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Prenatal Massage For a Happier, Healthier Mother and Child

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Natick Prenatal Massage | Wayland Prenatal Massage | Turtle Dance BodyworkMassage has been an integral part of traditional prenatal care on every continent, and as far back as history shows. Its numerous benefits have been accepted for centuries, particularly for women going through this sometimes physically and emotionally challenging event.

While our western medical approach has at times frowned on it as potentially unsafe or at best ineffective, more and more research is indicating the very real benefits of this practice.

Over the last 10 years, Touch Research Institute has done several studies on the health impacts of massage on pregnant women. They have shown positive findings in several important areas:


During pregnancy, the body’s hormonal system goes through dramatic changes and is in constant turmoil

  • Stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine increase. While this increase has benefits and is even necessary, it also has negative side effects, such as increased anxiety, irritability, insomnia and depression for the mother
  • “Happy” hormones such as dopamine and serotonin decrease
  • Relaxin, a hormone that relaxes the supporting soft tissues of the body, is produced
  • Estrogen and progesterone are constantly in flux, affecting all the others

Regular massage has been shown in clinical trials to help the body to regulate the production of some of these hormones, increasing serotonin levels while reducing cortisol levels in the blood stream. Maintaining healthy levels helps the mother feel and sleeping better during the process, and reduces the risk of complications during birth and after. Low birth weight has been directly linked to too much stress in the later stages of pregnancy.


Fluid levels increase in the body and general circulation is more difficult. This, combined with pressure from the uterus on major blood vessels, contributes to swelling of the joints and legs, and a feeling of overall sluggishness. Massage helps stimulate the circulation of blood and lymph, reducing the buildup of metabolic “waste” and additional accumulation of fluids, and increasing the supply of nutrients to the body.


As the uterus grows, it applies more weight to the pelvic bowl, the system of internal muscles that are in place to support it. It also presses outward against the bony structures of the pelvis, which are loosened due to the release of Relaxin. This increased weight and expansion is disbursed throughout the pelvis, low back and upper legs. Muscles become more tense, swell and become painful.

One muscle in particular, piriformis, is a notorious troublemaker during pregnancy. Its location, function and position in the middle of the hip make it a prime suspect when sciatic pain (pain or numbness in the hip, down the back of the leg and into the foot) is experienced. The sciatic nerve runs directly under, or in some cases directly through, the muscle. When this muscle is stressed, it applies pressure to the nerve, irritating the nerve, and thus creating those painful sensations.

Massage has shown to be very effective in reducing muscle pain and tension in all populations. A well-trained massage therapist recognizes the signs of muscle tension, understands the changes the body goes through during pregnancy, and understands what techniques, pressure and locations are appropriate to work.


What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of massage? If you are like many of us, you think of that relaxed, floaty feel you get from it. Clinical trials have shown that this feeling is more than just nice, it is beneficial to our health. Massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that kicks in when we are asleep. During these periods, the body goes into healing mode, replenishing and repairing from the stresses of the day. It helps refresh the mind and body, preparing it for challenges to come.

Considerations for prenatal massage

Postitioning is an important factor in providing safe massage during pregnancy. The common positions of face down and face up can be challenging for mother and child. The most commonly accepted positions for prenatal massage are side lying, using pillows for support, and face up with the back and knees elevated. These are both safe and comfortable for mother and infant.

More controversial are the systems that allow for face down positioning. While some massage tables are designed with cutouts for the belly to drop through, there is no support, and high potential for back strain and distention of the belly.

Another approach uses a system of memory foam cushions, called “The Body Cushion System”. It is segmented, highly adjustable and very comfortable for most women. It offers contoured support for the belly, sides and neck. Because the recipient is lying face down, there is still some disagreement about the health risk of pressure on major arteries. The FDA has approved this system, and it has become quite popular in the last few years.


There is some discussion about the appropriateness of massage during the first trimester. Some believe that, due to statistics showing a higher risk of miscarriage during the first twelve weeks, the safest thing to do is avoid any activity that has the remotest possibility of upsetting things. Again, referring to cultures that have incorporated massage into their prenatal care for a very long time, it is utilized from the very beginning through the final term, and even during childbirth.

A conversation with your prenatal care provider about the use of massage as a therapeutic approach is always advisable before beginning any program. When certain risk factors exist, they must be taken into consideration. Some conditions, which are particularly important to discuss with your provider, are:

  • High risk pregnancy
  • Pregnancy induced hypertension
  • Preeclampsia
  • Severe swelling, high blood pressure or sudden, severe headaches

The benefits of massage during pregnancy are becoming accepted as part of common scientific knowledge. 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. We hope to see you soon!

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