Although pregnancy tends to be a very exciting time for most women, the physical and psychological changes that take place during gestation and after delivery may induce anxiety and depression in some cases. Studies have shown that not only does massage ease the aches, pains and normal physical discomforts of pregnancy, but it can also help clients manage the emotional roller coaster that may occur during and after pregnancy.
The March of Dimes reports that as many as one in five women experience some degree of depression during pregnancy. In extreme cases, severe depression might have some negative effects on the pregnancy. Receiving massage has been shown to reduce anxiety and decrease levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine. Better still, massage can increase two “feel-good” hormones: serotonin and dopamine.
A number of studies have overwhelmingly demonstrated the positive role massage can have on depression in pregnant women. Tiffany Field and her colleagues at the Touch Research Institute in Florida conducted a study in 2009 in which pregnant women diagnosed with major depression received 12 weeks of twice-weekly massage; women in the control group received only standard treatment, i.e., psychotherapy.
Findings were published in Infant Behavior and Development and showed that the massage therapy group versus the control group not only had reduced depression by the end of the therapy period, but had also reduced depression and cortisol levels during the postpartum phase. Their newborns were also less likely to be born prematurely and did not have low birth weight. The babies also had lower cortisol levels and scored higher on the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment habituation, orientation and motor scales.
Massage has also been shown to positively affect depression in combination with pain in pregnant women. The Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies published a study in 2008 that examined the effects of massage on pregnant women with both of these diagnoses. Forty-seven women were randomly assigned to a group that received massage from a partner twice a week from 20 weeks gestation to delivery or to a control group. At the end of the study the women who were massaged self-reported decreased back-and-leg pain, depression, anxiety and anger, while the control group did not. Moreover, the partners who massaged the pregnant women also reported less depressed mood, anxiety and anger during the course of the study. Best of all, the scores on a relationship questionnaire increased more for the group of women and their partners in the massage group than for those in the control group.
The evidence is pretty convincing. To ease the anxiety and depression that these nine months might sometimes bring, massage can help your pregnant clients and their unborn babies enjoy a relatively stress-free experience in preparation for a new phase of life.