The Benefits of Massage for Mother and Baby

Gone are the days of the "massage parlor" mentality when referring to this wonderful form of healing arts. Massage is coming into the mainstream. Health experts are finding through research the many benefits of massage. The queen of touch research is Tiffany Field, Ph.D. Dr. Field is arguably responsible for more clinical research on touch and massage therapy than anyone. She receives a lot of funding for her research, but Johnson & Johnson’sTM is her largest supporter in helping her establish the Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami. Dr. Fields was also consulted for the article, "The Magic of Touch: Massage’s Healing Powers Make It Serious Medicine," in Life magazine (August 1997).

Through Dr. Field’s research, studies reveal that massage benefits all people from infants to the elderly. This article will address the first time expectant couple and how massage can help them and their baby ease into the natural process of birth.

Massage helps the expectant mother by easing the load on the heart and keeping the blood pressure in check, improving the lymphatic and circulatory systems to help control the onslaught of varicose veins, and relieving depression or anxiety caused by hormonal changes. Massage remedies many of the normal discomforts experienced during pregnancy such as backaches, stiff neck, leg cramps, headaches, edema, round ligament pain, sciatica, and swollen ankles and feet. Benefits of massage for the pregnant woman include increased blood circulation, which provides more oxygen and nutrients to both mother and fetus.

This means greater vitality for the mother and better nourishment for the unborn child. Massage stimulates glandular secretions which help to stabilize hormone levels. It also soothes and relaxes the nervous system by releasing endorphins into the mother’s body. As a result, the mommy-to-be will go to sleep more easily and more deeply. The overall well-being is improved. Massage during pregnancy is of the utmost importance and very beneficial for the mother and for the fetus.

Speaking of the fetus, once your baby arrives, he or she will continue to benefit from regular massage. From the moment of birth, the new baby needs gentle touches, soothing voices, and a calm environment. Touch is a powerful sense we are born with and need until we die. More than food the baby will want the warm touch of its care givers. In one research study, baby monkeys separated from their mothers preferred to cling to a wire form with fake fur instead of eating.

When her daughter was born a month premature Dr. Field found herself stroking her baby. In 1985, Dr. Field divided a sample of forty healthy “preemies” in a neonatal intensive care unit into stimulation and control groups to test the impact of massage. The results of the massage group were a 47 percent weight gain, greater responsiveness, and a 6-day earlier discharge from the hospital at a cost savings ($3,000 per baby, $10,000 in today’s dollars). Follow-up studies eight months later showed a continued advantage in weight as well as in mental and motor development. Comparable results also have appeared in studies with cocaine-exposed and HIV-exposed newborns. Another group, full-term infants of depressed mothers, experienced greater daily weight gain, better sleep habits, less fussiness, and overall behavior improvement. As you can see, massaging your infant can relieve a multitude of discomforts.

Finally, massaging your infant is a great way to bond with your angel and a great way for the new father to learn to touch his baby in a comforting, nurturing, loving way.

Dad can benefit by receiving a massage or by giving the "gift" of massage to his partner. Daddy-to-be has worries that may be overlooked such as finances, his performance during labor, and the health of his future child, just to name a few. Everyone is so busy focusing on the mother that the expectant partner fades into the background. Receiving massage can help relieve his stress and help him relax.

The expectant father can also benefit from giving his partner a loving massage. It will help him feel a part of the pregnancy when he can touch his partner in a comforting way. Massaging his partner is a way for him to acknowledge her discomfort and to help her feel better. It is also a way for him to get used to touching his pregnant partner’s pregnant body. Some men do not really touch their partner during the nine months, (sex is one thing, touch is another), and then they find themselves in the birthing room feeling very inadequate about their partner’s body and may find themselves unable to do anything more than rub her back to the point of irritation!

Massaging his partner during the pregnancy helps him to learn that there are other regions of the body that respond to massage. During labor, the mother may tire of having counter pressure to her back but she may enjoy her hands or feet being massaged in between contractions. As you can see, the benefits of massage are vast, and who needs massage more than the expectant parents-to-be?

When receiving massage during pregnancy, it is important to find a Certified Massage Therapist who is also certified in pregnancy massage. A therapist certified in working with pregnant clients has furthered their knowledge of massage by studying the techniques applied to pregnant women and has studied in-depth the process of pregnancy, labor, birth, and the postpartum period.

There are many factors to be considered before massaging expectant women and a pregnancy massage therapist will know what to look for. Massage is a wonderful way for the new family to bond!

Editorial provided by Chris Prince, CMT, MA; owner of Mother Goose Massage LLC in St. Louis, Missouri, specializing in massage for pregnant and non-pregnant women and offers private instruction on infant massage.