I never realized how much I enjoyed a massage until at 26 weeks of pregnancy, I experienced the wonders of prenatal massage at a resort I was staying at on a short getaway. Many massage therapists are certified in prenatal massage, although not all spas offer this luxury. If a spa hires a new massage therapist who is not prenatal certified, they have to demonstrate their skill in draping and positioning a pregnant woman. The spas provide basic training and information on working with a pregnant woman and they only qualify those therapists who demonstrate pregnancy massage knowledge. Some spas have adjustable tables with openings designed to accommodate pregnant bellies. This allows the guest to lie comfortably, while also supporting the shoulders and easing pressure on the breasts. Prenatal massage may also be performed using a special maternity cushion that is placed on the table, allowing the expectant mother to lie on her side.
Christine Haddad of G20 Spa and Salon and Emerge Spa and Salon in Boston, MA, explained that her spas use a “BodyCushion System.” Much like the maternity cushions, this system is a two-part cushion used to prop the client on her side. The cushions support the woman’s belly and torso, while taking pressure off the shoulder.
As many expectant mothers soon realize, carrying a baby shifts one’s center of gravity and puts a lot of stress on the back, neck, abdominal muscles, and shoulders. Pregnancy also relaxes ligaments and causes the pelvic joints to become less stable, and thus changes one’s posture, pulling the pelvis forward. Add to that the extra weight you’re carrying and you’ve got yourself an aching lower back.
Not only is prenatal massage beneficial to relieving lower back pain and neck pain, it relieves the stress that accompanies the heightened emotions/hormonal changes and physical fatigue that are characteristic symptoms of pregnancy. It drains the edema (water retention that is often present, particularly in the legs). It also detoxifies the system, giving a feeling of greater physical lightness and mental clarity.
Tessa Kienow, Spa Director of Spa Terre at Little Palm Island in Florida Keys, FL said prenatal massage techniques are basic in nature; Effleurage, Petrissage, Friction, Tapotement & Vibration. “It is how and where you apply these techniques that makes maternity massage differ [from other types of massage].
“Contrary to popular belief a maternity massage does not have to be a light pressure massage, but more important than applied pressure, you must be sure to avoid deeper strokes in the lower extremities, abdominals, pressure point work in the feet & ankles, and working on any clients with abnormal edema,” explained Kienow.
Kienow added that range of motion movements as well as heat packs or wraps should be avoided. “There is an extensive list of warning signs for high risk factors in pregnancy; we follow those strictly to be sure that all parties involved are safe. In addition, whenever possible, we require a doctor’s consent for all services performed.”
If you are searching for a good prenatal massage therapist, ask for recommendations from your hospital, health practitioner, or friends. If you already have a favorite massage therapist, ask whether she has training in prenatal massage or can recommend a colleague who does.
Finally, the American Massage Therapy Association has an online referral system for the United States and Canada. Just click on the map or use the search engine.
Once you have a few contacts, ask the following questions to help make the choice easier:
- How long have you been practicing?
- How much massage experience do you have with pregnant women?
- Have you had any special training in pregnancy massage?
- Do you use a body cushion?
- How will you handle positioning me as I progress in my pregnancy?
All expectant mothers should check with their doctors prior to getting a massage. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, or are on the early stages of pregnancy, prenatal massage may not be recommended. It is important to share information about yourself with your massage therapist when you arrive for your appointment. The massage therapist will adjust your prenatal massage to make it as relaxing and as useful as possible based on your personal needs and preferences.
Katie Amundson, Spa Director of the Hilton Sedona Resort & Spa in Arizona, added that in bodywork in general there is a real intention towards addressing the whole person. “Especially being in Sedona we have a lot of room to be open to acknowledging the emotional, mental and spiritual levels as well in our sessions. In our prenatal session, technical skill is mandatory as well as a reverence for the mom and baby and the journey they are on together.”