Massage, carried out by an expert practitioner, can be nothing short of a godsend during pregnancy. Many spas offer specialist or adapted massages for pregnancy using gentle, relaxing strokes to help soothe aches and pains, improve your mood, and even help with labour.
What are the benefits of pregnancy massage?
Prenatal massage can help to:
improve circulation, and increase the flow of oxygen to soft tissue and muscles
reduce leg and back pain and joint pain
reduce oedema (water retention) and swelling
improve mood and lower anxiety
regulate hormones, such as helping to decrease levels of stress hormones and increase "happy" hormones such as serotonin and dopamine
reduce muscle tension, and tension headaches
What to expect from a prenatal massage
The first step of a prenatal massage is to get comfortable.
The vena cava is a large blood vessel to your heart, which lies along the back wall of your abdomen, next to your spine. Lying on your back in the later stages of pregnancy can put undue pressure on this area, so it is more comfortable to lie on your side, both when you sleep, and when you have a massage.
Treatment beds and supports used by spas for pregnancy massage include:
Massage tables: Some spas may offer a dedicated pregnancy massage table with a cut out for your belly and bust, to allow you to lie on your front. Some pregnant women find that this position makes their lower back ache, so it can be better just to lie on a normal massage table, on your side.
Massage cushions: Massage cushions are usually a large block of firm foam, with a cut-out for the belly and bust. Some are designed to sit on top of regular massage beds, while some are designed to sit on the floor and support you while you lean forwards onto them, kneeling.
Floor mats: Low massage beds or floor mattresses, often used for Thai massage, can also be used for prenatal massage. A wide futon-style mattress and cushions will give your body support, and being wide and close to the ground, you won't have to worry about wobbling off a high couch!
During pregnancy, your blood volume can increase by up to 50 per cent and, in turn, anticoagulant levels increase. This means that you are more at risk of blood clots, particularly in your thighs and calves. For this reason, a specialist pregnancy massage will not include any deep-tissue massage strokes in areas such as the legs.
Your therapist is likely to use Swedish massage techniques, as this form of massage employs gliding strokes and gentle kneading designed to improve your blood and lymphatic circulation, soothe your muscles and make you more relaxed. Your therapist may also use acupressure or Shiatsu techniques to stimulate key pressure points to help your physical, mental and hormonal balance. Your therapist will avoid certain pressure points on your ankles, wrists, hands and feet as these are believed to gently stimulate the pelvic muscles, including the uterus.
Some therapists will also include some useful advice in your treatment time, such as tips for better posture, or tips for getting through labour more comfortably. Some therapists also run classes where your partner can learn basic massage techniques to help you through labour, too.
It is worth remembering that most massage treatments take an hour or more. Feel free to let your therapist know if you need the loo during a treatment, as it isn't exactly relaxing if you are focussed on your bladder rather than your breathing!
When is it safe to have a prenatal massage?
Many spas suggest that you should not have any spa treatments in your first trimester, or if you are less than 12 weeks pregnant, or more than 32 weeks pregnant in the third trimester. It is best to wait until the second trimester to book pregnancy treatments, as you're less likely to have morning sickness, and the risk of miscarriage is less of a worry by this stage.
Don't book a massage if you are suffering from nausea or vomiting, have a high-risk pregnancy or have previous experience of placental abruption, miscarriage or pre-term labour, or you have pre-eclampsia or hypertension. Call the spa first, and speak to your GP if you have any medical concerns and would like to check if it is safe to have a massage.