Maisey Wooten was in the third trimester of her pregnancy when she came down with a cold and cough, which caused her to pull a muscle in her ribcage. “Since I was pregnant, I didn’t want to take pain killers or medicine. So I asked my doctor about going to a prenatal massage therapist,” recalls this mother of two. “He thought it was a great idea.”
Jennifer Stempel was three months pregnant with twins when she received her first prenatal massage. “I got large so quickly and was having a lot of leg cramps and lower back pains. I talked with my doctor about it, and she highly recommended it.”
Many women today are seeking relief from the aches and pains of pregnancy through prenatal massage therapy. “It has been proven to safely eliminate or reduce many of the normal discomforts of pregnancy,” says Kathy Roberts, 25-year veteran registered nurse and licensed massage therapist.
Beth Alexander, another licensed massage therapist, agrees. “When you get pregnant you’re going to have pain. The ligaments are loosening up, the spine and skeleton are shifting, and there is a lot of stress on the joints. Since you want to avoid taking drugs, massage therapy is a good way to take care of those discomforts without the use of medication.”
Stempel found this to be true. “During my second pregnancy, I had a lot of sciatic pain—to the point where I couldn’t walk. The massage therapist worked on me for three days in a row, and when I left I was fine.”
Though pain relief is the main reason mothers go for prenatal massages, there are emotional benefits too. “Some women may have had a hard time getting pregnant or may be stressed during their pregnancy,” states Alexander. “The massages can help you relax.”
“Relaxation was a big thing for me,” says Wooten. “I was pregnant with my second child and was already doing so much with my first. I could just go and relax. It was amazing!”
Before getting a prenatal massage, women should check with their doctor. “If a woman has had a miscarriage before or has any sort of predisposition to anything that may be of concern, she should check with her doctor first,” suggests Alexander.
There are also acupressure areas that may bring on contractions. But according to Roberts, this should be of little concern if the right massage therapist is chosen. “If a mother goes to someone certified in prenatal, the therapist will know what areas to avoid and how deep to work.”
Therein lies the difference between a prenatal massage and a regular one. “With a regular massage, we work deep tissue,” says Alexander. “But with a prenatal massage, we have to work at a lighter level.”
Positioning is different too. “I have a special prenatal massage table so we can do face down if we need to,” says Roberts. “We also do side-lying positions—it’s whatever the mom prefers. Her head also needs to be elevated, and her body should be tilted to the left so the baby isn’t pressing on the large vessels.”
“When I went during my third trimester, the massage therapist suggested I lay on my side with pillows between my legs and under my head,” recalls Wooten. “She would ask if there were certain aches and pains that needed to be addressed. Since I got a lot of headaches and leg cramps, she focused on those muscles. The massage would alleviate the pain and I would feel better. Then I would return the next month.”
“I usually have clients coming in about once a month during their last trimester,” says Alexander. “I know some women who schedule their massages to coincide with their OB appointments.”
So where does one look for a massage therapist? Stempel networked with the massage therapist she had before she got pregnant. Wooten called a local parenting resource center.
Ask your doctor or childbirth class instructor for a recommendation, or check with friends who may have had prenatal massages, suggests Roberts. Most important, call and talk with the therapist. “Ask specific questions and find out what her background is. Be sure the person is a licensed massage therapist, nationally certified in massage and body works, and certified in prenatal massage.”
Alexander agrees. “The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has a website (http://www.amtamassage.org) with a link to find a therapist in your area. Once you find one locally, call and ask for their qualifications.”
When labor and delivery is over, consider the benefits of returning postpartum. “Postpartum massage therapy is as important as prenatal,” says Roberts. “It’s a time when your body is going through so many changes. There are so many demands on your time, and you get so little sleep.”
“I went back regularly for months after my son was born,” concludes Wooten. “It was just what I needed. Some women may think the money can be used for something else, especially when she’s raising a family. I know—I used to think that too. But I found it made me a better wife and mother. It was worth every dime!”
Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children and six grandchildren.