One of the things I have learned about pregnancy is that sometimes it hurts. It seems like every day I last less and less long in previously comfortable positions and what came with ease now comes with a huff and a puff. Unfortunately as the mom of a toddler, a self-employed business owner and frankly an adult, kicking back on the couch and indulging in Netflix for the next 5 months isn’t a feasible solution. I’ve also committed, as have many of my clients, to a healthy pregnancy and weight gain which requires movement and physical preparation. So how do I manage the pain while achieving these goals? I have many strategies but one of my favourite is regular pre-natal massage.
Regular therapeutic massage has multiple benefits for everyone, but those benefits are often magnified in the pregnant body. Registered massage therapy reduces muscle tension, improves circulation, corrects alignment and reduces stress on irritated joints. During this second pregnancy, it has become a survival strategy to keep me mobile while addressing my aches and pains. For those reasons I have been doing monthly prenatal massage.
Strangely, I often find myself convincing patients of the importance of massage as essential healthy maintenance rather than a mode of crisis management. Many expectant moms are willing to pay exorbitant amounts for the newest piece of baby gear but don’t invest in their bodies until it becomes absolutely necessary. Personally and professionally, I would rather identify small issues and keep them at bay than wait until I am utterly desperate for help. You wouldn’t skip oil changes and wait for the engine of your car to break down, so why should your body be any different?
When it comes to pregnant and post-natal clients, Heather Heaney is one of the best. I don’t just say that because she works with me, although that is why I chose her to be part of our team. I say that because she has over a decade of experience with medical populations. She has a particular interest in women’s health and specializes in techniques that are uniquely beneficial to expectant and new moms. Her warm demeanor makes clients instantly at ease when they might otherwise feel vulnerable. She is simply a fantastic massage therapist and absolutely lovely person.
In this interview, Heather explains the importance of prenatal massage and some of the techniques she offers to new moms.
How did you become involved in working with prenatal patients and what is the importance of massage to this community?
I always wanted to specialize in women’s health and have more women get involved with their own healthcare verses hand it over to the medical field.
When I was a student therapist I worked in the pregnancy clinic. I really enjoyed meeting all the women that I treated. I learned so much from them. We would discuss their aches and pains and their worries about what was going on with their bodies. It felt really great to help aid in some relaxation and to show them what they could do at home to stay as comfortable as possible. The more comfortable a pregnancy can be, the better shape women are in for birth and recovery.
Those experiences solidified for me that once I became an RMT I wanted to specialize and be active in women’s health.
What aspects of pregnancy do you take into account when doing a prenatal massage that might make it different from a regular massage?
Each pregnancy is very different. I take in consideration what trimester my clients are in.
Once three months have passed the client can no longer lay prone (on their stomach) and after four months we avoid lying flat on the back for prolonged periods of time.
I offer them a wedge where they can comfortably lay upright on their back. This allows me to treat the fronts of the legs, feet, arms and neck. When laying on their back a folded towel would be placed under the right hip so there is no chance of pressure to building on the Vena Cava (the large vein that carries blood back to the heart). They lay on their side where their back, hips and backs of their legs can be treated. A pillow is placed between the knees to elevate any pressure in the hip region.
Depending on the discomfort of the client, any part of the body can be more focused on.
During the second and third trimesters, women start to undergo significant body changes that affect their muscle tension, ligament length and biomechanics. What frequency would you suggest pregnant women have a massage to best manage these changing symptoms?
While moving into the later trimesters the ligaments become slack and unstable.
It is a contraindicated to apply lots of stretching in the treatment as the ligaments are already in a stretched position to accommodate the fetus.
It is best to not have the client in the supine position (laying on their back) for too long as it can become quite uncomfortable. I always have the client elevated when laying on their back as it can be very hard for the pregnant woman to breathe when lying flat. There is lots of added pressure on all the organs and laying on their back can compress the breathing.
Women can come for massage as often as they would like during their pregnancy. As long as there are no medical issues. If medical issues do arise then it is very important for the woman to ask their MD if they can continue with massage.
You offer the unique service of breast massage. Breast feeding is difficult for many new moms. I in particular suffered from excruciating blocked ducts and I really wish I had known such a massage existed at the time to help alleviate the pain. Can you describe which postnatal conditions can be treated by breast massage and how it can help?
Breast massage can be extremely beneficial to a lactating mother as there can many challenges and frustrations. The breast can become engorged, the ducts can become blocked or worse, women can get mastitis (an infection of the breast tissue). With any of these conditions the breast can become very tender and sore due to swelling.
Breast massage increases circulation and drainage. It helps to stabilize the breast tissue and give relief to any of the above symptoms.
To learn more about Heather and the services she offers, you can read her bio at www.rpmphysiotherapy.ca. She is available for massage at RPM Physiotherapy every Monday afternoon and can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.