Prenatal Massage – What’s the Research Say?

My introduction to power of prenatal massage came very early in my first pregnancy. By seven weeks into my pregnancy I began experiencing the pain and discomfort associated with sciatica. I was no longer able to lie on either side without electric pain shooting from my hips and along the outside ridge of my leg. The nights were long and restless — and it didn’t bode well for the remaining seven months of my pregnancy.

At the suggestion of a chiropractor, I began seeing a massage therapist to help relieve the pain. By the end of the first session, the LMT had identified the source of my pain which had eluded both my midwife and chiropractor. Over the course of several weeks, the LMT treating me utilized a variety of modalities to address the sciatic nerve compression.

Prenatal Massage Kept Me Active

Hiking 7 weeks along during my first pregnancy. Regular prenatal massage helped ease sciatic pain that started at this early stage in this pregnancy.

The remainder of my pregnancy I received massage about every eight weeks, and more frequently as my due date neared.

While at the time I felt this was simply an indulgence, research lead by Tiffany Field at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami found that the serotonin levels in expectant mothers increased for up to two weeks after massage. This natural increase in serotonin can help ease depression by decreasing the cortisol hormone, one of the physiological causes of depression. Massage therapy increased cerebral flow in different brain regions involved in depression and stress regulation, including the amygdala and hypothalamus (Fields).

While prenatal massage can seem just like a way to get the aches and pains out, research indicates clear benefits for mother and child. With the enormous demands placed on the circulatory system during pregnancy, blood volume may increase up to 60 percent compared to pre-pregnancy levels. Massage increases blood circulation, which provides more oxygen and nutrients to both mother and fetus and stimulates the lymph system, thereby increasing immunity and removal of toxins (Vincent).

Additionally, massage can be one of the best ways to address maternal stress. Stress can interfere with fetal brain and central nervous system development, and negatively influence a higher incidence of miscarriage, prematurity, prolonged labors with more complications, and increased perinatal fetal distress resulting in low birth weight babies, postpartum infant irritability, restlessness, crying and digestive disturbances (Martin).

Sources

Fields, Tiffany. “Pregnancy and Labor Massage,” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2870995/ Mar. 5 2010.

Martin, Kelly. “The Therapeutic Effects of Massage Therapy on Pregnancy Outcomes,”http://www.treasuredbirth.net/research_articles/the_therapeutic_effects_of_massage_therapy_on_pregnancy_outcomes Winter 2013.

Vincent, Ariana. “Benefits of Prenatal Massage,” http://www.massagemag.com/News/massage-news.php?id=4946 Dec. 3, 2008.

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