Pregnancy Massage Touch for the Mom-To-Be

By Shirley Vanderbilt

Prenatal Massage

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Fall 2002.

Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Pregnancy is a beautiful and natural condition -- nine transformative months full of excitement, planning and peering at the awesome unfolding of life. But this transformation also brings inevitable side effects, sometimes making a woman feel like her body has been taken over by an alien force. In the early months, there are mood swings from ecstasy to unpredictable crying; in later months, there are aches and pains more common to the domain of the elderly. Physical changes, such as nausea, back pain, heartburn, raging hormones, breast pain, and swollen legs and ankles affect many women during this time. But you don't have to suffer in silence. The gentle, noninvasive approach of pregnancy massage can ease your discomfort, help you prepare for labor and give you the emotional support of a caring practitioner. Massage sessions can also bring back a sense of body-mind integration, putting you into a state of relaxation and calm acceptance of your continually evolving physical form.

According to Lynne Daize, with the National Association of Pregnancy Massage Therapy, training for this specialty includes learning specific techniques for each trimester, as well as those required for labor and postpartum massage. A certified pregnancy massage therapist is well-acquainted with the physical and hormonal effects of pregnancy and has the skills to counterbalance these changes. You'll find the therapist uses a lighter touch and concentrates on those areas most vulnerable to changes in your body. She will also give you deep breathing exercises and tips on how to improve your posture to adjust to the added weight and shifting center of gravity.

Massage has many scientifically proven health benefits such as stimulating the blood and lymph systems, thereby increasing immunity and removal of toxins; stabilizing hormonal levels; and adding tone and flexibility to muscles -- all of which enhance the health of both you and your baby. As pregnancy progresses, your body adjusts to a changing alignment caused by the baby's increasing weight. This puts strain on your back and legs and increases stress on weight-bearing joints. Massage increases flexibility, enhancing the ability to carry this extra weight while also relieving aches and pains, leg cramps and muscle spasms. The effects of relaxation and tension release add to improvement in the physical state of muscles and joints, and assist in balancing emotions.

Recent studies from the Touch Research Institute (TRI) in Miami, Fla., indicates that pregnancy massage provides more than just symptom relief for the mother. A group of 26 pregnant women were given either massage or relaxation therapy during a five-week study. In addition to experiencing a reduction in symptoms of anxiety, stress, sleep problems and back pain, the massage group had fewer complications in their delivery. Their newborns also had fewer postnatal complications. Another TRI study reported massage during labor resulted in shorter labor times for the mothers, shorter hospital stays and less postpartum depression.

Obstetrician Bonita Kolrud of Westside Women's Care in Wheat Ridge, Colo., is an avid proponent of bodywork, although she cautions women to make sure their therapist is experienced with pregnancy massage. Kolrud praises the physical benefits of massage, noting it relieves tension and pain caused by changes in body alignment. "The biggest thing is so many women still look at massage as a luxury. But it has so many physical health benefits and is more of a necessity for some patients. Emotionally, it's really beneficial for women to be touched when they're pregnant. I think a lot of pregnant women don't necessarily get as much physical touching as they would like. It's a very nurturing thing having someone taking care of you, and it's a great bonding experience with the baby when you're both receiving massage."


What to Expect When Expecting
During the first trimester of pregnancy, a primary goal of massage is to provide relaxation and increase flow of the circulation systems. Stimulating the blood system pumps more energy-giving oxygen and nutrients into your cells and increases blood flow to the placenta. Muscle tension can slow down lymph flow, leaving you fatigued and at risk of toxemia. By stimulating this system, massage speeds up elimination of toxins and excess fluid, boosting your immunity and energy level.

And when it comes to morning sickness, Daize indicates that while bodywork won't completely relieve nausea, it can certainly diminish the queasiness.

In the second trimester, increasing weight of the baby can cause muscle soreness. "The mother starts going through more changes," says Daize, "so massage is used to relieve muscle spasms and ease structural changes." The therapist works to loosen joints, keeping them aligned, and soften the connective tissues, relieving backaches and leg cramps.

As pregnancy progresses and the abdomen enlarges, special positioning is required during massage. Up to the 24th week of pregnancy it is acceptable, according to Daize, for moms to be on their back with the right hip tilted up, taking pressure off the nerves and arteries. Pressure on the arteries in the back, she notes, will diminish blood flow and oxygen to the fetus. Another position that decreases stress on the back is side-lying, with the belly supported by a small wedge pillow.

During the final trimester's "home stretch," the baby begins to gain weight more rapidly, pressing against inner organs and shifting them about. Discomfort increases and the impending due date can cause added stress and anxiety. At this stage, Daize says, the therapist focuses on trigger points to relieve pain while continuing to elicit relaxation throughout the body. Generally, during the last two weeks before mom's due date the therapist concentrates her techniques on preparing the mother's body for delivery.

Before initiating massage, consult your obstetrician, especially if you are high-risk. While massage is a safe treatment, there are certain conditions that require your physician's approval and careful monitoring by the therapist. Notify your therapist immediately of any changes in your physical health, and consult your obstetrician about continuing the treatments should complications arise. Some physicians may be unaware of the benefits of pregnancy massage and hesitant to recommend it. In these cases, the therapist can help by providing information that explains her specialized training and experience.

Spouses and partners can be included in the massage experience as well. As your due date nears, you can bring your labor coach into your session to learn basic massage techniques. Kolrud notes that massage during labor is especially beneficial if the woman "prefers to do it as naturally as possible." You might consider hiring a doula or massage therapy birth assistant to comfort and guide you through the entire labor and delivery process. These professionals are trained to provide both physical and emotional support. They act as a liaison with medical staff and as the mother's caregiver, using their expertise to create a stress-free and positive environment. By giving massage, suggesting alternative positions for labor and tending to minor details, they relieve fathers and family members of much of the pressure and responsibility in the labor room.


Special Delivery
Once your baby has arrived, massage can continue to be an important part of good health for you and your new infant. Postpartum massage can relieve the stress and tension of your new responsibilities and provide nurturing and relaxation to help you in adjusting to motherhood. By increasing circulation, massage enhances the post-birth healing process and has a significant effect on realigning the body when the center of gravity shifts back to normal. You can also share this pleasurable experience with your newborn. Infant massage is one of the best ways to bond with your baby and provide a secure, comforting welcome into the world. Ask your therapist about infant massage instruction, or call Johnson Johnson (877/565-5465) to order their video, Parent Guide to Infant Massage.

Shirley Vanderbilt is a staff writer for Body Sense magazine.

Massage Therapy Research Roundup

AMTA Massage Therapy Research Roundup

A growing body of evidence shows that massage therapy can be effective for a variety of health conditions. Massage is rapidly becoming recognized as an important part of health and wellness, and research is indicating some of what takes place in the body during massage therapy. 

Here are some recent findings on the benefits of massage therapy for health and medical reasons, compiled by the American Massage Therapy Association.

Massage Therapy for the Pain of Osteoarthritis of the Knee

Research supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) showed that sixty minute sessions of Swedish massage once a week for those with osteoarthritis of the knee significantly reduced their pain. Each massage therapy session followed a specific protocol, including the nature of massage strokes. This is the latest published research study indicating the benefits of massage therapy for those with osteoarthritis of the knee. 

  • The study involved a total group of 125 subjects, with 25 receiving the 60-minute massage over 8 weeks, while others received less massage or usual care without massage.
  • Previous studies on massage for the pain of osteoarthritis of the knee showed similar results, but were on a more limited number of subjects.

Perlman A, Ali A, Njike VY, et al. Massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized dose-finding trial. PLoS One. 2012; 7(2):e30248.

Massage Therapy for Inflammation After Exercise

Research through the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario indicates that massage therapy reduces inflammation of skeletal muscle acutely damaged through exercise. The study provides evidence for the benefits of massage therapy for those with musculoskeletal injuries and potentially for those with inflammatory disease, according to the lead author of the research.

  • The study found evidence at the cellular level that massage therapy may affect inflammation in a way similar to anti-inflammatory medications.
  • The researchers “found that massage activated the mechanotransduction signaling pathways focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and extracellular signal–regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2), potentiated mitochondrial biogenesis signaling [nuclear peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor γ coactivator 1α (PGC-1α)], and mitigated the rise in nuclear factor κB (NFκB) (p65) nuclear accumulation caused by exercise-induced muscle trauma.”

J. D. Crane, D. I. Ogborn, C. Cupido, S. Melov, A. Hubbard, J. M. Bourgeois, M. A. Tarnopolsky, Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Sci. Transl. Med. 4, 119ra13 (2012).

Massage Therapy for Chronic Low Back Pain

Research released in July 2011 expanded on previous studies demonstrating the effectiveness of massage therapy for chronic low back pain. Researchers found that “patients receiving massage were twice as likely as those receiving usual care to report significant improvements in both their pain and function”. The study was conducted over 10 weeks through Group Health Research Institute.

  • Participants had a 60-minute massage once a week for 10 weeks.
  • Massage patients also said they reduced the amount of over the counter anti-inflammatory medications they took.
  • The study compared both relaxation massage and “structural massage” therapy and found no difference in the results from the type of massage given.

Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Kahn J, Wellman R, Cook AJ, Johnson E, Erro J, Delaney K, Deyo RA. A comparison of the effects of 2 types of massage and usual care on chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial.
Ann Intern Med. 2011 Jul 5;155(1):1-9.

Massage Therapy for Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome characterized by generalized pain, joint rigidity, intense fatigue, sleep alterations, headache, spastic colon, craniomandibular dysfunction, anxiety, and depression. This study demonstrated that massage-myofascial release techniques improved pain and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. 

  • The study found reductions in sensitivity to pain at tender points in patients with fibromyalgia.
  • Patients in the massage group received 90-minute massage for 20 weeks.
  • Immediately after treatment and one month after the massage program, anxiety levels, quality of sleep, pain and quality of life were still improved.

Castro-Sánchez, A.M., Matarán-Peñarrocha, G.A., Granero-Molina, J., Aguilera-Manrique, G., Quesada-Rubio, J.M., Moreno-Lorenzo, C. (2011). Benefits of massage-myofascial release therapy on pain, anxiety, quality of sleep, depression, and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011:561753.

The American Massage Therapy Association encourages more research on the benefits of massage therapy and how and why massage produces the benefits indicated by research.

Media Contacts: Ron Precht, Michelle Zenz - 877.905.2700

Massage Therapy Beneficial in Oncology Care

Recent studies show massage therapy can reduce pain, stress, nausea, depression, distress, anxiety and fatigue, while improving health related quality of life for cancer patients.1

According to the Mayo Clinic, one in three patients undergoing cancer treatment experiences cancer-related pain.2 Pain may be the result of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, or a symptom of cancer growth, which can destroy tissue and add pressure on nerves, bones and organs.

A recent meta-analysis of nearly 600 cancer patients found massage therapy significantly reduced pain compared to the conventional standard-of-care alone, and was particularly effective in eradicating surgery-related pain.3

“Integrating massage therapy into treatment plans has been shown to greatly reduce cancer-related pain,” said Jeff Smoot, President of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).  “Relieving part of the physical manifestation of disease allows patients to more closely focus on their rehabilitation and recovery.”

Increased Quality of Life

While massage therapy is highly effective in soothing physical ailments, its benefits extend into many other areas.

A 2014 study of patients with acute myelogenous leukemia who received 50 minutes of Swedish massage three times per week for seven weeks, found all participants experienced stress reduction, increased comfort and relaxation, while also tracking health-related quality of life (HQoL) compared to a group of usual standard-of-care patients. The HQoL scales were comprised of five functional scales (physical, role, cognitive, emotional and social) as well as two symptom scales (fatigue and nausea) and the global QoL scale, finding statistically significant increases in quality of life, when controlling for both stress and anxiety.1

An additional randomized study found providing therapeutic massage resulted in significant improvement in short-term quality of life for patients near the end of life, with secondary benefits of pain reduction and improved sleep. 4

“Massage therapy can supply immense physical and psychological relief,” said Dr. Gabriel Lopez, Assistant Professor in the Department of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. “As evidenced by the wealth of positive research in the area, massage therapy has the potential to greatly improve quality of life for cancer patients and their caregivers.”

Research Roundup: Wellness & Massage

A growing body of evidence shows that massage therapy can be effective for a variety of health conditions. Massage is rapidly becoming recognized as an important part of health and wellness, and research is indicating some of what takes place in the body during massage therapy.

Here are some recent findings on the benefits of massage therapy for health and medical reasons.

A growing body of evidence shows that massage therapy can be effective for a variety of health conditions. Massage is rapidly becoming recognized as an important part of health and wellness, and research is indicating some of what takes place in the body during massage therapy.

Here are some recent findings on the benefits of massage therapy for health and medical reasons, compiled by the American Massage Therapy Association.

Massage Therapy for the Pain of Osteoarthritis of the Knee

Research supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) showed that sixty minute sessions of Swedish massage once a week for those with osteoarthritis of the knee significantly reduced their pain. Each massage therapy session followed a specific protocol, including the nature of massage strokes. This is the latest published research study indicating the benefits of massage therapy for those with osteoarthritis of the knee.

  • The study involved a total group of 125 subjects, with 25 receiving the 60-minute massage over 8 weeks, while others received less massage or usual care without massage.
  • Previous studies on massage for the pain of osteoarthritis of the knee showed similar results, but were on a more limited number of subjects.

Perlman A, Ali A, Njike VY, et al. Massage therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized dose-finding trial. PLoS One. 2012; 7(2):e30248.

Massage Therapy for Inflammation After Exercise

Research through the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario indicates that massage therapy reduces inflammation of skeletal muscle acutely damaged through exercise. The study provides evidence for the benefits of massage therapy for those with musculoskeletal injuries and potentially for those with inflammatory disease, according to the lead author of the research.

  • The study found evidence at the cellular level that massage therapy may affect inflammation in a way similar to anti-inflammatory medications.
  • The researchers “found that massage activated the mechanotransduction signaling pathways focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and extracellular signal–regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2), potentiated mitochondrial biogenesis signaling [nuclear peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor γ coactivator 1α (PGC-1α)], and mitigated the rise in nuclear factor κB (NFκB) (p65) nuclear accumulation caused by exercise-induced muscle trauma.”

J. D. Crane, D. I. Ogborn, C. Cupido, S. Melov, A. Hubbard, J. M. Bourgeois, M. A. Tarnopolsky, Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage. Sci. Transl. Med. 4, 119ra13 (2012).

Massage Therapy for Chronic Low-Back Pain

Research released in July 2011 expanded on previous studies demonstrating the effectiveness of massage therapy for chronic low back pain. Researchers found that “patients receiving massage were twice as likely as those receiving usual care to report significant improvements in both their pain and function”. The study was conducted over 10 weeks through Group Health Research Institute.

  • Participants had a 60-minute massage once a week for 10 weeks.
  • Massage patients also said they reduced the amount of over the counter anti-inflammatory medications they took.
  • The study compared both relaxation massage and “structural massage” therapy and found no difference in the results from the type of massage given.

Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Kahn J, Wellman R, Cook AJ, Johnson E, Erro J, Delaney K, Deyo RA. A comparison of the effects of 2 types of massage and usual care on chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial.
Ann Intern Med. 2011 Jul 5;155(1):1-9