The Amazing Benefits of Prenatal Massage
Survey time: Who needs a massage the most? Is it overworked lawyers and corporate CEOs? What about construction workers or athletes? If pregnant women didn’t top your list, well, they should have. From lower back, leg and hip pain to swelling, sleeplessness & poor circulation, moms-to-be experience so many unique discomforts that they need their own special form of massage. Luckily, they have one: prenatal massage.
Ashley Dahlem, a massage therapist and doula in Monterey, California, specializes in this technique at Inner Rhythms Massage & Skin Care. Dahlem, who has been practicing her craft for 22 years, opened her business in 2019. Inner Rhythms is more than a place for women to alleviate the physical and emotional pangs of pregnancy; it provides a little oasis of community and continued support.
“Becoming pregnant, being pregnant and birthing a human is transformative,” Dahlem said. “I wanted to create a space where people could be held, uplifted and informed about their self care.”
On a recent visit to Inner Rhythms, we spoke with Dahlem about the many benefits of prenatal massage, the myths surrounding it, and how it differs from other forms of massage therapy.
What is Prenatal Massage?
Prenatal massage is a full-body, therapeutic massage performed by a certified specialist. It bears some resemblance to its more traditional cousins, like Swedish massage, but with differences in pressure and body positioning (more on that below). Prenatal massage is modified to accommodate the many anatomical changes that a person undergoes during pregnancy.
- Instability in the pelvic joints caused by the relaxing of the ligaments
- The pelvis being pulled forward, throwing posture out of alignment
- The uterus resting on muscles of the pelvic floor and lower back, causing sciatic pain in the second and third trimesters
- Pressure of the uterus spreading tension to the muscles of the upper and lower leg, which causes them to swell and puts pressure on nearby nerves
This is a perfect storm for serious upper and lower body discomforts that women shouldn’t suffer through simply because they are pregnant.
“Too often, we downplay these issues and deem them ‘common’ in pregnancy,” Dahlem said. “If you were anybody else, you’d want all this treated.”
What are the Benefits of Prenatal Massage?
Pelvic health is intrinsic to prenatal massage, though according to Dahlem, many people don’t think about it until issues arise in pregnancy.
“The pelvis is a basket that holds so much,” she said. “Your center of gravity shifts as you grow and expand, so you want to be stable and secure.”
By massaging the pelvic area, Dahlem helps to recenter her clients. Doing so can relieve sciatic, sacroiliac & hip pain, as well as flexor problems & pubic symphysis discomfort. The massage continues along the shoulders, back, ribcage, legs and feet. Other benefits include:
- Reduced swelling in the legs, feet & hands
- Improved circulation & flow of nutrients to the fetus
- Reduced stress and improved sleep & mood
- Alleviation of indigestion, acid reflux & heartburn
- Shortened labor duration
Dahlem tailors her sessions to focus on areas of individual need for clients. Like other massage therapists on Vagaro, she stores client preferences and other important information in their Customer Profiles. She also keeps detailed SOAP notes on each client’s progress.
How is Prenatal Massage Different?
The differences between prenatal massage and other modalities mainly come down to technique and client positioning.
Traditional massage splits our time between lying face-down and face-up. This isn’t ideal for pregnant women because:
- A pregnant woman’s baby bump makes lying face-down difficult, uncomfortable and, eventually, unsafe
- Lying face-up can disrupt circulation to the placenta and cause nausea
Prenatal massage typically positions clients on their sides, supported by special pillows and cushions. Dahlem treats her clients on a special raised table instead of a flat one, which enables clients to lay on their back comfortably.
Like Swedish massage, prenatal massage employs long, sweeping strokes with minimal pressure. However, it does differ in some ways:
- Deep tissue work is avoided because it can potentially release blood clots, which pregnant women are prone to
- Deep pressure on the abdomen is avoided
- Certain pressure points, particularly those in the ankles, are avoided
- Certain oils and aromatics are avoided
When is it Safe to Get a Prenatal Massage?
There is a lot of conflicting information available about when it is safe for pregnant women to receive a prenatal massage.
“People who want this massage can get it as soon as they know they are pregnant, right up toward the end of the pregnancy,” Dahlem says, echoing the American Pregnancy Association.
Dahlem has accepted debunking myths as part of her job. Some popular ones include:
- Prenatal massage can lead to a miscarriage in the first trimester: Regular, day-to-day activities are more likely to cause strain on a fetus than prenatal massage.
- Prenatal massage can induce labor in the third trimester: While the body is preparing itself, hormonally and physically for birth at this stage, massage therapy cannot induce labor.
- Massage of the feet & ankles can induce labor: Certain acupressure and acupuncture points in the feet & ankles are said to stimulate the uterus. However, lymphatic drainage, which relieves swelling in the feet and legs, doesn’t involve pressure to these points.
- Any massage of the belly can induce labor: Gentle massage of the abdomen is safe for a mother and her baby. Techniques focus on tightly stretched muscles and skin, particularly around the diaphragm.
Dahlem agrees with the APA that pregnant women interested in prenatal massage should consult their obstetricians, midwives or other prenatal caregivers first. Some conditions that would prohibit prenatal massage include:
- Blood clots or bone fractures
- Burns, skin infections, eczema or skin conditions made worse by rubbing
- Pre-term contractions
- High blood pressure not controlled by medication
- High-risk pregnancy concerns, such congenital heart disease or preeclampsia
Are There Other Types of Pregnancy Massages?
The answer is yes! Pregnancy is a journey that begins before conception and continues after birth. Inner Rhythms, for example, offers massage therapies for each stage in this journey:
Fertility massage occurs at the beginning of the journey.
“This modality is for anybody with a womb who wants to become pregnant and learn about their cycles,” Dahlem says.
Fertility massage aids fertilization and implantation by:
- Increasing blood flow to the uterus, ovaries & fallopian tubes
- Aligning abdominal organs
- Strengthening the uterus & surrounding ligaments
- Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles
Dahlem recommends fertility massage starting at the end of menses until ovulation. A unique add-on service she offers is fertility charting, which helps her clients understand their cycles and the best times to conceive.
“I’m glad that Vagaro allows me to be really creative with the different services I can offer,” Dahlem said.
Postpartum massage is designed to help new mothers relieve physical and emotional pains stemming from childbirth.
The postpartum journey, said Dahlem, should be slower and more nurturing.
“Going suddenly back to ‘normal’ life isn’t the best way to step into motherhood,” she notes
Dahlem performs abdominal work on her clients about six weeks after they’ve given birth. Prior to that, she focuses more on lymphatic massage and similar treatments. Postpartum massage techniques are known to:
- Alleviate pain in the joints, lower back, abdomen & hips
- Eases postpartum depression, anxiety & stress
- Improves circulation & drains excess body fluids from pregnancy
“Healing, here, is about letting go of the birth and everything that has happened,” Dahlem said.
Prenatal massage has existed for generations across numerous cultures and its benefits are well documented. It increases pelvic health and stability while decreasing pain, swelling and soreness around a pregnant woman’s body. It has also been known to alleviate stress and improve both mood & sleep.
When considering prenatal massage, there are two important steps to take. The first is to consult your physician and others involved in your prenatal care. The second is just as important as the first: Find a licensed, reputable prenatal massage therapist.
There may be only one Ashley Dahlem, but you can find certified massage therapists near you who specialize in pregnancy-based modalities on the Vagaro Wellness Marketplace.
Vagaro helps thousands of massage therapists like Dahlem run and grow their businesses. If you’re a therapist looking for a massage software that enables online booking, scheduling, payment processing, marketing & other amazing features, contact Vagaro today!