Healing hands – soothing massage in late pregnancy

Massage therapy has long been believed to offer a variety of positive effects for pain and stress relief. In an information booklet released by the Royal College of Midwives, titled “The Magic of Touch”, numerous studies have shown massage can help lower levels of anxiety and stress, improve symptoms of depression, help decrease back and leg pain, improve sleep, and reduce swelling.

However, doctors can be hesitant to recommend massage to patients because many therapists lack sufficient training to work on pregnant women. There are certain pressure points which need to be avoided in pregnancy, and it is therefore essential that you only have a massage with a therapist who is fully qualified in antenatal massages.

Ask your midwife or obstetrician to recommend a massage therapist, and if you have pre-eclampsia, suffer from nausea, experience severe headaches, or have had a placental abruption (when the placenta detaches from your uterus), then it’s all the more important you get the green light from a medical professional before going ahead.

Massages to help oedema

Swelling in the ankles and feet is known as oedema, and it’s a common and annoying symptom for many pregnant women. Simple exercise and wearing compression stockings can help reduce oedema, but a massage is a good alternative, as gentle upward strokes towards the knees can help move the excess fluid away from your feet. However, if the swelling is painful and the skin is very tight, then you may find massage too uncomfortable.

You could consider a reflexology session, where pressure points on your feet are massaged by an expert to help reduce swelling. Again, you must make sure any reflexologist you see is trained in working with pregnant women. Ask your doctor if a reflexology session would be right for you.

Precautions to take during a massage in late pregnancy

Blood clots: During pregnancy, changes to the circulatory system – an increase in blood volume and slower blood flow to the legs – mean expectant mothers are at increased risk of developing blood clots in their legs. Because of this, deep massage techniques that put a lot of pressure on the legs should be avoided, as this can potentially be very dangerous. Not only should they be gentle, but all leg massage strokes should move towards the heart.

Correct use of oils and essences: Be cautious when using aromatherapy oils, as not all ingredients are appropriate for use on the skin. Some oils, such as rosemary, jasmine, and thyme, can prompt contractions too early. Even when using oils that you’ve been told are OK by your doctor, make sure they’ve been diluted with base oil. A specialist massage therapist should know the appropriate oils etc for use on a pregnant woman.

Avoid massaging the bump: Anything that applies firm pressure to your pregnant belly runs the risk of causing harm to your developing baby. It is for this reason that massage is advised against during the first trimester, when the risk of miscarriage is at its highest.

Correct positioning: Because the increasing weight of your baby can put pressure on a major vein, lying on your back from the beginning of the second trimester is not advisable, and you certainly shouldn’t be doing it now that you’re a few weeks away from your due date. Instead, sit upright on a chair or stool, or you can also lay on your left side with your bump properly supported by a pillow, while your partner or therapist gently gives you a massage.

Massage in labour

Many women will hope to avoid the strongest forms of pain relief in labour, such as pethidine or an epidural, so having a partner who is will to massage you can prove really beneficial for overall pain management. A massage encourages your body to release endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers and mood-lifters. During the early stages of labour, endorphins are very useful for relieving pain and anxiety, making your contractions easier to manage.

How your birth partner can help

A massage can help you feel closer to your birth partner during this important time. Feeling their touch can provide a great sense of comfort, and giving massages is an effective way that partners can get actively involved during labour. However, massage isn’t for everyone. If you find, despite their best intentions, your partner’s massage technique is more irritating than soothing, then don’t be afraid to tell them to stop.

The following are the best areas for your partner to massage.

  • Shoulder massage – A relaxing shoulder massage can help you keep your breathing rhythmic (another crucial tip for relaxation). Your partner should place their hands on your shoulders and, using slow rhythmic motions, stroke down from your shoulders to your elbows. If stress is causing your shoulders to tense, it may help if your partner leans into you slightly.
  • Back massage – Your partner can use the flat of their hand to gently stroke down one side of your spine from your shoulder to your bottom and then do the same with their other hand on the other side of your spine. By alternating hands and using rhythmic movements, this can help to soothe your lower back, a place where you’re likely to feel discomfort during contractions.
  • hand and foot massage – As long as you’re not too ticklish, a firm, rhythmical foot massage can be a great way to help you relax and warm your feet up. Your partner should use their thumbs to make circles over the soles of your feet. If you’ve had an epidural, your legs and feet will possibly be too numb for this to be effective, but your partner can use similar circular motions on your palms, giving you a calming hand massage.

Massage is another tool you can add to your arsenal of natural pain-relief methods for labour. To make sure your partner’s technique is correct, why not enquire about it at your antenatal classes, so you can be sure you receive proper guidance.

Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.