What is pregnanacy or prenatal massage?

It is found that women during pregnancy experience a lot of physical and emotional strain. Symptoms such as body ache, insomnia, anxiety, stress, nausea, and depression can bring suffering during a time that should be hopeful and expectant for the women. 

In recent times many alternative therapies have become significant for managing pain and stress conditions during pregnancy. Complementary and alternative treatments that are popularly practiced during pregnancy involve yoga, meditation, and massage. All these methods have a history that can be dated back 5000 years. 

During the ancient periods, there were not any allopathic medicines available for treating the physiological symptoms of pregnant women. Women during pregnancy used to practice these ancient practices to relieve them from symptoms that arise during pregnancy.

Therapeutic pregnancy massage (or prenatal massage) has been used for ages to improve the overall health, relieve muscle tension, and reduce stress. The benefits of massage therapy involve a decrease in anxiety and improvement in other hormonal functions. 

Massage therapy increases oxytocin levels in the blood, helping to relieve insomnia and enhance the feeling of well-being. Massage therapy aims to relax muscle tension and improve lymphatic and blood flow by applying mild pressure on the body's muscle groups. [1,2,3]

See: Garbh Sanskar Therapy To Manage Anxiety During Pregnancy

Pregnancy massage benefits

Massage during pregnancy benefits

Women experience a lot of physiological implications during pregnancy. The growing fetus within the body results in many conditions such as tension in the muscles, fluid accumulation in the body, which gives rise to edema, mood swings, hormonal dysregulation, anxiety, stress, and depression. 

The secretion of hormones like cortisol is increased during pregnancy, which results in stress in pregnant women. During pregnancy, massage results in decreased cortisol levels, lower rates of premature birth, decreased back and leg pain, and reduced anxiety and depression. Women who take massages during pregnancy have fewer prenatal complications, and there is a 75% lower chance of premature birth and an 80% lower incidence of low birthweight.

 Many pregnant women experience lower back pain during pregnancy due to sciatic nerve pain. This lower back pain occurs due to the uterus resting on the lower back and pelvic floor muscles. The pressure of the uterus spreads tension across the muscles of the lower back, upper and lower leg, and pelvic floor causing them to swell due to edema. Pregnancy Massage therapy helps release the tension in these muscles and decreases the inflammation caused in the nerves. Some other potential benefits of massage during pregnancy are:

●       Reduced back pain

●       Reduced joint pain

●       Improved circulation

●       Reduced muscle tension

●       Reduced stress and anxiety

●       Reduced edema

●       Reduced hormonal dysregulation

●       Improved sleep [4,5]

Foot massage during pregnancy is also advised by the doctors to reduce pain and swelling in the lower legs. However, care should be taken while providing foot massage to pregnant women. Care should be taken to avoid specific areas on the foot and ankle, which may trigger uterine contractions and cervical ripening.

It is also essential to check for any blood clots in the legs before providing foot massage, which may harm the fetus. Reduced blood circulation and pressure on the muscles result in fluid retention in the lower limbs, giving rise to edema or swelling and lower leg pain. Foot massage during pregnancy helps in relieving the tension in the muscles and improves blood circulation in the legs, which reduces edema and thereby decreases pain. [6,7]

See: Ayurvedic Massage

How does pregnancy massage work?

The mechanism behind massage during pregnancy

The potential benefits of massage during pregnancy can be explained by a mechanism called 'gate theory.' According to the gate theory, pain messages travel to the brain more slowly than the pressure messages from massage (i.e., the stimulation of pressure receptors). Pressure messages travel faster to the brain resulting in the closing of the gate for pain messages. 

A more scientific explanation of the gate theory is that the cells in the spinal cord's dorsal horn act as a switch between nerve impulses from different fibers. If an impulse from a nerve fiber is received faster than the other nerve fiber, the impulses of the later nerve fiber do not reach the brain effectively. In this way, the massage stimulates fibers to close the gate of the pain stimulus fibers to travel up to the brain.

Another underlying mechanism has also been explored, suggesting that these effects are mediated by increased vagal activity. Vagal activity is increased due to massage during pregnancy, which results in autonomic nervous system regulation and hormonal secretion. Vagal tone means the action of the vagus nerve, the 10th cranial nerve, and a fundamental part of the autonomic nervous system's ventral division. This branch of the nervous system isn't under conscious control and is mainly responsible for regulating many body compartments in the rest.

Blood circulation is improved, cortisol levels are decreased due to vagal activity which helps in reducing muscle tension and stress during pregnancy. [8,9]

See: Pregnancy Diet & Nutrition

Prenatal massage techniques

How to give a prenatal massage

Regular prenatal massages may help pregnant women relax and offer relief from insomnia, back pain, and leg pain. A prenatal massage is a different form of massage than a regular massage as utmost care needs to be exercised not to harm the fetus in the uterus. Generally, the best position considered for providing prenatal massage for women is by making them lie sideways, and a dedicated pregnancy pillow should be used to support the upper body. 

Precautions must be taken to avoid infections like proper hygiene. The bladder should be emptied before massaging and using natural oils like olive oil and sunflower oil. The main aim of using oil is to provide lubrication and reduce friction.

Before providing prenatal massage, it is always advised that pregnant women should consult their nearby doctor before undergoing any such activity. Before providing prenatal massage, hygiene should be maintained, and pregnant women should be encouraged to lay in a comfortable position that should not negatively impact the fetus. Techniques that can be followed for providing prenatal massage are gentle foot rub, back rub, shoulder rub, and scalp massage. [10]

See: Ovulation Bleeding Causes & Pregnancy

Ayurvedic pregnancy massage

Ayurveda is a centuries-old holistic medical system from ancient India.  Ayurveda places emphasis on both psychological and physical caring practices for the pregnant mother and her unborn child. According to Ayurveda, there's a clear and strong link between the mother's well-being and the infant's health, starting from the implantation procedure throughout the pregnancy. Quite simply, the infant's character, physical attributes, and health start with the mom and her pre-conceptual status and develop during the pregnancy months. Ayurvedic prenatal care is known as Garbhasanskar and helps in managing anxiety during pregnancy and forging a strong bond with your baby.

Ayurveda recommends tons of nourishment and support for pregnant women. Moms-to-be give a lot of their vital energy to their baby growing in the womb, and massage helps them restore and replenish this vital energy.

To find out more about Ayurveda and pregnancy (such as diet, lifestyle, and exercise suggestions ), please contact an Ayurveda expert. Ayurvedic prenatal massage aims to encourage women and assist them in preparing for labor mentally and physically. It works with repetitive and gentle strokes on the entire body, such as head, feet, and hands, containing some of the densest regions of nerve endings and acupressure points. The strokes are repetitive and help to relax the nervous system and the brain. Warm sesame oil is used that is soothing and nourishing to the skin, as well as for the joints and muscles and keeps them supple. Sesame oil is also useful to stop stretch marks.

This Ayurvedic pregnancy massage is comforting and relaxing. It's incredibly beneficial to relieve lower back pain and swelling and the rest of the pregnancy-related distress - and I'm fully committed to always customizing the remedy to your needs. Ayurvedic pregnancy massage is also an excellent complement to your Yoga practice and may be performed safely from the 4th month through to arrival.

See: What To Do After Positive Pregnancy Test

Summary

Regular prenatal massage is an excellent method to help pregnant women to get relief from symptoms like back pain, leg pain, insomnia, stress, and depression. The prenatal massage helps to prepare for labor and delivery as well. The benefits of massage during pregnancy can improve the overall health of many pregnant women. Pregnant women who received massage during pregnancy experienced significantly less pain during labor, and the incidence of premature labor was reduced considerably. Massage during pregnancy also helps in relieving postpartum depression and improved hormonal balance. Massage during pregnancy helps calm the mother's body and helps the mother connect with their baby.

See: Are you Pregnant- Follow this Simple Pregnancy Diet Plan

References

1.      Field, T. (2008). Pregnancy and labor alternative therapy research. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, 14(5), 28-34.

2.      American Massage Therapy Association, Massage, and Pregnancy: A Powerful Combination, June 2018.

3.      Field, T. (1999). Pregnant Women Benefit From Massage Therapy. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Mar;20(1):31-8.

4.      Wang SM, Dezinno P, Fermo L, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine for low-back pain in pregnancy: a cross-sectional survey. J. Altern. Complement. Med. 2005;11:459–464.

5.      Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Hart S, et al. Pregnant women benefit from massage therapy. J. Psychosom. Obstet. Gynaecol. 1999;20:31–38.

6.      Çoban, A., & Sirin, A. (2010). Effect of foot massage to decrease the physiological lower leg edema in late pregnancy: A randomized controlled trial in Turkey. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 16(5), 454-460. DOI:10.1111/ j.1440-172X.2010.01869.

7.      Stager, L. (2009). Proceed with caution: Foot/ankle massage for pregnant clients, Massage & Bodywork, 24(5), 66.

8.      Foster JM, Sweeney BP. The mechanisms of acupuncture analgesia. Br. J. Hosp. Med. 1987;38:308–312.

9.      Diego M, Field T, Hernandez-Reif M. Preterm infant massage consistently increases vagal activity and gastric mobility. Acta Paediatr. 2007;96:1588–1591.

10.  Sampselle, C., Miller, C., & Rossie, D. (1997). Perineal massage: further support of protective perineal effect. Journal of Perinatal Education, 6(2), 1-5.

See: Anxiety & stress in pregnancy natural remedies

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