Relax and relieve pregnancy pain with prenatal massage

Think being a mom is a tough gig? Despite the coveted pregnancy glow, the mommy-to-be job can be just as taxing. According to the American Pregnancy Association, research shows between 50 and 70 percent of pregnant women experience some form of back pain. Fatigue is also an issue due to hormonal changes and an inability to get a good night’s sleep. Expectant moms in need of a little relief often turn to prenatal massage, available on virtually every spa menu. Before you book your trip to the land of New Age music and cucumber water, though, it’s important to know what you’re getting into with this specialized massage. Cheryl Bernardi, a licensed massage therapist with the Family Birth Center of Naples, explains what you need to know, and offers her top advice on prenatal massage.

Prenatal vs. traditional massage: First, there is a difference in positioning. For a prenatal massage, you will either lay on your side with pillows or bolsters, or face down if the masseuse offers a specialty body cushion that has an adjustable hole for a pregnant woman’s stomach. There is also a different amount of pressure applied to particular areas of the body. “If there is too much stimulation on certain areas of the body, mostly in the legs and ankles,” Bernardi says, “it could trigger overstimulation in the reproductive area, which might cause contractions to begin.”  

Benefits: There are myriad proven prenatal massage benefits, including improved muscle tension, increased relaxation, reduced swelling in legs, feet, wrists, and hands, and improved labor outcomes, such as shorter labor and reduced pain perception.

Risks: If you have a high-risk pregnancy, previous miscarriage, high blood pressure, or are experiencing any contraindicated risk symptoms (such as fever, bleeding, nausea, abdominal pain, swelling, or severe headache), Bernardi suggests asking your doctor before booking any type of massage.

Whom to choose: Bernardi recommends seeking out a professional who is connected to the medical community, such as a therapist at a birthing center or one recommended by your doctor. If, however, you’re longing for a spa day, ask about the therapist’s experience with prenatal massage before booking. Is she or he specially trained or certified in prenatal massage? How many pregnant clients has the therapist worked with?

When to book: Bernardi says it’s generally safe to begin massage in the second trimester, or fourth month, through and even during labor. “You can massage in the first trimester for relaxation, but the massage therapist must be very experienced and the pregnant woman cannot have any complications or risk symptoms,” she says.

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