- Karen Stoner, LMT
How is a Prenatal Massage different than a regular massage?
Pregnancy hurts. There is no way around it. While some people may be blessed with easy pregnancies with little to no issues, others hurt and ache all 40 weeks. Even if someone doesn't have any major pain issues, a pregnant human body is still changing in lots of physical ways which affects everything else in the body. Massage can absolutely help with those issues, big and small. But pregnant women aren’t like everyone else, therefore their massages also need to be different. So what exactly makes a prenatal massage different than a regular massage? Stranger questions on the intake form
While most paperwork you fill out before a massage asks general questions about allergies and medical history, the forms for a prenatal massage may include more specific information about due dates, doctor information, and direct questions about conditions you’d rather not think about. Also before the appointment, the therapist may ask more questions than during a standard massage, and may even take the pregnant woman's blood pressure. This is all because the therapist wants to make sure that the massage won’t aggravate any issues.
How you lay on the table
The number one thing that people ask when they are considering a prenatal massage is: “How can I get a massage when I can’t lay on my stomach?” With the growing belly, we use what we call a side-lying position. That means that the pregnant woman will be laying on her side with pillows, bolsters, or cushions to support her body, head, and belly so that she can lay comfortably and be supported during her massage. This position allows the therapist to massage the mommy-to-be's back, shoulders, and all of the other achy areas that need it without her having to lay on her stomach or put unnecessary pressure on any changing or already tender areas. Additionally, instead of laying flat on her back, the pregnant woman will also be supported with a wedge or multiple pillows under her head to prop her more upright in order to help her breathe more easily and be more comfortable. Now, there does exist a table that has a hole cut out of the middle of the table, so the pregnant woman could lay face down with her belly in the hole. I, nor any other prenatal massage experts, are fans of this type of table. It is not the best for providing proper support and can actually cause more harm than good. I explain why and speak about this in great detail in my article, “Holes are for donuts, not massage tables”. The massage itself
A Prenatal massage is focused on taking away aches, pains, and stress just like a regular massage, but we do change a few things up. First of all, we focus on slightly different muscle groups such as the broad ligament which supports the growing belly and attaches to the low back, plus the low back and hips - normally, the most troubled areas. Focus is also put on the mid-back and shoulders because as the lower body changes in shape, the upper body and shoulders also pull and move which can affect the neck and wrists. There is less deep, rough massage work and more long gliding strokes to keep fluids moving and relax the body gently without 'digging in'. Deep, heavy pressure could risk the chance of bruising, which is a possibility due to the body’s increased blood flow. Another big difference is how we work with the legs. Massage on the legs is usually a lighter, drainage style massage because the legs carry so much weight and gravity pulls everything down. There is absolutely no deep work done to the legs to reduce the potential of blood clots and bruises, but gentle massage on the legs and feet, especially to help relieve calf cramps should be fine if done by a professional. Also any kind of percussion or chopping/pounding massage strokes are not done at any time, again, to avoid the chance of bruises. Overall though, a prenatal massage will still cover all the areas of the body that need the help, just in a different order and with a slightly different focus.
So as you can see, if one is familiar with the great benefits of massage, pregnancy doesn't change those benefits. There aren't many differences between a prenatal and regular massage, but there should be a few differences beyond price and extra pillows. Both the propping and the focus of the massage should be a little different, and a few additional health considerations should be taken into account. Nonetheless, even while pregnant, a full body massage is still possible, especially during a time when it is most needed.