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Giving Expectant Moms the Gift of Touch

Paula Termini wishes every expectant mother could receive the stress-reducing benefits of massage. But those who could really use it the most—women struggling under socioeconomic disadvantages, with young children already at home and little support—are usually the last ones to get it.

In August, Termini concluded a yearlong project funded by the Massage Therapy Foundation, to provide massage therapy to poor, mostly Hispanic, pregnant women in Holmes Beach, Florida.

“I’d like to take information from the work I’ve done and go to the American Association of Labor and Delivery Nurses, and report on what the experiences have been for these women,” Termini says. “To use it as a form of education for the doctors and the midwives and nurses, about how beneficial massage is for [pregnant] women.”

The $4,058.50 foundation grant, awarded in 2005, allowed Termini to provide 64 massages for her target clientele; purchase lotions, a body cushion and pay for laundry; and to rent a centrally located office one day a week.

Her referrals came mostly through the local Healthy Start Coalition, which works with low-income women and their young children.

“Have these women ever received this much undivided attention in their lives? No, never,” says Termini, a former labor-and-delivery nurse who does community outreach and maintains a full-time perinatal massage practice.

The massage recipients were each given a stress-evaluation form at the beginning and end of their massages, indicating their stress levels on a scale from one to five. “In the beginning they are a four or five,” Termini says. “At the end of the massage, they say they are a one or a two, and float on out.”

Although she originally intended to provide one massage each for 64 different women, “Early on I found out, first, that the moms loved it, but also the real value of repetitive massages during pregnancy; sciatica was eased, carpal tunnel was eased,” Termini says.

“Some [came] back over a period of two and three months, and one woman came very two weeks for four months,” she adds.

After seeing Termini, who uses lavender oil at the beginning her massages, one client started using lavender oil at home. “She uses it with her son to calm him down. She says she lets everything go now; she used to be anxious and high-anxiety. But when she starts to feel uptight, she smells lavender [oil] and it relaxes and calms her,” Termini says.

Another client, who wasn’t due to deliver for two weeks and was under a lot of stress, came in for her first massage and promptly fell asleep for two hours.

“Many of the women were quite stressed out and had other issues—they have other children also—and were open to trying out the massage. This made them have a more positive outlook. It really made a big difference,” says Ingrid Dorion, a caseworker with Healthy Start.

Termini planned to continue seeing some of her clients through their pregnancies, even after the grant ended. She says she’d love to continue to bring massage to this population of women, as “there’s really a need for it.”

— Kelle Walsh