my doctor/midwife, I found a qualified prenatal massage therapist and scheduled my sessions for 90 minutes every two weeks. I also added chiropractic and committed myself to daily stretching, even if it was for only five or ten minutes. Fun fact! Did you know that only 1% of women receive massage for prenatal or pregnancy reasons ? That number is shockingly low, but having just gone through a pregnancy myself…understandable. Being pregnant, though exciting and happy can also be scary. Especially if you are a new mom-to-be, knowing what you should and shouldn’t do is tedious, pair that with brand new mom guilt, because lets face it babies are expensive, your sense of self-care goes out the window. It takes a back seat because you are growing a tiny human and you have to learn how to protect, support and care for it. But guess what? YOU ARE GROWING A TINY HUMAN, and one of the best ways to support that is to care for yourself.

The benefits, oh the benefits!

As amazing and beautiful as pregnancy can be, there also comes a lot of aches and pains. Yes, your body is absolutely designed to do this, but these changes and transitions are taking place in a very short amount of time and your body is learning to adapt. Your muscles and joints are stretching, your pelvis and hips are widening, your organs are being moved out of the way for this tiny bundle of joy, and all this is happening in a span of just a few short months. There’s bound to be a certain level of discomfort associated with this and there is no reason for you to suffer in silence. Prenatal massage has been around for centuries and has a deep history rooted in many cultures around the world. From Jamaica to Japan to Mexico, Malaysia and England, massage has been used in various ways to help support the soon-to-be mama. When performed by a licensed professional prenatal massage can have an abundance of benefits. Studies show that massage during pregnancy can reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and even improve labor outcomes and newborn health. Not only that, but studies have also shown massage during pregnancy can help with hormone regulation, reduce swelling (hello cankles) and decrease nerve pain (I’m looking at you, Sciatic Nerve!).

But should I get a prenatal massage?

I could go on and on about the benefits of prenatal massage, but it’s also important to note that it may not be for everyone. Unfortunately there are some instances in which receiving massage may not be beneficial and I will definitely need doctors approval first. For example, pre- eclampsia, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), placenta problems such as previa, accreta or abruption. These types of pregnancy complications are contraindications to massage, and since your safety along with your little bun is of the utmost importance, you may not be able to receive massage. As with everything in pregnancy, your prenatal care team can help you figure out if massage is right for you.

So when can I schedule my session?

If you’ve been given the go ahead to get massage then great! Book your appointment as soon as you are able. But wait, are you even allowed to get massage in your first trimester? The short answer is, YES, with doctors approval. There is a common misconception out there about receiving massage while in the first trimester. In fact many facilities and even some independent massage therapists do not massage a woman who is still in her first trimester. This may be due to lack of understanding or even fear of potentially being associated with the increased risk for miscarriage during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. But the thing is, miscarriage is extremely common during the first trimester, and it occurs whether a woman is massaged or not. There is no scientific evidence that massage is the cause of miscarriage. It is absolutely a terrible experience, and in no way the fault of the healthy mother-to-be or practitioner. In the majority of cases this occurs because the fetus unfortunately just wasn’t able to sustain life. The mama- to-be who has a healthy lifestyle, which includes massage, is more than likely going to have a very successful pregnancy, birth and postpartum. And working with someone who is a trained professional can safely and effectively treat any first trimester concerns.

Pillows, bolsters and wedges oh my!

In order to make massage safe and more comfortable for mama and baby, positioning is crucial! Your prenatal massage may look a little different than your run of the mill session. Depending on how far along you are and how you are most comfortable there are a few different bolstering techniques a massage therapist may use. If you are pretty early on in your pregnancy, you may be perfectly comfortable still laying face down and face up with no support. But when you get farther along, laying face down just simply isn’t an option anymore. That is why you will notice most massage therapists use a sidelying technique with a ton of comfy pillows. You’ll start by laying on your side with a pillow for your head, a pillow that goes between the knees to support and align the hips, a pillow to cradle and hold onto and to steady yourself as I work the back, and sometimes a little pillow or wedge to go under the side of your bump. Another option that is available to some massage therapists is the use of a body support system (yes I have one, and yes its awesome!). This is a specialized cushioning systems that allows the prenatal client to lay face down. Let me say it one more time for the folks in the back, Yes! After many many weeks of being only on your side, there is an opportunity for you to lay face down! With that said, it has to be right for you, and everyone’s situation and pregnancy is different. When I first started working with pregnant women, prior to being pregnant myself, I was super against using this. Some therapists feel that this can actually cause more pain and strain in the lumbar spine, which in some cases can be true. But it depends on the client.

When I was pregnant, my massage therapist started out using this type of system and for me it was true bliss. But when I hit my 32 nd week, it was just not an option for me anymore because I was carrying quite large and it was uncomfortable. We easily switched it out for the standard sidelying position and pillows. This is why communication between you and your therapist is so important, letting your therapist know what you are or are not comfortable with will make your session just that more amazing and effective. The other modification is when you turn face up. If you are farther along in your pregnancy, you may no longer be able to lay flat on your back, so I use a giant wedge pillow to prop you up. The reason for this is because we want to avoid compressing a large vein called your vena cava. This is what supplies blood to the uterus and provides blood and oxygen to your little one. You’ll know if this large vein is being compressed because you will start to feel dizzy, sweaty, nauseous or short of breath. If this happens ask to stop the session and turn onto your left side. This happened to me while I was being worked on, and though it was very scary, my massage therapist handled it like a pro. We made the necessary adjustments by propping me up a little higher and were able to carry on with my session. Keep in mind every uterus is different, and you may or may not experience this, but trust me you will definitely and immediately know if you do, so don’t be afraid to speak up.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

That leads me to my final little tidbit: Communication is key! Pregnant or not, when you are able to voice your concerns, likes and/or dislikes to your massage therapist, you are going to have a much more effective massage. This is your time, that you are paying for so try to make the most of it. I’m not a mind reader, and though I am intuitive to a certain extent, having more information is always going to make your session better. This begins with the intake process; we’ll have a pretty in-depth conversation about daily activities, your job, how you sleep, etc. and though I do love getting to know you, this information is so helpful for your session. I’ll be armed with this knowledge as I work various parts of the body and help you figure out what may be the cause of your tension and we can work on a plan for home care to help alleviate or relieve those little aches and pains. Additionally, feel free to speak up during your session. I’ll be sure to ask about pressure throughout, but if at any point you feel you need more or less let me know. Let me know if you feel you need more work done in a certain area or if there has been a specific area bothering you. Every massage can be completely customized to your need, as long as you are voicing those needs.

For me, receiving prenatal massage did wonders. Though I took it somewhat easy as my pregnancy progressed, I am proud to say that I was able to work up until two weeks until I gave birth, and I was two weeks late. The only reason I stopped was because I was afraid to go into labor during a session. I felt great at the end of my pregnancy and I know getting regular massage was a huge part of that.

If you think prenatal massage is something that will work for you then I urge you to try one. Whether its with me, a fellow woman warrior mama/local small business owner supporting her family (wink wink nudge nudge), or another trusted professional, hopefully you will enter that treatment room a little wiser, a little less nervous and lot more confident in your decision to say yes to self-care.

Nichole is the owner and massage therapist for Massage Móvil, a mostly mobile massage practice, offering prenatal massage to you at your home or at her home location. You can book your prenatal session online by visiting our website. In addition to prenatal massage, Massage Móvil also offers mama’s-to-be a new modality called Yomassage™, where breath and mindfulness meets gentle stretch and therapeutic touch in a small group setting. Perfect for an introduction to massage, this incredibly relaxing session is great for those suffering from high stress and high anxiety. Find more information and book a session by visiting our website.

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