This doula has a confession to make.
It’s only taken to my third pregnancy to finally embrace the wonders of prenatal massage. (I know!)
Why did it take me so long? Honestly, because I didn’t value self care enough and taking time for me. It’s easy to justify spending the money getting the kids a few cute items for next summer on clearance or buy household stuff, but on me? Nah. Now that I’m preaching the value of self care to my clients, I better start walking the walk. Since this month is my birthday month and the start of my maternity leave, I decided to treat myself to a prenatal massage – my first massage ever in my life, actually. Honestly, when all was said and done I could add massage to the list of things I wish I had done sooner in my life. I felt the difference on the ride home and I really wanted to take a nap for the rest of the afternoon I was so relaxed. Definitely doing this again soon.
You might be reading this thinking similar thoughts what I felt back in my previous pregnancies. Is this something frivolous I’ll regret later? What are the benefits? Especially if you’re anxious or modest, is the experience going to be … weird? Can I justify spending the money?
As I said in my self care post, taking time for you is never frivolous – it’s necessary. As the saying goes, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Pregnancy can be rough stuff sometimes. Between the aches and pains, interrupted sleep, needing to pee 39,628 times a day, nausea, heartburn and so on, a quiet moment where you feel a bit like yourself again is priceless. Plus, there are benefits to massage. From a 2010 article in the Expert Review of Obstetrics & Gynecology, “women who received massage therapy reported decreased depression, anxiety, and leg and back pain. Cortisol levels decreased and, in turn, excessive fetal activity decreased, and the rate of prematurity was lower in the massage group. In a study of labor pain, women who received massage therapy experienced significantly less pain, and their labors were on average 3 h shorter with less need for medication.”
You might be reading about the decrease in labor duration saying, “go on….”
Explaining how massage helped during labor in the same article, “the pregnant women’s partners massaged their back and legs from a side-lying position during the first 15 min of every hour of labor.” In turn, the women experienced less pain, shorter labors and need for medication. But how?
According to the Gate Control Theory of Pain, “pain signals are not free to reach the brain as soon as they are generated at the injured tissues or sites. They need to encounter certain ‘neurological gates’ at the spinal cord level and these gates determine whether the pain signals should reach the brain or not. In other words, pain is perceived when the gate gives way to the pain signals and it is less intense or not at all perceived when the gate closes for the signals to pass through. This theory gives the explanation for why someone finds relief by rubbing or massaging an injured or a painful area.” Mental and emotional states factor into our ability to stay relaxed and perceive the intensity of pain. If you’re doing something you enjoy or can take your mind off of things (watching TV, meditating, listening to music, looking at pretty scenery, etc) the awareness of pain is diminished. If you are anxious, depressed or fearful, the awareness of pain will be felt with higher intensity because you are focused on it. When you are receiving a massage, the relaxation/pleasure signals reach the brain faster than the pain signals. The pain signals are then not registered in the brain or the intensity is diminished.
What are some other potential benefits to prenatal massage? According to the American Pregnancy Association:
- Reduced back pain
- Reduced joint pain
- Improved circulation
- Reduced edema
- Reduced muscle tension and headaches
- Improved oxygenation of soft tissues and muscles
- Better sleep
However, women experiencing certain conditions should check in with their care provider first before scheduling a massage. These conditions include: high risk pregnancy, pregnancy induced hypertension, pre-eclampsia or signs of the condition including severe swelling, high blood pressure or severe headaches, or previous pre-term labor. If you have recently given birth, check in with your provider when a good time to schedule a postpartum massage might be, as every woman’s birth and postpartum circumstances are different.
As for the massage experience itself, let me assure you that like doulas or other care providers, massage therapists are used to working with all kinds of people and they’ve truly seen everything. So if you’re nervous that the experience is going to be awkward or the massage therapist is going to be taking mental notes of your body, they’re not. They want the experience to be relaxing and calming for you, and they’re very respectful of your modesty and comfort. If you’re worried about the cost, ask for gift certificates at your baby shower! It’ll be more useful than 3 duplicate onesies, I promise.
Here are some licensed massage therapists in the Chicago area. This list is by no means definitive, but a good place to start if you’re looking to treat yo self.
Karry Wolf Anderson
The Heart of Touch
La Grange, IL
Homewood and Chicago, IL
Jennifer Barron Fishman
Sweet Pea’s Studio
Women’s Massage Therapy
Nurture the Journey