Supporting Pregnancy with Massage Therapy

In recent years, thousands of massage therapists have trained to become pre- and perinatal massage therapy specialists. Not that nurturing touch during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period is a new concept. Although not massage therapists, 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.(1) Most of the world’s more peaceful cultures use touch prominently during pregnancy and early childhood.(2)

Profound local and systemic changes in a woman’s physiology occur as a result of conception and the process of labor. 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: edema, postural changes, and pain in the lower back, pelvis or hips. The stress-reducing effect of massage not only can relax mom, but it will also improve uterine blood supply and fetal and maternal outcomes.(3)

Swedish massage may facilitate gestation by supporting cardiac function, placental and mammary development, and increasing cellular respiration. It also reduces edema and contributes to sympathetic nervous system sedation.(4) Deep tissue, trigger point and both active and passive movements alleviate stress on weight-bearing joints and myofascial structures, especially the sacroiliac and lumbosacral joints, lumbar spine, hips and pelvic musculature.(5)

Structural balancing and postural re-education reduce neck and back pain caused by improper posture and strain to the uterine ligaments. Prenatal massage therapists find that they also can facilitate ease of labor by preparing selected musculature and joints for release and support during childbirth.

Beyond these physical effects, an effective prenatal massage therapy session provides emotional support. In the safe care of a focused, nurturing therapist, many women unburden their worries, fears and other anxieties about childbearing. Therapeutic massage and bodywork can 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 labours, imagine the benefits generated by the skilled hands and compassionate heart of a trained touch specialist!

1. Goldsmith, Judith. 1984. Childbirth Wisdom. New York: Congdon and Weed.
2. Prescott, James. 1995. The Origins of Human Love and Violence. Accessed 7 Jul 2008.
3. Gorsuch, R., and M. Key. 1974. Abnormalities of pregnancy as a function of anxiety and life stress. Psychosomatic Medicine 36: 353.
4. Zanolla, R., et al. 1984. Evaluations of the results of three different methods of post-mastectomy lymphedema treatment. J Surg Oncol 26(3): 210–13.
5. Quebec Task Force on Spinal Disorders. 1987. Scientific approach to the assessment and management of activity-related spinal disorders. Spine 12: Suppl 1.
— Carole Osborne
Excerpted from "Supporting Pregnancy with Massage Therapy," Midwifery Today, Issue 87
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Avoid Wrist Fatigue

When a birthing woman is using the "all fours" position, have her put her hands into fists, keeping her arms and hands entirely vertical, to avoid wrist fatigue.
— Carla Hartley
Excerpted from Tricks of the Trade, Vol. I
Tricks of the Trade, Vol. I is out of print. You’ll find the rest of the Tricks books here.