By Dr. Neil Runyon
Numerous studies have demonstrated that prenatal massage therapy reduces anxiety, decreases symptoms of depression, results in better sleep, relieves muscle tension and joint pain, and improves labor outcomes and newborn health. While most everyone benefits from a single session, the effects of massage therapy are progressive, and it is at its most effective when received on a regular basis. It is best viewed not as an indulgence, but as part of an overall strategy of wellness during the evolution of the pregnancy. Here is a practical approach to finding a massage therapist and what to expect while going through the process:
The first step for expectant moms in seeking relief for common prenatal ailments is finding a massage therapist that is right for her. It is highly recommended that the massage therapist have additional training and certification in prenatal work because certified prenatal massage therapists are trained in specific techniques for treating the hormonal and bio-mechanic challenges of each trimester, as well as in labor and postpartum. Certified practitioners will also work with their clients on issues like posture and breathing. Pregnant moms should consult with obstetricians, midwives and doulas first to ensure they’re healthy enough for massage therapy and ask for recommendations. Still, finding a licensed massage therapist certified in prenatal massage can be a matter of word of mouth as previous client recommendation is very valuable.
Beyond morning sickness, other common complications or challenges during the nine-month pregnancy can include back-pain, sciatica, swelling and sore muscles, all of which can be addressed by prenatal massage. During the first trimester, the primary goal of massage therapy is relaxation and circulation. Moving blood and lymph moves oxygen and nutrients where they’re needed to increase blood flow to the placenta. Likewise, massage therapy speeds the elimination of toxins and excess fluids and helps boost immunity. It is important to note that the first trimester of pregnancy carries the greatest risk of miscarriage, making it doubly important to consult with your healthcare provider before proceeding with massage as an alternative therapy.
As the second semester gets underway, the increased weight of the baby translates into greater demands on the musculoskeletal system. Relieving backaches and reducing muscle spasms and leg cramping is a primary goal. During this trimester, the therapist will typically work on the client in side-lying position with appropriate adjusting to relieve pressure on nerves and arteries supplying blood and oxygen to the fetus.
The third trimester presents greater challenges. As organs are shifted and pressure is increased due to the rapid weight gain and size of the fetus, discomfort increases as does the stress and anxiety of impending delivery and parenthood. Pain relief and relaxation are the goal at this stage and the therapist works to help prepare the mother’s body for delivery.
Once the baby has been delivered, post-partum massage therapy can be an important part of wellness. It reduces stress and provides much needed relaxation to new parents adjusting to the new challenges before them such as nurturing and caring for an infant child. Massage therapy for the new mother in this period helps speed along the healing process and is a great help in realigning the body as it returns to its normal state.
Neil Runyon, LMT, is a New York State-licensed massage therapist and graduate of the prestigious Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences in New York. His integrative, holistic approach to massage incorporates Swedish relaxation, deep tissue, myofascial release, trigger-point therapy and neuromuscular techniques.
Runyon, whose practice is located in the heart of Carnegie Hill on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is becoming a sought after “concierge therapist.” While his interest is in helping patients with depression and other mood disorders, he offers professional massage therapy services in “at-home” settings to those seeking relief from the stress, aches, and pains of daily life, and those who seek to build resilience and a greater sense of balance and well-being. Runyon is also on staff at Back To Sports Physical Therapy at the 92nd St Y and part of the Hospital For Special Surgery (HSS) rehabilitation network. He can be reached at [email protected].