What is Prenatal Massage: A Massage Therapist’s Guide

Pregnant woman experiencing back pain that could be helped by prenatal massage

Prenatal massage is a kind of massage therapy that is specifically designed for pregnant bodies throughout all of the stages and growth phases of pregnancy. Adding prenatal massage to your client’s prenatal care routine may be just what they need to help them balance the chaos they are feeling both physically and mentally.

Massage therapy is a practice that many people have turned to as a safe and natural way to balance their stress while also helping them maintain various aspects of their physical health. If your client is pregnant, they may be wondering if a massage is still a safe and helpful option for them and their ever-changing body. Prenatal massage specifically helps those that are pregnant and in need of stress relief.

There is no denying that giving birth can be stressful. Finding a way to relieve your stress and maintain your physical health is now more imperative than ever. However, this is often easier said than done, particularly if you are someone who is pregnant. Let’s take a look at what prenatal massage actually is as well as examining the benefits of the practice.

What is Prenatal Massage?

Prenatal massage is a specific kind of manual manipulation therapy that you, as a massage therapist, should be specially trained in. It is an area of massage therapy dedicated to facilitating the comfort, health, and relaxation of people in various stages of pregnancy while actively considering common conditions and discomforts. It is important that you learn about how the body changes throughout each phase and transition of each trimester. This knowledge is important to help your clients to receive the maximum benefits of the experience, but also so that you know how to avoid accidental injury or creating unnecessary risk to your client’s health or the health of their pregnancy.

How is Prenatal Massage Different from Other Kinds of Massage?

Firstly, you may be wondering why pregnancy requires a different kind of massage therapy technique. Pregnant women are often able to carry on many of their daily activities without much adjustment to their routine. Many mothers-to-be can comfortably continue to perform daily activities such as exercise and work while pregnant without having to significantly alter their activities. What makes massage different?

During any massage there are several different body systems that are engaged. Different manual manipulation techniques can help stimulate the muscular system, joints and bones, the lymphatic system, the skin, deep and surface tissues, as well as stimulating the circulatory system in various areas of the body. Throughout the phases of pregnancy these systems are stressed and stimulated quite differently than they would normally be. Furthermore, these changes require you to make specific and strategic adjustments to help make sure that the massage is comfortable, effective, and safe for your client. Let’s explore a couple of the most important differences between a traditional massage and a prenatal massage.

Areas of Focus: Prenatal vs Traditional Massage

The areas of the body that you will focus on during your client’s prenatal therapy appointment will be determined based on how their specific body is experiencing pregnancy. Some women experience significant discomfort in their shoulders and chest as breast tissue swells and glands are activated. Others experience tremendous tension in their hips and lower back from the added weight of belly growth and blood weight during pregnancy. Discussing the way your client’s particular body is affected by the facilitation of fetal development will inform you about trouble areas that may need extra or adjusted attention.

A couple of the areas that have special precautions are the abdomen and the legs. These areas can also experience pain and discomfort in all phases of pregnancy, but the abdomen should be avoided for during the first trimester.  Deep pressure massage should be avoided for both areas during the entire pregnancy.  For the leg area, pressure should be light and the therapist should check for pitting edema first.  Also, the abdomen can be massaged using special techniques during the second and third trimesters, only with the permission of the mother. It is particularly important to make sure you are specifically trained in prenatal techniques, methods, and safety procedures.

Amount and Kind of Pressure Applied: Prenatal vs Traditional Massage

Arm yourself with many techniques and tools to help maximize the effects of massage on your client’s pregnant bodies. Every pregnancy is unique, even for those who have experienced pregnancy before. Each pregnancy physically presents differently based on a large number of physical and environmental factors, such as your client’s physical condition prior to pregnancy, their pregnancy hormone levels, the amount of personal and professional pressure in their life, the amount of physical activity they do, general stress, and their physical size.

Open communication about what your client is experiencing both mentally and physically is important for achieving the best results from a prenatal massage appointment. The kind of pain or discomfort they feel will help guide you in providing the maximum amount of relief. The location of pressure, the kinds of pressure, and the techniques used and even the mood they prefer during their massage will likely change from one appointment to the next, as their body grows and changes. They will have new sensitivities that develop while others will fade away fairly quickly. Being trained in pregnancy relief and support techniques will give you the knowledge and tools necessary to provide your client with all they need from a massage to feel comfortable, supported, and happy.

Positioning: Prenatal vs Traditional Massage

During a traditional massage appointment, a client will lay either face down or face up, based on what area is being focused on during various portions of the appointment. Lying face down allows you to apply even, downward pressure to various stress points and creates greater accessibility to large portions of the body. Lying face up can give similar advantages to the opposite side of the body. This flattened posture helps to support much of the linear direction and uniform pressure techniques used to manipulate tissues and maneuver knots in the muscle fibers. These ground-parallel positions also enhance your ability to more readily access various pressure points that can provide significant physical stress relief.

As you can imagine, lying face down with a pregnant belly isn’t really an option. Lying flat on one’s back can also cause added stress on the circulatory, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems. That additional blood and oxygen stress on a client can lead to dangerous light headedness and dizziness. You will train to work with clients positioned on their sides as well as in various seated positions that allow you to increase your access to the tender and sensitive areas of their growing pregnant body, while also prioritizing their safety. As a prenatal massage therapist, you will train to maintain the proper hand and finger pressures without the aid of gravity that typical flat and prone positioning provides.

What are the Benefits of Prenatal Massage?

There are many different benefits to prenatal massage. The most common benefits of prenatal massage include stress reduction, physical relief and support. Although there are many more benefits that include clearing out toxins from the body, increasing blood circulation, improvement in flexibility, improved sleep, immunity enhancement and finally, reduction of fatigue.

Stress Reduction

Even if your client isn’t experiencing a great deal of physical pain or discomfort during their pregnancy, taking a bit of time out to focus on their body and how they are feeling can have tremendous mental health benefits for them. As a prenatal massage therapist, certainly focus on relaxation and tension relief to help them avoid unhealthy stress build-up and to manage some of the anxieties they may encounter.

Physical Relief and Support

Firstly, discomfort and pain are the most common reasons for booking a prenatal massage appointment. The changes that the body experiences can be a rapid shock that stresses several different body systems all at once. But there is more to the physical benefits than simply confronting pain. Evaluating and massaging your client’s body throughout their pregnancy can be about general maintenance. It can help them avoid many physical pregnancy pitfalls most mothers-to-be experience by regularly tending to their body as it changes, rather than as problems occur. By paying special attention to different areas of their body and immediately addressing any issues that arise you can help them take care of knots and tension before they even become a significant problem.

Final Thoughts

Becoming a massage therapist is a rewarding career, and it can be even more rewarding helping pregnant women relieve stress, reduce pain and prepare for birth. Prenatal massage is an important part of any pregnancy and taking the time to learn everything you can about prenatal massage will make sure you can offer the best massage experience to every client you work with.

Want to Learn More?

Did this information about prenatal massage interest you? If you are interested in the healing powers of massage, you can begin your career in massage therapy at Minnesota School of Cosmetology. Our short-term massage therapy training program is designed to be completed in as little as 5 months with full time enrollment*. Our massage therapy training program is designed as a holistic program that will prepare students to focus on body mechanics of their clients as well as develop positive habits for the therapist. Together, those two areas will provide a foundation that can lead to longevity in the career field.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a massage therapist and starting a rewarding career in the massage industry.

*Completion time for this program is defined by 35 hours per week.

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