by Stacey Bronson Gilbert and Kala Spangler
Prenatal massage is a powerfully rewarding specialty. Supporting women with the nurturing power of your touch during this miraculous time is a tremendous honor. It is a profound experience to have two beings on your table during one session. The many benefits of prenatal massage affect not only the mother-to-be, but also her growing baby, who can begin to respond to external touch stimulus at just seven weeks in utero.
Benefits of prenatal massage
As a woman’s pregnancy progresses, her body goes through remarkable and massive changes. A growing uterus creates an amazing structural domino effect in a woman’s body. Her skeletal structure adapts to her growing belly—typically by creating a more pronounced forward head tilt, rounded shoulders, a highly pronounced lordotic curve and anterior pelvic tilt, laterally rotated legs and flattened arches. Increased swelling and discomfort in extremities is very common. Common pain complaints are neck and upper trapezius tension, mid- and low-back discomfort, as well as low-back pain. Appropriate massage techniques, as well as proper positioning on the table, can address all of these complaints.
Prenatal massage also supports the physiological process of gestation simply by increasing blood and lymphatic circulation for the mother, baby and placenta. When a mother-to-be is on the table, a properly trained prenatal massage therapist can also provide positive educational support and emotional nurturing.
In order to provide the safest prenatal massage possible for a client, it is critical massage therapists understand the details and progression of the vast physical and emotional changes pregnant women undergo. A certified prenatal massage therapist will understand how these changes affect positioning options for her on the massage table, and how and when these options change as her pregnancy progresses. Certification will also teach a massage therapist about which techniques are safe and which aren’t, and why.
The emotions of a mother-to-be can be very volatile, swinging from euphoria to ambivalence. Understanding how to support these emotional changes with active listening and without crossing professional boundaries or drifting from your scope of practice can be challenging.
In a prenatal certification course, you will learn to address appropriately all of these massive musculoskeletal, physiological and emotional changes. With this knowledge, you can then confidently apply the most appropriate and beneficial massage techniques in order to support these changes in your client’s body, as well as ultimately support the growth of her baby.
Positioning and techniques
Positioning a pregnant client properly is perhaps the most important skill to learn. It affects not only her comfort, but also her safety. Positioning options change as she progresses through her pregnancy, and what might be safe in the first trimester is no longer safe as her pregnancy progresses.
One of the most common and safer positioning options is the side-lying position. Side-lying position requires changes to the massage therapist’s table height, as well as profound changes to the therapists’ body mechanics. Additionally, many massage techniques need to be adapted from prone or supine positioning, and the changes to the application of those techniques often isn’t intuitive. Lastly, side-lying position requires many more pillows and bolsters for clients. Learning which bolsters are best for each part of the pregnant body can take time.
Stacey Bronson Gilbert and Kala Spangler are faculty members at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy (BCMT) in Boulder, Colorado. The Prenatal/Labor/Postpartum certification at BCMT is a 125-hour certification. Class curriculum begins with how to work with a healthy pregnancy, then moves through labor, delivery and working with high-risk conditions and complications of pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Stacey Bronson Gilbert, C.M.T.
Gilbert’s work at BCMT includes teaching Swedish massage, prenatal/postpartum electives and in the 125-hour prenatal/labor/postpartum certification program. She is a Certified Infant Massage Instructor and received additional certification in prenatal, labor and postpartum massage. She has found supporting women through the miraculous journey of motherhood to be inspirational.
Kala Spangler, C.M.T.
Spangler teaches in the Prenatal/Labor/Postpartum Certificate Program at BCMT. She is a certified massage therapist with additional certifications in prenatal and postpartum massage. In addition, she is a Certified Instructor in Infant Massage (CIIM) and holds a certificate for Neuromuscular Therapy (NMT). She has also had extensive training in Massage for Medically Fragile Infants. Spangler has been a massage therapist since 1997 and specializes in massage for the growing family.