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2012 - Summer Issue
Vida Buena
Article: Jasmine Evaristo
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Therapeutic massage has been habitually applied to nurse one's health, reduce stress and relieve muscle tension. Pregnant women have often been on the receiving end of ambivalent messages assessing the safety and purpose of prenatal massage from the health community. Modern research is demonstrating that prenatal massage therapy carries the potential to be instrumental in women's prenatal care, and should be given thoughtful consideration.

    Other potential benefits of prenatal massage:

Reduced back pain
Reduced joint pain
Improved circulation
Reduced edema
Reduced muscle tension and headaches
Reduced stress and anxiety
Improved oxygenation of soft tissues and muscles
Better sleep
  Women with the following conditions should speak with a health care provider prior to receiving a massage:

High risk pregnancy
Pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH)
Previous pre-term labor
Experiencing severe
swelling, high-blood
pressure, or sudden,
severe headaches
Recently gave birth
Studies indicate that massage therapy performed during pregnancy can reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and improve labor outcomes and newborn health. Swedish massage is the recommended prenatal massage method during pregnancy as it attends to many common discomforts associated with the skeletal and circulatory changes brought on by hormone shifts during pregnancy.

Additionally, applied research has shown that hormone levels associated with relaxation and stress are significantly altered, promoting mood regulation and improved cardiovascular health when massage therapy is implemented into women's prenatal care. In women who received bi-weekly massages for only five weeks, hormones such as norepinephrine and cortisol (stress hormones) were reduced, and dopamine and serotonin levels were increased (low levels of these hormones are associated with depression). The changes in hormone levels also curtailed complications during birth, and alleviated instances of newborn complications, such as low birth weight. The evidence strongly supports maternal and newborn health benefits when massage therapy is incorporated into regular prenatal care.

Edema, or swelling of the joints during pregnancy, is often caused by reduced circulation and increased pressure on the major blood vessels by the heavy uterus. Massage therapy can stimulate soft tissues to reduce a collection of fluids in swollen joints, which also improves the removal of tissue waste carried by the body's lymph system.

Many women experience sciatic nerve pain in late pregnancy as the uterus rests on muscles of the pelvic floor and lower back. The pressure of the uterus spreads tension to the muscles of the upper and lower leg, causing them to swell and put pressure on nearby nerves. Massage therapy addresses the inflamed nerves by helping to relieve the tension on nearby muscles. Many women have experienced significant reduction in sciatic nerve pain during pregnancy using therapeutic massage.

As with any therapeutic approach to pregnancy wellness, women should discuss massage therapy with their prenatal care provider. The best way to address the risks of prenatal massage is to be informed and to work together with knowledgeable professionals.

A number of professionals deem the optimal position for a pregnant woman during massage is side-lying. It is crucial to seek care from a certified prenatal massage therapist. Certified therapists have received training beyond the national standards for massage, and these therapists know how to address specific pregnancy needs and sensitive areas of the body.

Trained prenatal or pregnancy massage therapists are aware of pressure points on the ankles and wrists that can gently stimulate pelvic muscles, including the uterus. Certified prenatal massage therapists are trained to avoid very specific and intentional pressure to specified areas during pregnancy. Any woman who has experienced pre-term contractions or consistent Braxton-Hicks contractions should alert her therapist to that fact so that pressure points can be avoided completely.

Women can choose to begin massage therapy at ay point in their pregnancy – during the first, second or third trimester. However, many facilities will refuse to offer massage to a woman who is still in her first trimester because of the increased miscarriage statistics associated with the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The benefits of massage therapy can improve overall prenatal health for many pregnant women. Along with the guidance and advice of a prenatal care provider, massage therapy can be incorporated into routine prenatal care as an emotional and physical health supplement proven to improve pregnancy outcome, and maternal health. Consult with your midwife or obstetrician before beginning any new therapeutic practice. ///
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