Massage During Pregnancy Boosts the Immune System, MASSAGE Magazine

The March issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the findings of a study that associated pregnancy with an increased risk of contracting a serious, sometimes life-threatening, infection. Other studies report that massage can boost a person’s immune system, thus offering protection against such health hazards.

The JAMA study was conducted in England and Wales from 2009 to 2012; women of reproductive age, from 15 to 44 years of age, under the care of a general practitioner were part of a surveillance study of infection with the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae (H. influenzae), which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), can cause severe infections, lifelong disability and even death. The bacterium is not connected to the flu.

This study also included information from Public Health England. While the incidence of H. influenzae, as confirmed by laboratory testing was low, pregnant women were found to be at higher risk of infection due to an encapsulated form of the bacterium (a category of strain). Specifically, if infection occurred in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, there was an increased risk of fetal loss (93.6 percent) and extremely premature birth (6.4 percent).

During the second half of pregnancy, the infection was associated with premature birth in 28.6 percent and 7.1 percent of stillbirth cases. Babies born to women who had H. influenzae were found to be at risk for long-term complications due to premature birth.

Sarah Collins, M.P.H. of Public Health England, London and her co-authors report that almost all infections were related to incidents of miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth, thus emphasizing the severity of H. influenzae in pregnant women.

While these findings may be alarming, a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2010 bears some good news. The study reports that Swedish massage can enhance the body’s hormonal response and boost the immune system. Women often receive Swedish, or some form of Swedish massage, during their pregnancy.

Researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles studied a group of 53 healthy adults, some of whom received a 45-minute Swedish massage and others light touch. Following the treatments, the study group demonstrated a significant decrease in the hormone arginine-vasopressin, which plays a role in regulating blood pressure and water retention. Although more research is needed to identify the specific mechanics and pathways behind these results, the findings suggest that Swedish massage may produce meaningful biological changes and may evoke a positive immune system response.

Tiffany Field, Ph.D., from the Touch Research Institute, has conducted numerous studies on the effects of massage. She reports that high stress levels may affect the autonomic nervous system, weakening the immune response. By reducing stress through massage, you may also be reducing cortisol and norepinephrine levels, thus enhancing the immune system. Field adds that this effect may last as long as two weeks.

The findings of Field’s studies should give you and your client one more reason to make sure she gets regular massage throughout her pregnancy. You’ll both be happy with the end result: a healthy mom and baby.

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