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Just like prenatal yoga, massage in pregnancy surprised me big time! Common pregnancy problems can be significantly reduced in a pleasant, holistic and natural manner by weekly relaxing massage sessions. And of course, when the mom is more relaxed and in less pain, the baby turns out to be healthier, stronger and heavier, all significant bonus points and indications for long-term health.
What science says
Most of the research about prenatal massage comes from the team of Tiffany Field Ph.D the Director of the Touch Research Institute (University of Miami Medical School). Although most published studies are quite small, we can see a clear pattern about how much prenatal massage has to offer to pregnant women. A consistent theme I found was that with just 2-3 20 min sessions of prenatal massage per week, mamas-to-be feel less stress, anxiety, depression and have less leg and back pain. In my opinion these are lots of benefits and awesome value for very little time invested, which means that even the busiest mamas can fit a couple of therapeutic massages into their weekly schedule.
Stress hormones, such as cortisol, are lower in women receiving such short massage boosts and we know very well that elevated cortisol levels (read stress) in the pregnant woman are clearly associated with pregnancy complications. Unsurprisingly, prenatal massage is associated with a lower incident of premature birth and low birth weight. Another incredible fact is that babies from moms who received massage during their pregnancy seem to have better motor control, have better social interactions and are easier, to calm down, perhaps reflecting the calmer and more relaxed state of their mothers.
I find really interesting the fact that the Touch Research Institute emphasizes the importance of human touch, not just body and mind relaxation, when it comes to the healing effects of massage. In some studies [1 ] women who received prenatal massage were compared with women who attended sessions of progressive muscle relaxation. Although body relaxation methods also reduce stress and anxiety, prenatal massage seems more effective in lowering stress hormones and increasing relaxation hormones and results in positive clinical outcomes for both mother and baby.
According to a new study from Austria, those of you undergoing IVF cycles, can have better chances to conceive and have a full-term pregnancy if you have a deep relaxation massage prior to embryo transfer, all without any risks or side effects . The specific study did not test traditional massage, but a new massage modality called andullation therapy, where a deep relaxation state is achieved through oscillating vibrations. The Austrian study found that women who received this type of massage before implantation had statistically significant higher pregnancy rates (58.9% vs. 41.7%) and birth rates (32% vs. 20.3%), compared to women who received standard prenatal care. Considering the financial, emotional and psychological investment of couples who go through IVF treatments, these results are mind blowing!
My last finding has to do with swollen legs and foot massage. Many women will experience puffy ankles and feet, especially towards the end of their pregnancy and during hot weather. I have heard many times that this problem is something entirely normal in pregnancy, because of the pressure that the uterus puts in the veins of the lower part of the body. I disagree. It is very common, but this doesn’t make it normal or OK.
Here is a simple, holistic & natural solution: 20-min foot massages! A super interesting and innovative (yet small) study showed that in just one week (5 daily sessions) foot massage reduced significantly ankle swelling . Obviously, in real life, you would have a foot massage 2-3 times per week, like the body massage sessions we talked about before, not 5 daily massages in a row and then nothing. For me, this pilot study shows that simple lifestyle modifications, in this case foot massage, can reduce and relieve a universal pregnancy “side-effect” that is now considered normal.
Reading through the available research for prenatal massage made me feel really lucky that my husband is giving me regularly massages since the very beginning of my pregnancy. I am now in my 3rd trimester and I believe that these massages are a big part of my very easy pregnancy (so far). I have no swollen ankles, minimal back pain (unless I carry something a bit heavy or have a bad posture for a while) and overall I have had a stress-free pregnancy. I highly recommend to all pregnant women to include some massage sessions to their weekly schedule throughout pregnancy, especially in the 3rd trimester. Foot massage is even easier, since you or your partner can easily give you one, if you have no time or available therapists in your area. There are loads of videos in youtube. Here are two that are easy to follow:
 Field T et al. 2004. Massage therapy effects on depressed pregnant women. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 25(2):115-22.
 Field T et al.1999. Pregnant women benefit from massage therapy. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 20(1):31-8.
 Field T et al. 2009. Pregnancy massage reduces prematurity, low birthweight and postpartum depression. Infant Behav Dev. 32(4):454-60.
[4 ]Field T et al. 2012. Yoga and massage therapy reduce prenatal depression and prematurity. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 16(2):204-9.
 Okhowat J et al. 2015. Massage therapy improves in vitro fertilization outcome in patients undergoing blastocyst transfer in a cryo-cycle. Altern Ther Health Med. 21(2):16-22.
 Coban A, Sirin A. 2010. Effect of foot massage to decrease physiological lower leg oedema in late pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial in Turkey. Int J Nurs Pract. 16(5):454-60.
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