by Nick Lakoff, CMT
Most massage therapists start out their careers with a certain idea of what they expect their clientele base to be composed of, but most of the time they are in for some unexpected twists and turns. When I started practicing, my vision of my clientele was mostly working with athletes. I hadn’t really thought about dealing with pathologies or older clients or pregnant women.
A few years into my career I opened my first massage therapy center which was located in a very hip urban neighborhood which was going through a sort of mini baby boom. More affluent people came to live there and times were good and so the stork had his hands full. I started seeing more and more pregnant women in my practice at all stages of their pregnancy. I soon realized that I was performing more and more pregnancy massages and developed somewhat of an expertise in this area. Of course I had taken a pregnancy massage course but I never expected that I would get much use out of it.
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding massage and pregnancy and its effects on the mother and child. One of the first misconceptions I can think of is that you shouldn’t get a massage prior to the first trimester of the pregnancy. This myth is perpetuated by the belief that getting a massage early in the pregnancy could somehow prevent the fetus from properly securing itself to the mother’s uterus. Historically, there is no empirical medical evidence that shows that massage can cause a miscarriage or adversely affect a pregnancy. A miscarriage is the body’s way of rejecting a non-viable fetus and is much more common that one would think. The only real prescription against a miscarriage is time. The further along you are, the less likely you will experience a miscarriage. There are studies, however, that show that massage can help alleviate issues that can arise during a pregnancy such as lower back pain, fatigue, stress, increases in blood pressure and water retention. A woman goes through three major hormonal changes in her life, first adolescence, then pregnancy and finally menopause. These changes to her body are significant and stressful and massage helps reduce these effects.
One of the major complaints women have, especially in the later months of the pregnancy, is lower back pain. The baby now accounts for a major increase in body weight and protrudes forward affecting balance and the spine. From the very beginning of the pregnancy, the mother starts producing major quantities of a hormone called Relaxin which is believed to soften the pubic symphysis to allow the pelvic bones to separate and facilitate labor. It is also believed to soften the cervix and relax the uterine musculature. The additional weight in the belly and the pelvis now separating moves the hips outward and causes pronounced pronation (walking with feet turned outwards). This increased structural load commonly causes fatigue and back pain. Massage has certainly proven itself effective in treating back pain and fatigue and it is no different in this instance.
Another misguided belief with massage during pregnancy is that it could hurt the baby. First one has to understand how protected a fetus is floating in its placental sack. One tragic example of this is expectant mothers involved in catastrophic car crashes, perish from the injuries only to have their baby’s delivered healthy and unharmed. The force exerted necessary to impact the fetus from a massage would more likely be akin to torture and no mother would subject herself to that. There are certain conditions where massaging a pregnant woman is not recommended, contra-indicated or with which some precautions must be taken. One of them is preeclampsia (gestational hypertension) which is associated with high levels of proteins in the urine. This condition is dangerous and usually the mother is in no condition to get a massage and often leads to provoked labor, a miscarriage or an abortion when the mother’s life is in danger. Another condition that can develop during a pregnancy is gestational diabetes but unlike preeclampsia massage can be performed with the approval of the obstetrician and additional care by the massage therapist.
Over the years I have had many pregnant clients seek my services and some have even come to me through their first, second and even third pregnancies. The most telling for me though is those that had a pregnancy with no massage and came to me during their second. They always tell me how regular massage made their subsequent experience in childbearing so much more enjoyable than their first time. I’ve even had the great privilege of accompanying one of my clients during labor, using my massage chair to help her with the pain caused by the contractions before the doctor could perform an epidural. Six months after the birth she came back to the center to see me with tears of gratitude in her eyes, something I will never forget. If you are pregnant or someone in your in family is, give them the gift of massage and help make this miracle of life a much more enjoyable experience.
Nick Lakoff is a certified practitioner in the following disciplines: Swedish Massage, Sports Massage, Reflexology, Acupressure, Myo-Fascial Release, Massage for Pregnancy, Swedish Chair Massage, Hot Stone Massage and Reiki.