Recently I massaged a woman who was only two weeks postpartum
My first thought was about her comfort and I offered her a breast cushion, my next thought was about precautions post pregnancy…
In my last post I wrote about prenatal massage and the changes experienced in pregnancy. Following child birth some of those same conditions still apply. Relaxin, the hormone that loosens ligaments is still present and can remain present in the body up to four months after discontinuing breast feeding, so her joints, especially the SI joints may still be causing her discomfort. The coagulating hormones that poses a risk for deep vein thrombosis during pregnancy may still be present for up to four weeks or more following child birth so deep tissue work is not advised during that time and specifically to be avoided on the back of her legs.
The client may be positioned prone (face down) at this time but if she has had a cesarean section it is advisable for her to wait until after the scars have healed and to speak with her physician before getting massage and to seek her doctors approval before having any abdominal massage work.
The following article by the American Pregnancy Association highlights the Many Benefits of postnatal massage
The Benefits Of Postpartum Massage
Postpartum massage has been shown to be effective for a quicker recovery and better health. Integration of maternal bodywork may add welcome value to your healing journey and transition to motherhood.
Relaxation and Stress Reduction
Massage relaxes muscles, increases circulation and lowers stress hormones, bringing relaxation and stress relief. All body systems appreciate treatment after nine months of change, culminating with the delivery of the greatest miracle in life.
Some women prefer lighter pampering massage while others enjoy deeper techniques to work out the knots. Adding myofascial release and craniosacral therapy reaches deeper into the body for more complete healing. Any of these massage styles will bring relaxation and stress reduction.
Anxiety and depression respond very well to skilled therapy. About two-thirds of new moms experience temporary postpartum blues related to hormonal changes, new responsibilities and adjustment frustrations. Emotional support and the other benefits of massage can help during this transition.
Postpartum depression is a more serious, longer-lasting condition that affects 10-15% of mothers. Studies show massage to be beneficial for treating postpartum depression. Don’t hesitate to consult healthcare providers for assistance, including a postpartum body worker.
Residual body aches from pregnancy are normal. Adding breastfeeding and childcare can intensify arm, shoulder and back pain. Massage is an effective holistic approach that relaxes muscles and relieves pain without medication. A skilled therapist may also resolve even associated numbness and tingling. Chronic or severe pain may require multiple sessions for resolution.
Massage greatly improves postpartum hormone balance. Estrogen and progesterone hormone levels are very high during pregnancy and decrease after delivery. Prolactin and oxytocin hormone levels rise to facilitate breastfeeding. Studies indicate that massage reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Certain essential oils may also bring hormone and mood balance.
Massage also reduces naturally occurring biochemicals associated with depression (dopamine and serotonin) and cardiovascular problems (norepinephrine), supporting Mom with the challenges of motherhood.
Body fluids need to find balance after pregnancy, in which there was an increase of about 50% in fluid volume. Massage increases circulation and lymphatic drainage to facilitate elimination of excess fluids and waste products. Tissue stimulation assists your body to shift water to the right places.
Swelling is also affected by hormones, which go through major changes after delivery. Massage helps hormone regulation, which also decreases swelling (see Hormone Regulation). Continue your high fluid intake for healing and lactation, even though you may still have swelling.
Most new moms feel exhausted after labor and delivery, complicated with around-the-clock baby care. Massage will ease the fatigue, promote relaxation and assist with sleep. Studies have shown an increase in delta brain waves (those that accompany deep sleep) with massage therapy.
That is why it is very common to fall asleep during a massage. Getting enough sleep is key to postpartum recovery. Everything improves when you feel rested! Arrange some help and get regular massages for better rest and sleep. One study correlated better sleep with losing the baby fat on the tummy!
Breastfeeding is a beautiful gift to your newborn, but can also be a challenge for some moms. Massage therapy relaxes the body, increases circulation and increases milk production. Studies show that massage increases prolactin levels, a lactation hormone.
Relaxation in the chest muscles opens the shoulders and improves lactation. New research indicates that breast massage helps relieve breast pain, decreases breast milk sodium and improves newborn suckling. Consult with your therapist about this service as work directly on the breasts may not be legal in some areas.
Her level of comfort and tolerance are as much a concern post pregnancy as they were when she was pregnant.
If at any time she feels uncomfortable with the position, pressure, or duration of the massage be prepared to make accommodations for her.
Her breasts may be tender, swollen, or engorged with milk and it is possible that she may experience a let down of her milk (leaking) during the massage. There is no risk associated with contact with breast milk.
She may be exhausted and sleep soundly through the massage, allow her to fully relax and enjoy the experience.