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By Cristen Hoyle, Registered Massage Therapist
Best prenatal massage for my clients… how to make it happen…
Prenatal massage for expecting mothers has been probably some of my most rewarding treatments when I think back on all the treatments I’ve provided as a registered massage therapist in North York. There is nothing quite like the after–massage, glowing face of a happy and more comfortable Mom-to-be. Lower back aches, swelling in the hands and feet, hip and pelvis discomfort and stress tension are all very common in expectant mothers. I have developed a treatment plan to address all of these discomforts and more.
How prenatal massage would work through the trimesters
Often, I am asked this question how prenatal massage would work through the trimesters and with a changing body. My answer is; proper positioning of the expecting mom. My go to for positioning in the first and second trimester has always been what I affectionately refer to as ‘Pillow Mountain’. I start with my client face down on the massage table with a pillow or two under their bust and a pillow or two under their hips. This provides a dip but still enough support for a small baby bump and allows me to work with more concentration on the low back. This prone position gives me more even access to muscles in the low back, Gluteals and hips and, unlike side-laying, I do not have to have my client change positions as often. This way I can also more accurately assess and compare bi-laterally (between left and right side of the body).
What is a Pregnancy Pillow?
Recently, I have had a new addition to my massage practice in CF Shops at Don Mills – The Pregnancy Pillow! This pillow is a game changer for prenatal massage. Just like ‘Pillow Mountain’ it allows even access across the back while the expectant mother gets to lay comfortable and supported by cushioning bolsters which have cut-outs for the belly and for the breasts. My prenatal clients are now comfortable enough lying face down for an entire treatment of the back, neck, shoulder legs and – of course – their feet. Many women have commented on how nice it is just to lay face down after not be able to do so for their pregnancy thus far. Imagine feeling relief and comfort even before the massage therapist beings their treatment.
Is prenatal massage safe?
Experience and knowledge of the massage therapists makes all the difference. Although the Pregnancy Pillow and ‘Pillow Moutain’ are my preferred positioning, they are not always right for every client. If there is any discomfort or if the fear of trying this new position is going to outweigh the benefits of the massage we have other options. Traditionally, we are taught that no more than 15min of a prenatal treatment during late 2nd to 3rd trimester should be spent in a supine (laying on your back) position. This is due to the concern that the abdominal aorta – the main blood supply to the developing baby – could be compromised if the weight of the baby is pressing down on it. We navigate this potential risk by recommending a pillow under only the right hip to shift the weight of the baby slightly to allow proper circulation when fully reclined. I find this information is lightly covered in most prenatal and birth prep courses and leaves a mother feeling like they can’t lay on their back but without knowing exactly why. This portion of the treatment allows for symmetrical access to the lymphatic system for the upper extremities and allows for better relief when an expectant mother is experiencing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (another common prenatal condition).
Finally, the most common position of a prenatal treatment is side-laying. I usually give my clients two pillows under the head and neck and one pillow to hug which evens out the shoulders. One pillow is placed between the knees and lower legs which helps to even the hips and prevent discomfort when the knees are stacked. I have given many great prenatal treatments in this position and it is ideal for relief of sciatic pain and SI joint issues. Plus expecting mom can still get a pretty good foot massage this way.
Post-Partum massage as important as prenatal
Laying supine is also a great treatment for post-partum recovery and almost every new mother I have treated is in need of a neck and shoulder massage from looking down at their new born in admiration for hours on end. When I meet a newborn caregiver is when I like to demonstrate some effective feeding positions (bottle or breast) and ideas to make all those diaper changes more comfortable for the caregivers.
For any new or existing prenatal clients, I am advising them to try the massage pillow. I have been able to employ it several times since its arrival in our clinic and have had nothing but positive feedback.
Alternatives to Pregnancy pillow for home
Mothers often asked for the product information thinking they might like to have one in their home. I teach my clients how to build their own Pillow Mountain at home, instead. For any expectant parent adjusting to a changing body and preparing for a big change in life can be stressful. I would like to think talking to my clients who like to share has helped them and their partners come up with ideas to help cope. My experience as a volunteer Doula when I have been lucky enough to be invited into several labour and delivery rooms, in addition to my own personal experience as a mother has given me a vast perspective on pre-natal and post-partum needs for mothers and caregivers.
Hope this entry has given some insight into the many ways a registered massage therapist can help to manage the complications of pregnancy. As always, with any treatment, my client’s comfort and safety come first. If you are feeling the aches and pains of pregnancy or if it feels like your shoulders are riding extra high because of stress – you have found a valuable resource in our team of expert Physiotherapists, RMTs and Chiropractors. From each stage of expecting through all the ups and downs thereafter, we’ve got your back!