Touch is one of the most sacred and healing gifts one human being can give to another. Touch has been renowned for its healing power for thousands of years, and ancient methods of touch therapy have been in practice across the globe for millennia. Although countries like Thailand, China, Japan and India consider regular massage to be a normal part of maintaining one’s health, it is primarily seen in the modern western world as a luxury for the rich, or a series of therapies designed to help one recover from a specific injury. Most of us, however, can attest to the power of touch to ease our physical and emotional pains. A friend or loved one’s arm on our shoulder helps to ease our sadness in times of grief; fingers kneading our shoulder and neck ease the tensions of the day.
In pregnancy, the healing powers of touch become even more relevant, as the medications we may ordinarily take for back pain, neck pain, and headaches are unadvisable at this time. In some traditional cultures such as those of India and Mexico, massage is a regular part of maternity care, and pregnant women and babies are massaged as a matter of course. Dona Irene Soleto, a midwife from Morales, Mexico, begins each prenatal meeting with a neck and shoulder massage. As she releases the tension in the mother’s muscles, she releases tension in the mother’s mind, and the mother becomes free to discuss her worries and her concerns. The belly is also massaged, not only to discover the position and size of the baby, but also to promote elasticity of the skin, thereby reducing stretch marks. During birth, Dona Irene uses massage as one of her tools to help encourage good positioning of the baby, ease and speed labor, and help the mother open fully to avoid injuring herself. After birth, Dona Irene uses massage over many weeks to support the uterus and pelvic bones, to ease muscle pain, and to encourage bountiful a milk supply.
The stresses which modern women face today make massage an even more vital component to a healthy pregnancy. Increasingly common problems in our culture such as high blood pressure, muscle tension, poor blood circulation, and low energy become more pronounced, uncomfortable, and even dangerous in pregnancy. Emotional illnesses such as postpartum depression, which are non-existent among Dona Irene’s clients, are also becoming more prevalent. Because so many people today work in sedentary jobs, and the possibilities for active exercise are minimal, many women enter pregnancy with weak back and abdominal muscles. As the growth of the baby increases stress on these muscles and changes the mother’s center of balance, aches and pains that did not exist before can now become quite uncomfortable.
Regular massage therapy can help alleviate these problems. Massage increases blood circulation, thereby reducing edema, muscle cramping and tension and stretch marks. The hormones released in one’s body while receiving massage reduce blood pressure and emotional tension. Birth partners (be it husbands, mothers, sisters, friends, a nurse or a trained professional) who massage women during labor actively help the mother cope with pain. Breastfeeding, postpartum recovery and weight loss are all supported by massage. The benefits may extend even further. Women who receive massage during pregnancy are more likely to massage their own babies, thus passing the benefits of healing touch onto the next generation.
As modern western culture becomes more aware of the benefits of regular massage therapy, the benefits to pregnant and birthing women and their babies has not gone unnoticed. In the United States, an entire profession of pregnancy massage therapists has developed and many of these therapists work in close contact with doctors, midwives and other health specialists to provide comprehensive care for pregnant families.
So, pamper yourself! You will be contributing to your healthy pregnancy, birth and postpartum!
NOTE: In cultures which practice massage on pregnant women, it is understood that massage at this time is different from massage at other times in a woman’s life. The practioner must be educated and aware of each woman’s condition and must know which methods and points are beneficial and harmful for pregnant women. When you are searching for a massage therapist during your pregnancy, be sure to find out the practitioners’ qualifications. If you are experiencing any problems with your pregnancy, be sure to get your doctor’s approval and to inform your therapist before proceeding.