Pregnancy often causes a variety of aches, pains, and occasionally unpleasant health conditions come along with the territory. It is fairly well known that prenatal massage therapy can help ease some of those common physical discomforts. Prenatal massage can improve blood circulation, reduce swelling, improve lymphatic fluid drainage, and relieve muscle, joint, and nerve pain; however, did you know that some of the lesser known benefits of massage during pregnancy can also extend past the prenatal period and have a positive effect on your labor and your newborn’s health, as well?
It’s true! Current research shows that massage therapy drastically decreases cortisol levels in pregnant subjects. Cortisol is a stress hormone. When our bodies are stressed, unfortunately our unborn babies are often stressed too. People who are depressed or stressed during pregnancy are more likely to experience preterm labor and infants with low birth weight. In the groups of people who received regular massage during their pregnancy, there was a decrease in excessive fetal activity, which indicates that the unborn baby’s stress decreased when the expectant parent’s did.
The reduction of cortisol in the pregnant person and baby as a result of prenatal massage had several significant benefits:
• The premature birth rate decreased by 75%.
• Low birth weight decreased by 80%.
• Depression and anxiety in pregnancy decreased.
• Postpartum depression rates decreased.
• Bonding between the birthing person and their infant was enhanced.
Massage during labor has also been shown to have several benefits:
• Back and leg pain was significantly decreased during phase 1 and 2 of labor.
• Length of labor was decreased by 3 hours on average.
• Less need for pain medication.
This is truly incredible information! To experience a much shorter and less painful birth is a huge advantage of receiving massage during labor, but how does it work?
There are several reasons massage is believed to have such a profound effect on labor duration and overall pain. The first is likely because of something known as the ‘gate theory’. When experiencing a massage, your brain receives the message that you are feeling pressure. Pressure messages travel to the brain more quickly than pain messages do, so when the message of pressure from the massage reaches your brain, the metaphorical “gate” is closed to the message of pain from labor. Another reason massage may decrease the length of labor and the amount of pain experienced is hormonal. Massage cause an increase of oxytocin, a hormone essential to labor, which promotes uterine contractions that dilate the cervix. Massage also produces endorphins which help to relieve pain and increase a sense of calm.
When stress hormones such as cortisol are reduced, and labor and pain relief hormones are increased, more optimal conditions for pregnancy and birth are created in the body. As a result of these important findings, we know that prenatal massage and massage during labor are proven to be immensely beneficial to both the expectant person and their infant.
To learn more or schedule an appointment with our licensed massage therapist specializing in prenatal massage, click here.
Alexandra Bravo, LMT, CLC
Owner, Bravo Birth DFW