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Prenatal Massage and Other Ways Real Moms Deal with Pregnancy Pain

BY: Colleen Loggins |Apr 20, 2017

Back pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome. Sciatica. Aching legs and feet. Insomnia. Headaches. The list of pregnancy pains runs pretty long, making it hard for moms-to-be to easily find relief. Pregnancy also seems to come with a list of things you can't do (such as eat sushi or skydive), so there's a good chance that anything you did to relieve pain before the baby is now verboten. Luckily, there's such a thing as a prenatal massage.

Studies have shown that massage can significantly reduce pain caused by pregnancy, as well as improve emotional well-being by fighting depression, insomnia, and anxiety. According to one study published in the Expert Review Obstetrics Gynecology journal, massage can actually be used during labor to not only reduce labor pain, but also decrease the duration of labor by an average of three hours. It's important to note, however, that prenatal massages differ from traditional massages in a few ways.

What Happens During a Prenatal Massage?

The Process

Instead of lying on her stomach, a pregnant client typically lies on her side on the massage table while specially designed pillows support her body weight. Some practitioners use a pregnancy massage table that has a cutout in the middle for the abdomen to hang in, allowing the client to lie on her stomach. Katy Loster, the mom of a 22-month old, got a few prenatal massages during her pregnancy and tried both the side position and the cutout table. "The cutout was definitely better, but harder to find," she says. The weight of a heavy uterus pulling downward may put extra pressure on the back, though, so this might not be a good option for some.

During the massage itself, the practitioner may focus on the lower back, where many expectant women experience pain. That's often due to a pregnancy hormone that loosens ligaments in the spine to prepare the body for labor. Or the therapist may concentrate on the head, neck, and shoulders to relieve headaches.

Special Considerations

Therapists handle certain areas with more care than others. The belly, for instance. They may not touch the belly at all during a prenatal massage. If they do, they will use light pressure and perform slow, rhythmical strokes on the sensitive area. They also take special care with legs. Because blood flow to the legs slows down during pregnancy and because the number of anticoagulants in the blood increases to prepare the body for delivery, pregnant women can easily develop blood clots in their legs. Massage therapists know to use light, slow strokes on the legs, instead of hard pressure, so as not to dislodge a blood clot. Before getting a massage during pregnancy, women should check with their doctors.

Prenatal Massage and the Baby

In a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, 26 pregnant women were assigned to a massage therapy or a relaxation therapy group for five weeks. Each group had 20 minutes of massage therapy or relaxation therapy twice a week. In the massage therapy group, the women had fewer complications during labor and their infants were less likely to be premature. It's a small study, but it and other research indicates that massage can be beneficial for baby. Again, an OB/GYN can discuss concerns with moms to be.

At-Home Prenatal Massages

Women who can't make time to get a prenatal massage at a spa can ask their partner to knead anything that aches. Touch from another person, especially a loved one, can boost serotonin and dopamine levels. Becky Krones, whose daughter is 21 months and who is currently pregnant with her second daughter, likes to have her husband gently touch her lower back. "He mostly scratches and rubs just cause massaging for me sometimes can make it hurt worse if not done correctly."

Pro Tip: Self-massages can help pregnant women relax, too. W hile stroking from the bottom of the belly up toward the heart, apply a moisturizer such as Bio-Oil or coconut oil to keep the skin hydrated and supple, and help prevent stretch marks.

Tips from Moms on Other Ways to Ease Pregnancy Pains

We surveyed new moms to find out how they dealt with pain and discomfort while pregnant. Here's what they recommended:

* Stretching out in prenatal yoga: A few moms turned to prenatal yoga during their pregnancy. Vanessa Sullivan, who has a 16-month-old son, says: "It was all very relaxing, stretched muscles out, felt like I made more room for baby once I left each class. It got rid of my sciatica too, which was a huge relief."

* Going for a stroll: In addition to having her husband rub her back, Becky walks. "I can't sit still for very long with this one, she's always moving around!" Others agreed that walking really helped them feel better.

* Taking warm (but not too hot) baths: "I took a warm bath almost every night," says Alison Hassen, the mother of a 10-month-old daughter. "That helped ease my discomfort temporarily."

* Stocking up on specialized gear: Several moms praised belly bands—flexible braces that support growing bellies and take pressure off of the lower back. Alison would sit on an exercise ball in the evenings, forgoing the couch while watching TV to help ease some of the downward pressure caused by her low-sitting baby. But she really loved the Snoogle, a type of contoured body pillow. "It is the greatest creation of all time for pregnant women. ... I couldn't sleep without it," she says.

And don't forget that the body needs some extra care right after giving birth, too. Katy recommends getting a postnatal massage. "[It's] kinda great when you're feeling sleep deprived and doughy to be pampered," she explains.