Troya Renee Yoder
Despite the fact that it takes two to make a baby, moms-to-be carry much of the burden of pregnancy and childbirth. You suffer through morning sickness (even in the evening) and your your back aches, your ankles swell and your muscles cramp! But at least there's Dad. Find out what he can do to ease your pain! All in the touch
"Massage is one of the few things partners can do during pregnancy to help a woman as her body changes," says Christopher Furer, a certified massage therapist in Durango, Colorado.
Much of the benefit of massage comes from increased blood flow and oxygen to the tissues, which can reduce or alleviate many common pregnancy discomforts including fatigue, back pain, sciatica, edema, constipation, headaches, varicose veins and muscle cramps. Improved circulation also increases nutrient flow and waste removal for baby.
When Furer's wife, Isabel, was put on strict bed rest during her pregnancy, the muscles in her arms and legs ached from lack of movement.
"Thai massage was the only thing that ever relieved the soreness," Isabel Furer remembers. "Chris moved my body in all sorts of directions and the stretches released a wonderful flow of energy."
In addition to physical relief, massage is also a natural way to relieve stress and tension. This is particularly important during pregnancy because stress can alter the environment of the developing baby. The baby feels what you feel, says Lisa Gallauresi-Baker, a licensed massage therapist in Syracuse, New York.
"The special physical nature of massage is especially important to the unborn as they are filled with the feeling of what surrounds them in the womb," she says.
Studies at the University of Miami School of Medicine's Touch Research Institute have shown pregnant women who received 20-minute massages twice a week for five weeks reported improved moods and sleep patterns, reduced anxiety and back pain, and had decreased levels of urinary stress hormones. While all of this is good news for Mom, baby reaps the benefits as well. In the studies, infants of massaged mothers had fewer complications.
Intimacy and bonding
As your body changes throughout the nine months of pregnancy, your partner may find himself in unfamiliar territory. The intimacy you previously shared may not be possible or may now be uncomfortable, and you, who used to be so taken with him, are now taken with the tiny wonder growing in your womb. As you and baby grow closer and closer, it's not unusual for Dad to feel a little left out of the whole miracle. Partner massage provides a gentle way to maintain intimacy and communication throughout what can seem like a long nine months.
From week nine in her pregnancy, sex was off limits for Katie Gustafsson of Eskilstuna, Sweden due to complications. But the massages her husband, Mikael, gave her regularly not only relieved the discomfort in her back and feet, but "the intimacy certainly enhanced our relationship," she says. In addition, Mikael was thrilled to feel the baby move under his gentle hands, making the pregnancy more real for him.
"Touch is a silent communication that brings us closer together," Christopher Furer says. "Through that communication, a bond between our baby and me is also created."
Classes, books and videos
If you are a little nervous about what strokes are safe during pregnancy, there are a number of resources available. First, call your local hospital or talk with your midwife. Many hospitals and birthing centers offer partner massage classes as part of their prenatal curriculum. If you can't find a class, make an appointment with a certified pregnancy massage therapist.
Most are happy to instruct your partner in basic massage techniques. In addition, there are a number of videos and books available such as Loving Pregnancy with Partner Massage by Ralph and Joanna Napolitano, and Mother Massage: A Handbook for Relieving the Discomforts of Pregnancy by Elaine Stillerman. Both provide step-by-step instructions for gentle, safe massage during pregnancy.
Before you warm up the oil and arrange your pillows, always discuss your plans with your doctor or midwife. In addition, keep in mind:
- Massage during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is not recommended, when the risk of miscarriage is the highest.
- Mother Massage: A Handbook for Relieving the Discomforts of Pregnancy After 22 weeks, avoid lying on your back as pressure on the vena cava can cause dizziness and decreased blood pressure, resulting in decreased blood flow to your baby.
- If you have a high-risk pregnancy, definitely check with your healthcare provider before any massage. This includes moms who are under 20 or over 35, are carrying multiple fetuses, have a history of miscarriage or problems with a previous pregnancy, take drugs, alcohol or smoke.
- If at any time you experience unusual symptoms such as swelling, severe headaches or profuse bleeding, see your healthcare provider immediately.
Labor and beyond
While pregnancy can be uncomfortable at times, labor is downright painful. But studies have shown that mothers who received massage during labor had less pain and anxiety, shorter labors, shorter hospital stays, and experienced less postpartum depression.
However, don't be surprised if the massage you loved during pregnancy irritates you during labor. This happened to Gallauresi-Baker, who had one to three short sessions of bodywork throughout her entire pregnancy and loved it.
"I didn't want to be touched during labor. I never thought that would happen!" she says.
There is every reason to continue massage therapy after your baby is born. Massage can improve mood, accelerate healing and recovery, and reduce fatigue. Certain strokes can increase breast milk and reduce soreness. And since sex is usually not recommended until after your six-week appointment, massage can again provide an alternate source of intimacy and communication for you and your partner.