Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Childbearing Year - New Column by Aimee Sturley

Massage in the Childbearing Year

Part of a holistic prenatal care program

Although massage is thought of by many as a treat for special occasions and spa visits, many medical professionals are coming to understand its importance as a form of complimentary healthcare. Family doctors, obstetricians and midwives are all increasingly recommending massage for their perinatal patients. If you are expecting a child or have already had one (or more) you are aware of the enormous physical and emotional changes that occur in the childbearing year. Receiving regular massage is preventative, restorative and pleasurable and can help you to prepare your body for pregnancy, labour and postpartum recovery.

How does massage help?

Increased weight, the changes in both your hormones and structural alignment, combine with the emotional stresses often experienced during this time can contribute to physical distress and tension. Massage addresses many of the aches and pains experienced during the childbearing year and helps to instil a feeling of well-being.

Circulation of both the blood and lymphatic systems is also improved with massage which results in better nutrition and more efficient elimination of toxins for you and the baby, as well as decreased swelling and varicose veins. Regular massage can help to improve muscle tone, posture and flexibility, all of which will undergo heavy demands during labour and in the postpartum period as well. Massage can also help you to train your mind and body for one of the most important parts of birth: noticing tight muscles and being able to relax them. Regular massage throughout pregnancy can contribute to a shorter labour and reduce distress, complications and interventions.

A Note About Safety

As with any alternative or complimentary healthcare practise, it is important to consult your physician or midwife before engaging the services of a Pregnancy Massage Practitioner. If there are any complications with your pregnancy it is imperative that you relate them to your Massage Practitioner so that they may contact with your doctor or midwife to ensure the most appropriate and effective care. It is safe to begin massage in the first trimester, and it is highly beneficial to begin treatments early before unhelpful habits get established. Your Massage Practitioner can help you to overcome many challenges from sleeping positions, to leg cramps, to ergonomic difficulties while nursing. Getting massage every two weeks in the second trimester and weekly in the third trimester will prepare your body for labour and delivery and the demands of a new baby.

Many expectant parents are told that massage should be avoided during pregnancy because there are certain areas that can send the client into labour. These points (they reside in the shoulders, hands, legs, ankles and feet) are known to those trained in Pregnancy Massage; your Practitioner will strictly avoid these points.


If you’ve ever gone for massage before, you have likely spent a good deal of time on your belly and this might make you wonder how on earth a pregnant woman could receive an effective massage as her belly grows. But don’t worry, when the time comes, your practitioner will be very comfortable in treating you in the left side-lying position and will make sure that you are well-supported with a variety of special cushions and pillows. This is the same position that is recommended by healthcare professionals as the safest for sleeping, ensuring unobstructed blood flow through the body and to your baby because the major blood vessels are slightly to the right of the center of your back.

Some practitioners have a table that allows the belly to hang down through a hole into a supportive net. While this may be very comfy for many women, it is also a controversial practise as it has the potential to put the undo strain of the belly’s weight on the relaxed muscles, ligaments and tendons in that area.

In Labour

When you are in labour, massage can assist with your ability to cope with contractions by providing a feeling of reassurance and by blocking pain messages.[i] Your Practitioner can also show your partner or support person a variety of massage techniques that they can use on you during labour. This in turn can lead to an increased feeling of intimacy between the two of you.

In the postpartum period, massage can assist in your recovery by relaxing the muscles that have worked so hard, encouraging structural realignment and abdominal healing (including healing from a Caesarean birth), and provide essential respite from the postural strains and emotional stresses of tending to your newborn. It is usually considered safe to begin massage as soon as you like after a normal delivery and you may wish to find someone who will visit you at home in the first weeks after delivery when getting to a studio or clinic might not be such a simple task The childbearing year is full of tremendous changes physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually; as you give all your heart and soul to your new baby, make sure that you take the time to replenish your reserves.

[i] Massage employs something called, “the gateway theory of pain”. The idea behind it is that the “ports” in the spinal cord can only receive a limited amount of information from the body at any one time. The nerves that hook up to these “ports” will deliver messages faster if they are wider in diameter and slower if they are narrower. Because the nerves that deliver messages about pain are narrower than those that deliver messages about touch, the touch messages can reach the spinal cord first and occupy those “ports” so that they are unable to receive the pain messages. This doesn’t make pain disappear, but it can diminish it’s influence. (Melzack, Ronald. "Evolution of Pain Theories and the Neuromatrix". Medscape Today. June 21, 2007 .)

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