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Pregnancy Massage: A Guide for Couples

An aching back, cramping legs, feet so swollen it feels like you’re walking on bricks … pregnancy can make you sore all over. Looking for relief? Grab your partner and try some simple massage techniques that can ease painful pregnancy trouble spots.

Finding the Right Position—Sideline Style!

Sometimes, finding relief from your aching body is a matter getting into the right position, explains Lindsay MacInnis, a certified massage specialist who teaches couples massage for pregnancy at The Mommy Spa in Los Gatos, California.

MacInnis recommends a six-pillow strategy to position yourself correctly for massage. Place two large pillows in an upside-down V, then lie on your side with your armpit resting where the pillows intersect. Adjust the pillows to support your tummy and back comfortably. Have your partner prop two pillows under your head. Your bottom leg should be straight on the floor, while the top leg should bend at the knee and be supported with the remaining two pillows.

In this sideline position, with your spine straightened and your hips supported, you might notice an immediate feeling of relief, explains Susanrachel Condon, a licensed massage therapist and certified nurse midwife who practices in New York City and created the DVD Partners in Pregnancy – Hands-on Preparation for Labor. “In this position, with her head propped up and space created between her head and her shoulders, it’s easier for the woman to breathe,” says Condon.

Techniques for the Back and Buttocks

Once you’re in the proper position and breathing a bit easier, work your back and gluteal muscles, which bear the brunt of the weight and strain of your burgeoning belly.

Julie Howell, a neuromuscular therapist with nine years of experience treating pregnant women at her Pregnancy Massage Center in Atlanta, Georgia, explains the Raindrop Technique for relieving lower back pain: Have your partner use a soft fist, not clenched, and run his knuckles in a curve starting at your neck and gradually going down your back (not on your spine) to the hips, curve away from the spine and back up in the direction of the neck, but only a third of the way until your partner reaches the base of the ribs near the spine.

“The bottom curve motion creates the bottom of the ‘raindrop,’ and the end point at the ribs and spine create the top of the ‘raindrop,’” explains Howell. Repeat this motion several times.

To ease strain in your bottom, have your partner use a soft fist and press directly on top of your sacrum, which is the bone at the base of your spine between your hips. Make sure that your partner is pressing in the middle of the sacrum and not going down further onto the coccyx. Gently have your partner press in and down, advises Howell, slightly tilting your pelvis, loosening the muscles that support your hips. “Let the woman guide [the partner] by her comfort levels,” she says.

Massage for the Legs

Your hard-working legs need some attention too. In the sideline position, or even sitting down with your legs elevated, have your partner gently rub the outer part of your leg. Your partner can take his loose fist and do long, gentle strokes along the outside of your thighs and calves or smaller, circular motions starting at your foot and going toward your bottom.

Two important points about massage for legs: First, your partner’s goal is to increase your blood circulation and reduce swelling, so he should always be massaging toward the heart. MacInnis compares it with a congested traffic jam that you’re trying to ease. “You want to keep the traffic headed north, toward the heart,” says MacInnis. “This will help reduce swelling.”

Second, you should not do any massage work on the inner thighs or “deep” massage work on the legs. As MacInnis explains, during pregnancy, the blood tends to clot more easily in preparation for childbirth. Clots can form in the inner legs and be dislodged through aggressive massage—an extremely dangerous and potentially fatal problem.

Relief for Hands and Feet

Once your back is feeling better and your legs more relaxed, your partner can use massage to reduce swelling in your hands and feet. As with leg massage, your partner’s goal should be to get your blood circulating, moving fluid away from your toes, fingers, hands, and ankles. Again, your partner should always begin massaging at the end of the fingers and toes and work toward the center of your body, or the heart. “This can definitely help ease swelling,” says Condon. “For those sore legs, use circular motions to push fluids out of the feet and back into the body.”

Drink plenty of water after your massage, advises MacInnis. Hydrating your body will also help reduce swelling.

TV-Watching Massage Techniques

Your massage doesn’t have to be an event. Keep your partner interested in massage by making it easy and convenient. This simple technique can be done while watching TV, with you sitting on a hardback chair against the wall. Your partner sits on the floor in front of you leaning his back against your knees. According to Howell, this brings comfort to your lower back and pelvis.

Karen Sprung, director of the Red Lane Spa at the Royal Plantation resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, suggests the 10-for-10 rule: Tell your partner that you’ll give him 10 minutes of massage for every 10 that he gives you. While you’re watching TV, have your partner gently rub your back, knead your shoulders, or simply brush your hair.

Alternatives to Massage

If you’re nauseated or feeling uncomfortable, wait until you’re feeling better for your massage. Instead, try cuddling with your partner. “Holding [your pregnant partner] and doing something simple like stroking her scalp can make a huge difference,” says Condon. “There is a healing power in touch.”

Another alternative might be taking a walk together. “Walking is probably the best activity to keep circulation going, while still being able to have some quality time together and just chat,” says Sprung. “Top off the walk with a nice warm bath and a cool, refreshing fruit drink served in a candlelit bathroom, with music to soothe both the mother and the baby, and that can be just as beneficial.”

Taking Proper Precautions

  • Most massage therapists suggest waiting until your second and third trimester to begin massages.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider before attempting any massage techniques at home. If you have a high-risk pregnancy, massage might be harmful.
  • Your massage can last from just a few minutes to an hour. Shorter massages, however, might encourage your partner to give them more frequently.
  • If at any time you experience discomfort, tenderness, or light-headedness, stop the massage.
  • Each of the massage therapists pointed out that they do not normally use any oils in their practice simply because women are especially sensitive to smells during pregnancy and don’t enjoy the odors. You should avoid essential oils too unless you check with your healthcare provider first, since some oils are unsafe during pregnancy.

Finding a Professional Massage Therapist

Ask your healthcare provider to recommend a massage therapist, or look for a certified massage therapist in your area who specializes in treating pregnant patients. Most massage therapists will allow your partner to sit in on your massage and will give you pointers about how to do techniques at home. Many therapists also offer classes for couples.

Massage is an easy way to bring you relief from pregnancy aches and pains. Better yet, learning how to relax with your partner’s assistance will help you learn together what might make you more comfortable while you’re in labor — and that is a relief!

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