October 2010, Lansdowne, Virginia
Massage is a safe and relaxing experience for most women during all stages of pregnancy, including the first trimester. You should inquire if your massage therapist has received certification in prenatal and postpartum massage, as it is not required by the Commonwealth of Virginia or Loudoun County. It is also important to discuss massage therapy with your physician prior to scheduling a massage and even bring a prescription with you to your appointment, so that the therapist can verify any special recommendations or accommodations. Although most insurance companies will not cover the cost of massage therapy, you may be able to use funds from flexible spending or health savings accounts; check with your employer for these benefits.
Therapeutic prenatal and postpartum massage is customized to meet the needs of each individual and the requirements or restrictions as prescribed by a physician. In most cases, firm pressure may be applied to tight muscles and round ligaments to help relieve the strain and tension that results from a quickly changing body. Massaging deep muscles of the hip can help with sciatic pain. Calf cramps are another common issue during pregnancy and massage can eliminate the resulting soreness and fatigue.
With higher risk pregnancies, light Swedish techniques may be recommended to promote relaxation and help stabilize hormone levels. Long fluid strokes and light kneading are used to ease to muscle tension. Soothing scalp and shoulder massage are also safe alternatives to deeper therapeutic techniques. Non-touching energy work can also be an effective method of relaxing the body and mind. Reiki is a Japanese technique of placing the hands on or hovering just above the body to facilitate the flow of energy from practitioner to client. There are no medical contraindications for receiving a Reiki treatment.
The use of Reflexology can also be a very effective way to balance energy levels throughout the entire body in a non-invasive manner. Reflexology is a system of applying pressure to points on the hands and feet that correspond with areas and functions throughout the body. Many women have been told to avoid foot massage during pregnancy due to reflex points that can stimulate premature labor. There are points on the ankle that correspond to the uterus and these should be avoided prior to your due date. However, this can be an effective non-medical way to naturally induce labor when the time comes (with your doctor's approval). Reflexology may also help facilitate sleep and promote lactation postpartum.
A full body cushion with indentations to comfortably support the abdomen and breasts may be used to allow women to lie face down. This gives the massage therapist full access to lower back and sciatic issues that often accompany pregnancy. During the later stages of pregnancy a left side-lying position is recommended. This is a position many women will be familiar with, as it is the best way to sleep during pregnancy. When lying face up, it is important that the back be supported by cushions or pillows in an inclined position during pregnancy. Lying flat can cause a decrease in blood pressure, difficulty breathing and circulation issues which can decrease blood flow to mother and baby.
Pregnancy brings many phases of physical and emotional change, so it is best to let your body to be your guide. In the first to second trimesters, massage once a month may be sufficient if you were pain free prior to your pregnancy. During the late second and third trimesters, as your body changes more rapidly, massages once every two weeks may be needed to reduce muscle tension and help the body support loosening ligaments. The last several weeks you may need weekly massage while the baby is quickly growing and you prepare for birth. It is also a great way to have some peaceful "me time" before your baby arrives.
In a CDC National Health Statistics Report published December 2008, massage was the 5th most commonly used complementary and alternative medical practice among adults in 2007. The U.S. National Institutes of Health lists 122 clinical trials associated with the effects of massage therapy in treating a variety of medical conditions and symptoms. In 2009 a study was conducted on a group of 112 pregnant women diagnosed with depression who were given 20 minute sessions of massage once per week for six weeks. The massage therapy group not only showed reduced depression, anxiety, leg and back pain, but also decreased premature births and low birth weights for their babies. Women who received massage experienced significantly less labor pain, and their labors were an average of three hours shorter with less need for medication.
Complementary massages ar available at Reston Hospital.