Cheryl Hamburger, L.M.T., of Cary, North Carolina, is newly retired from a 30-year career as a pregnancy massage therapist and doula. She said her passion for this work rests in the fact that moms and babies are the future. Hamburger has witnessed moms feeling better physically post-massage, and feeling emotionally balanced about their pregnancies in general. Hamburger marketed her practice on a website, through individual referrals and at the local, busy Women’s Birth and Wellness Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Hamburger also had the great insight to partner with a childbirth educator and regularly attend childbirth class, where she taught massage tips to couples during a portion of the class. Her booming practice kept her busy, with no downturn during the recession. Being both a massage therapist and doula increased her popularity in the birth community, she said, and added that it was difficult to retire, as her pregnancy massage and doula work were deeply fulfilling. There are children of her clients who now call her Grandma.
As Hamburger’s story illustrates, when a massage therapist trains in pregnancy massage as a specialty, she is making a commitment to the families in her community. More than any other type of massage, pregnancy massage builds connections that may last through several births in the same family, and into the next generation. The massage therapist becomes part of the family story that surrounds the birth. When moms and children meet up with their massage therapist in the community, memories and hugs abound.
Many women who have received pregnancy massage espouse the benefits of this work: They sleep better; their heavy, swollen legs move easier; their hips don’t ache as much; and they feel more connected to their babies. In my experience as a pregnancy massage therapist, even labor seems to go smoother, and sometimes faster, after the woman has received pregnancy massage.
Postpartum discomforts from the birth and feeding of an infant are greatly reduced with the extension of massage into the postnatal period, and a pregnancy massage therapist can include teaching newborn and infant massage in her postpartum visits as a natural extension of a pregnancy massage practice.
In his book, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child: How You Can Prepare Your Baby for a Happy, Healthy Life, Thomas Verny, M.D., stated that in the sixth month of gestation, the fetus is neurologically developed enough to feel and receive sensory information, including touch. In my experience of providing pregnancy massage, a baby can seem to feel the touch the mother is receiving during the massage. A baby will often respond to touch to the belly with a stretch or a push. At times, it even seems to me that a baby recognizes the pregnancy massage therapist and feels safe with her touch.
Because of its relaxing, circulation-encouraging and mood-boosting benefits, pregnancy massage is growing in popularity throughout the U.S. A statement on the website of the American Pregnancy Association notes, “Modern investigation and research is proving that prenatal massage therapy can be a very instrumental ingredient in women’s prenatal care and should be given careful consideration.”
One research study conducted by the Touch Research Institute (TRI) and published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies in 2008 indicated that massage therapy reduced pain in pregnant women, alleviated prenatal depression in parents and improved couples’ relationships.
Another TRI study published in Infant Behavior and Development in 2009 indicated massage therapy benefitted depressed pregnant women and newborns. In that study, pregnant women diagnosed with major depression received massage therapy from their significant others twice a week for 12 weeks. Analysis showed these women not only had reduced depression at the end of the 12 weeks, but they also had lower levels of depression and cortisol in the postpartum period.
Massage therapists interested in working with pregnant clients must complete specialized training in order to understand positioning, benefits and contraindications to this work.
Marketing Pregnancy Massage
The massage therapists interviewed for this article offered a wealth of insight to therapists interested in marketing a pregnancy massage practice.
When massage therapist Tasha Murphy, L.M.T., left her position at a resort, she knew she would have to create a niche for herself in the massage-saturated market of Asheville, North Carolina. She opened Spa Materna there four years ago. (She recently relocated Spa Materna to Huntsville, Alabama.)
As a community-based business, Spa Materna offers a variety of massage for pregnancy, from fertility massage to labor-invitation and postpartum massage. One of Murphy’s marketing taglines is, “We are here for you every step of the way,” with baby steps as the graphic. Murphy said her best marketing tip was to share labor massage demonstrations and tips with a doula group that met monthly.
Pregnancy massage therapist Amy Pierce, L.M.T., who also assists this author in teaching pregnancy massage courses, said that when marketing pregnancy massage, the therapist should build a list of supportive professionals whom she wants to build a relationship and network with. Massage therapists throughout Wilmington, North Carolina, send pregnant clients to Pierce, who felt a calling toward pregnancy massage 10 years ago and now runs a practice, Peaceful Beginnings Massage for Pregnancy, Birth & Baby.
“Referrals are the number-one source for new clients—from my colleagues, midwives and childbirth educators,” she said.
In addition to massage colleagues, the pregnancy massage therapist’s networking list should include obstetricians, gynecologists and midwives. The massage therapist can offer to provide an educational session for medical office staff. This can be accomplished with a short talk, pregnancy massage demonstration and distribution of brochures. The massage therapist can also offer a pregnancy massage session as a raffle item to support low-income or teen moms, family nonprofit groups, or any other nonprofit organization to whom the office donates.
Pregnancy massage therapists should also reach out to their local doula and midwife community. Doulas are usually passionate women who love to support other women in having a positive birth experience. Creating a mutual referral network with local doulas can help build a pregnancy massage practice.
Childbirth educators are also some of the best connections a pregnancy massage therapist can make. They will see a new group of expecting parents every four to six weeks. The massage therapist can arrange a time to come to the class and offer massage tips for common discomforts such as heartburn, swollen feet and backache. Another suggestion for a presentation is a focus on massage during labor. Yet another venue in which to network with referring professionals is in lactation and breastfeeding classes.
Prenatal yoga and fitness instructors also tend to have students who are proactive and like to take care of themselves. Pierce, for example, has built her reputation in her community through co-teaching “Nurturing the Pregnant Couple” workshops with a local prenatal yoga instructor.
Overall, visibility is key. A massage therapist can rent a booth at a baby fair or wellness fair, which are often offered by hospitals, and offer hand-and-foot massage as a way to build interest in her practice. Mother-to-be support groups also offer the opportunity to educate pregnant women about massage therapy. Secondhand baby stores, maternity clothing stores, and yard sales directed to moms and families are additional venues where a pregnancy massage therapist may market. Health-food stores may also have health fairs for local professionals to offer information to the public.
When developing marketing or approaching other professionals, the pregnancy massage therapist can cite the various research studies that have looked at the effects of massage therapy on pregnant clients. TRI’s website contains references to its research, and the website of the American Pregnancy Massage Association features information about massage for pregnant clients.
Heed the Call
Pregnancy massage is a calling—and when that calling is answered, the therapist who chooses to specialize in pregnancy massage will be engaging in fulfilling work that will help shape the future of humankind.
Claire Marie Miller, B.C.T.M.B., is a 35-plus-year veteran of the massage profession who was inducted into the Massage Therapy Hall of Fame in 2010. However, the title of mom to adult children James, Jessica and Danielle, and grandmom to Adelaide, is at the top of the credentials she holds. She received pregnancy massage through all stages of her three pregnancies. Keeping families in touch is Miller’s passion. She offers a Nurturing the Mother 24-CE-hour course, and many other classes (clairemariemiller.com).