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Massage In Pregnancy

Learn techniques to use touch and massage in pregnancy and labor. Pregnancy massage is comforting and also helps women stay focused during childbirth.

essential oil for massage

Pregnancy Massage

There is nothing as comforting as human touch to another person. Skin to skin contact communicates a warm, caring presence. In addition, massage harnesses the power of human touch with soothing strokes that ease muscle tension and stimulate skin receptors.

Massage in pregnancy has a number of benefits for expectant mothers. It reduces muscular aches and pains, decreases swelling, increases relaxation, stimulates blood flow and increases endorphins.

Some women enjoy the luxury of paying a perinatal massage therapist, and some have felt it was really more of a necessity than a luxury. Others prefer the soothing touch of their own loved one massaging them. Either way, massage is an invaluable tool for pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period.

Labor Massage

Many mothers are surprised to learn that the massage in pregnancy is also an effective technique to use during labor. When surveyed, 75% of pregnant women indicated massage as the most effective comfort technique for them.

A 2002 study compared a group that had massage in labor with a control group that did not. Nurses rated pain levels in both groups, and gave significant lower pain ratings to the women who had massage.

Correspondingly, 87% of the mothers in that study rated the massage as helpful for pain relief. No studies were found evaluating the effect of massage on length of labor or contraction enhancement. Since touch can decrease anxiety, and anxiety can hinder the labor process, it may be possible that touch or massage may have a labor-enhancing effect if an anxious woman is experiencing labor dystocia.

Massage Techniques

While women like massage and it is a safe and comforting technique, one problem with it is that many partners do not feel comfortable and experienced giving massages.

However, it is relatively simple to use focused massage techniques. A focused massage is a repetitive motion on one part of the body.

Back Massage

While any part of the body can be massaged, pregnant women often like back massages best. A simple massage anyone can learn is to use the two hands to stroke up the middle of the back, and then use the hands to draw circles down the back on either side of the spine. This repetitive motion can be done over and over.

Some women prefer one, single large circle massage in the small of their back. This can be done at the end of this sequence:
  • Place the hands at the sacrum (end of the spine)
  • Stroke up with both hands on either side of spine
  • Draw circles with both hands on either side of spine moving downward
  • Use a large circle with one hand on top of the other in the small of the back
  • Repeat the circle three times
  • Place your hands at the sacrum and stroke up again.

Facial Massage

An easy facial massage can be done with the massager standing behind the mother, with her sitting on a chair or birth ball.

  • Using the pads of the fingers and the lower one-third of the fingers, place the hands so the fingers meet at the top of the nose, between the eyebrows.
  • Stroke gently outward, as if smoothing the skin.
  • When the fingers get to the hairline at the side of the face, return them to the center.
  • This time stroke outward again, but place the fingers about half an inch higher on the forehead.
  • Repeat the outward stroking motion, returning the hands to the center slightly higher with each stroke.
  • It should take five or six strokes to get to the top of the forehead.
  • When the last outward stroke at the top has been completed, use two fingers of each hand to draw four or five circles around the temples.
  • Then stroke inward at the level of the eyebrows until the fingers meet at the top of the nose.
  • Repeat the entire massage.

Hand Massage

Hand massages are also welcome by women in pregnancy and in labor. A three step massage can easily be done.

First Step: Fingers
  • Start at the base of the hand by the wrist, with the massager’s fingers on the palm side of her hand, and the thumb on the back of her hand.
  • Stroke down on the outside, pulling the mother’s small finger between the thumb and index finger of the massager’s hand.
  • Start at the wrist again, stroke down and this time pull down on the fourth finger.
  • Continue with all five fingers.
Second Step: Palms
The second part of the massage is a circular massage on the palms.
  • Hold the mothers hand palm side up. Both of the massagers thumbs should be on her palm.
  • Trace one circle with one of the massager’s thumbs, then another with the thumb of the opposite hands.
  • Do four or five circles with each thumb.
Third Step: Back of hand
The last part will be a massage of the back of her hands.
  • Hold her hand palm down in both of your hands.
  • Place one of your thumbs between the knuckles of the fourth and fifth fingers.
  • Trace a line upward between the fingers, stroking towards the wrist.
  • Follow that with the other thumb.
  • Do four to five strokes from each of the massager’s thumbs.
Repeat the three steps on the other hand.

Foot Massage In Pregnancy

The same massage done described above for the hands can also be done on the foot:
  • First part: Toes
  • Second part: Bottom of the foot
  • Third part: Back of the foot

Full Body Massage

A sequential massage is a full body massage, often done by a trained masseuse. It follows a specific sequence from head to toe.

Full body massage can be used for pregnancy or can be done in labor, though adaptations need to be made for the mother’s preferred position. Videos and books on full body massage in pregnancy are available.

A simple sequential massage sequence can be developed even by an untrained person using some of the focused massage techniques described above. Here is a simple sequence:
  • Facial massage
  • Neck and shoulder massage
  • Back Massage
  • Hand Massage
  • Foot Massage

Aromatherapy Massage Oil

The use of essential oils is an asset for both massage in pregnancy and during labor. Not only does the oil make the massage smoother, the mother can also benefit from the effects of Lavender, Jasmine, or Clary Sage discussed earlier. Her body would be absorbing it through the skin as well as through the nostrils, increasing its effectiveness. Information on essential oils in labor.

Using Massage in Pregnancy and Labor

Simple Massage

Practice using the simple massage technique listed above. It can be used as a focused massage (one area only) or sequential massage.

In addition to massage, some mothers use Shiatsu for labor induction or augmentation. With Shiatsu, accupressure points are stimulated for 30 seconds and then released. The pressure is repeated every three to five minutes for half an hour.

Learn More Massage Techniques

Mastering Pregnancy Massage

Director: Sean Riehl
If you are a massage therapist or doula, you might be interested in developing the perinatal massage skills taught in this video.

Massage for a Peaceful Pregnancy

Paperback Book
Author Gordon Inkeles
Step by step guide for birth workers as well as partners.

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By Karen Newell Copyright 2003 - 2012 Better Childbirth Outcomes - All Rights Reserved
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, USA