What is a Prenatal Massage?
Prenatal massage sessions can be either side-lying while snuggling a full-body pillow, or with a specially designed body cushion where the mother-to-be is facing prone on the table, where the abdomen and breasts are supported and a face rest cradles the head.
During a side-lying massage, moms change sides half way through the session. The long body pillow is placed between the knees and snuggled up to the chin, which provides appropriate draping for mom’s chest. If a special cushion is used, the client is face down (prone) the entire session.
Prenatal or pregnancy massage therapy is an excellent way to find relaxation during the second and third trimester of pregnancy. Expectant moms typically find that low back tension, sciatica in the hips, and swelling in the calves are usual areas of concern. The extra forward weight in the abdomen pulls on the lumbar muscles, overworked hip muscles contract and pinch the sciatic nerve, and fluid retention in the calves, ankles, and feet increases due to pressure on the veins as the baby in the uterus grows.
It is important to take the duration of the session into consideration so that the mother isn’t in any one position for too long. A 60 prenatal massage is appropriate, whereas 90 minutes or longer can be overdoing it for the comfort of the client. Prone-only sessions longer than 60 minutes are typically too long.
The therapist can focus on areas of tension, which the expectant mom has discussed ahead of time; typically the shoulders, low back, sciatica in the hip muscles and thighs, or swelling in the calves are areas of focus during the session. The massage is given with oil or lotion over regions of the body which are appropriately uncovered, like the neck, shoulders, the back, arms, hands, legs, and feet. Hip muscles are typically worked while the client is fully draped, compressions being given to the deep hip rotator muscles, such as piriformis, to alleviate the syndrome that causes sciatica in many moms during pregnancy. One way the therapist does this is by supporting the thigh at the knee and moving the leg back and forth while pressing the palm of the hand into the hip muscles. This compresses the deep piriformis muscle from the inside-out as the head of the femur (greater trochanter) moves under the muscle and stretches it, alleviating some of the pressure on the affected sciatic nerve.
The therapist typically uses an unscented oil, avoiding lavender specifically to prevent uterine contractions in some mothers with a family history of miscarriages. Other aromatherapies that are to be avoided include camomile and tangerine for those prone to miscarriage.
In the first trimester, the list of essential oils to avoid is even longer, but a therapist is typically required to wait until the second trimester to begin prenatal massage.
There are specific pressure points that are located on meridian lines between thumb and forefinger and inside the ankle which are avoided also to prevent early labor contractions. The low back region at the QLs (quadratus lumborum muscles)—deep abdominal muscles below the rib cage, on either side of the spine—is given relatively moderate pressure to optimize safety.
Your therapist is well trained in the contraindications during your prenatal massage and knows what to do to keep it safe and enjoyable.
By the end of the last week of gestation (40 weeks), expectant moms are ready to give birth and these pressure points and aromatherapy can be included in a final prenatal massage session, in some actual cases leading to labor the next day!
Clinical Massage Therapy
Fiona Rattray & Linda Ludwig
Trail Guide to the Body
Doug Spaeth, LMT, BS, MEd, Dad.