The “childbearing year”? You bet. From the moment of conception, through delivery and into the first twelve weeks or so, a woman’s body is going through constant, significant change, 24/7. The obvious changes aren’t visible for the first several months to the outside viewer, but to she who is pregnant it is obvious almost immediately.
The changes are hormonal, structural and emotional. We are geared as women to be completely connected to the child from the moment we feel them move in our bellies. Hormonal changes allow our bodies flex and expand in order for us to be able to still balance on our two legs, as well as preparing us for delivery and, even for those who choose not to, for milk production. Regardless of how we feel about it, our bodies have been taken over by an alien being who is the primary concern of our homeostatic balance.
Pregnancy massage is geared to help to maintain tone, balance and overall comfort as the body tries to deal with the constantly changing structure. It is especially excellent for those with back pain, neck and shoulder pain, with water retention and joint swelling. As with other times of life, reducing the stress on the body enhances overall health and wellbeing, in this case for both the mother and baby.
Post partum massage is geared to releasing the stresses the body has dealt with carrying and delivering the baby. Often women find that they recover from the pregnancy fast than they did without massage and are surprised at how quickly they feel the therapeutic effects. This is achieved simply by stimulating the nervous system with touch, re-engaging the abdominal musculature through myo-fascial release and stretching and soothing the parts of the body that were bound up by the growth of the uterus with the baby.
There is one more piece of the post partum picture that is often neglected and that is that the hour that the new mom is on the table is the only hour that is just hers and hers alone. Each pregnancy is different, each delivery is different, each kid is different, as is each recovery. It doesn’t matter how many times a woman has given birth, with each child from the first to the last, immediately post partum she is a new mom.
Included in Bodywork for the Childbearing YearTM is infant massage. Just like the mom’s body gets squished around by the growing uterus, so does the baby. It starts off pretty comfy but by the time he or she is out, there is not a lot of room in there. It’s not all that different from trying to fit yourself into an economy seat on an airplane and we all know how we feel when we get out from one of those. Massage is a tremendous tool in helping the baby feel more comfortable from the start.
More important, though, to the baby’s overall growth is the immediate effect of touch. Studies show that touch is critical to their development both physically and intellectually. When that touch is provided in a massage type modality, one is feeling for places that might be stiff or tight, as well as those that might be slightly atrophied. As a therapist one becomes in tune to what is that baby’s “normal” achieving a base line that helps in getting a sense of when the baby is fine and when it is not.
Because of the beneficial effects of touch and the information one gets as a therapist, infant massage is taught to parents who want to be able to do everything they can to help their children grow. Interestingly, parents who use massage as a tool with their children tend to have touch be a basic component of positive communication, something that carries over into the child’s older years, even as the dread teenagers they will become. Again, because we know what our children’s base line wellness feels like, we can often feel their shifts and help them (and ourselves) through them.
For many, pregnancy is a time of delight and joy. Those of us who fall into that category feel great, love the body changes, are totally psyched about the pending parenthood. For these women massage is a part of their overall wellness program and helps them feel even better than they did before.
For others pregnancy can be a time a terrible stress and the effects of the stress can often show up as pain in the body. Many women feel dreadful in the first few months of pregnancy, something that is particularly hard to deal with if there are other children to take care of. For some women it is an unexpected change requiring lots of figuring out how to make it all work. Sadly, for some women it is burden. In all of these situations, by unburdening the physical manifestations of the stress, even just a little bit can completely change how they feel at least for a little while. Again, like in the post partum phase of the childbearing year, that hour on the massage table is the mom’s alone and can be like a battery recharge, something we all need at one point or another.
Mostly, pregnancy, post partum and infant massage are a tremendous gift. A simple way to keep feeling as well as possible, massage can allow the new mom to go into parenting with energy, joy, and support.