This article was originally published in Oh Baby Magazine
Massage for Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond....
Pregnancy, and the first few months following birth, are times of huge change. It is vitally important for an expectant mother to nurture her own body, so that she may, in turn, nourish the life within her. Many women find that regular pregnancy massage treatments help keep them in optimum health during this special time. Massage therapist Jo Hogan explains.
In many different cultures the world over, women are routinely massaged throughout their pregnancies, births, and during their first few weeks with their new babies. This gentle tradition is common is such places as Asia, Africa, and the Pacifc Islands, and is often performed by the midwife or birth attendant as part of antenatal and postnatal care.
In South Africa, for example, the elder women of the Nama Hottentot tribe give massage treatments to pregnant women several times a week to prepare for their pending births. Expectant mothers in Uganda receive massage regularly in an effort to make their muscles supple for an easier delivery, and in South America, warm herbal oils and pastes are massaged into the mother's belly to encourage the skin to stretch and remain supple. As massage therapy becomes more commonplace in Western culture, and recognised within our medical communities, we are beginning to appreciate the many physical and emotional benefits it has during pregnancy, birth, and into the postpartum period.
Although it is common knowledge that massage feels good to receive, modern research studies are showing that regular massage treatments during pregnancy have a wide range of benefits for both the mother and her baby. For example, regular massage treatments may help to negate the effects of stress on a mother, and therefore on her baby.
Studies on the effect of maternal stress on the unborn child show that women who experience severe or prolonged stress, depression, or anxiety during pregnancy are more likely to have a low birth weight baby or pre-term labour. Research by Dr Michael Meaney, an expert in maternal health and wellbeing, also indicates that infants of highly stressed mothers may be more likely to display anxiety disorders later in life.
In a recent study conducted by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, women received regular massage treatments throughout the second trimester. The study concluded that the massage group reported a marked decrease in symptoms of stress and anxiety compared to the control group. "Massage helps women feel more comfortable and less stressed during pregnancy, and therefore they can expect a better outcome," said Tiffany Field, PHD, director of Touch Research Institutes, co-author of the study and advisor to the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, LLC.
In addition, the study reported that massage also alleviated aches, pains, and swelling for the mother, improved her sleep, and eased depression.
Massage during birth
As pregnancy massage is common practice among most traditional cultures, so too is the touching and caressing of a woman during her labour. In Malaysia, the navel is massaged with coconut oil, said to help the baby descend. In Japan, acupressure or shiatsu points are pressed to encourage an easy and quick delivery. A traditional Jamaican midwife has a whole repertoire of massage techniques for the different stages of labour, including rubbing the abdomen with leaves to help position the baby, and lightly massaging the whole body with olive oil to ease the intense contractions.
Recent studies have also shown that women who receive massage during labour reported a decrease in depressed mood, anxiety and pain. In addition, the massaged mothers had significantly shorter labours, a shorter hospital stay, and less postpartum depression.
In our Western culture, men are now assuming a more active role in the birth room and learning simple massage techniques can be a wonderful way for fathers to support their partners during labour with calm, reassuring touch.
Postnatal massage: Mothering the mother
Following the birth of her baby, a mother not only has to recover, but also care for her dependent newborn, 24/7. It's not surprising that this special yet challenging time is honoured by many cultures with body care rituals that help to support and nurture the new mother.
In Malaysia, a specially trained masseur comes every day for 30 days to massage the mother, covering her belly with warm herbal pastes to tone the uterus, before binding her abdomen to help strengthen the muscles and internal organs. In Java, the new mother's body is massaged all over with rice-flower paste, and a mudpack with added herbs is applied to her forehead.
* Dunham, Carroll. MamaToto: A Celebration of Birth. Penguin, 1991.
* Field, T, et al. "Labour pain is reduced by massage." Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology 18.4 (1997): 286-91.
* Field, T. "Massage therapy effects on depressed pregnant women." Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology 25.2 (June 2004): 115-22.
* Field, T. "Pregnant women benefit from massage therapy." Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology 20.1 (March 1999): 31-8.