Four pregnant women in a rowPregnant women who plan to deliver their babies at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital in Oxford, Ohio, have the opportunity to take classes in bathing their infants, nursing and other topics related to motherhood. During a tour of the labor and delivery areas, these women also receive a starter kit that contains important information on childbirth—as well as the benefits of massage both during and after pregnancy.

Benefits of pregnancy massage

Emily Gerberick-Douglass operates a private massage practice one block away from McCullough-Hyde, and has also provided massage to expectant and new moms at the hospital since 2008. In addition to her regular office hours, she builds in time to massage women before or after their obstetrical appointments.

“Massage during pregnancy enhances the function of muscles and joints, improves general body tone, increases circulation and relieves mental and physical fatigue,” Gerberick-Douglass said. “Prenatal massage gives moms-to-be the ability to unwind and feel comforted during a period of physical and emotional stress. In addition to the overall sense of well-being, massage has a wide range of physical and psychological benefits.”

A woman’s body changes during each stage of pregnancy, and those changes can induce aches, pains and other discomfort. For instance, Gerberick-Douglass pointed out that sciatic nerve pain is common due to spreading of the hips and additional weight pressing on the anterior joint. “Massage can loosen and stretch the muscle,” she said.

A 2011 study by Tiffany Field, Ph.D., “Pregnancy and labor massage,” showed that women who received massage during their pregnancies had decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and also “reported decreased depression, anxiety, and leg and back pain.”

Massage for post-delivery issues

Following delivery, many new moms experience fatigue in several areas of the body. At times like this, Gerberick-Douglass may receive a call to deliver relief.

“The muscles in the upper body are used a lot to push during delivery, so I’ll do some neck and shoulder work,” she said. “Also, women who are nursing may find that cradling the baby can hurt the back and create neck and shoulder issues.”

Healthy touch during pregnancy

Prenatal massage with a certified therapist can be one of the most pleasurable experiences a mom-to-be can have while awaiting the birth of her child. However, Gerberick-Douglass said that women in their first trimester should avoid having massage, and recommends waiting until the second trimester. (Pregnancy massage therapists have varying opinions on first-trimester massage, with some therapists and educators supporting massage for all stages of pregnancy.)

“Massage can alleviate a lot of fears that pregnant women have relating to their bodies, which is essential to a mother’s emotional well-being as she adapts to her new body image,” said Gerberick-Douglass. “At a time when you may be afraid that people will find you unattractive, touch can make you feel beautiful and more connected to your changing body.”