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An hour’s massage can do more for an expectant mother than promote relaxation and relieve stress. In addition to bringing tension levels back to plumb (thus saving the lives of fathers worldwide), massage has proven health benefits for baby, too.
“It lowers blood pressure and creates an overall sense of well-being, aiding in healthy development,” says Dr. Penn Joe, an OB-GYN at Memphis Obstetrics and Gynecological Association.
A good body work-over also combats edema, the swelling of joints caused by reduced circulation. Massage stimulates the soft tissue, reducing fluid collection in joints, promotes the removal of toxins through the body’s lymphatic system, and increases blood flow, carrying oxygen and nutrients to you and your baby.
The American Pregnancy Association conducted a 10-year study that found women who received bi-weekly massages for five weeks showed a reduction in the stress hormone levels of norepinephrine and cortisol. They also showed increased levels of dopamine and serotonin. (This could explain why, after a massage, I am much less “hormocidal” — a term I coined for when I want to slay my husband Walking Dead zombie-style for little or no reason.)
Use care the first trimester
Many therapists refuse to work on women during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. “There are no medically proven risks, but miscarriage occurs most commonly in the first trimester,” says Joe. When making an appointment, ask for a licensed therapist certified in prenatal massage, and be sure to disclose your condition. Many will go ahead with a session provided you bring a doctor’s note. Remember that every woman is different, and every pregnancy is different. So before you go, ask your OB if massage is right for you, particularly if you have a high-risk pregnancy or high blood pressure.
Savor the second trimester
James Delgadillo, LMT, owner of Massage - Memphis, has been revitalizing patients for six years and concentrates on pregnancy massage. Instead of the usual head-to-toe relaxation treatment, Delgadillo performs a more productive massage. His office is equipped with a special foam body cushion, a pyramid-esque apparatus with generous divots for belly and breasts, which at first looks rather intimidating. But once situated face down, the burden of carrying 20 extra pounds against the force of gravity dissolves. It’s like saying, “Here, hold this.” Most importantly, the position does not strain abdominal ligaments like a free-hanging belly or squish baby on a flat table.
“I focus on problem areas caused by the increased weight concentrated in the chest and lower abdomen. Tension builds up under the shoulder blades, in the lower back and along the ribcage,” says Delgadillo. While nurturing touch is still present from scalp to feet, this massage is more about relieving sciatic nerve pain. The most common source of back discomfort late in a healthy pregnancy falls around the tailbone, sometimes running down to mid-calf. As your uterus grows heavier, leg muscles tense and swell, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. The largest nerve in the body, it provides sensory ability to lower extremities. Some days my happy waddle more resembles a pirate’s limp as I drag my left leg behind me. Massage therapy offers relief by releasing muscle tension and reducing swelling.
Delgadillo offers a home remedy for sciatic pain. “Lean against the wall and put a tennis ball on the piriformis muscle, below the tailbone on the side that hurts. Roll it around for a few minutes, and that can hopefully give some relief.”
Trust the third trimester
Realizing I’d soon be sacrificing comfort until well after delivery, I cash in a shower gift certificate for Serenity Day Spa in Cordova. In the lounge, a pleasant fountain, cucumber spa water, and lavender aromatherapy set the tone. I lower myself into a fancy chair, support my lumbar on a decorative toss pillow, and indulge in the quiet.
Serenity has five licensed therapists certified in prenatal massage, and most rooms offer a “cut out” table. When the circle of padding is removed, an elastic band cross pattern prevents the belly from hanging freely. They offer scented or fragrance-free essential oils to moisturize taut skin. And as a full-service facility, they can also schedule a pedicure if you can no longer reach your toes.
After 36 weeks of pregnancy, an hour of soft waves mixed with classical music and a trained masseuse pampering my body eases the constant anticipation I feel, knowing baby is coming soon. For now, mommy is resting, taking slow, deep breaths — a well-earned calm before the storm.