A Touch of Comfort in Pregnancy
Prenatal massage is a ticket to relief
By: Charity Vogel
To a pregnant woman who’s feeling achy and blue, the list reads like a Promised Land:
- Reduced depression and anxiety.
- Relieved muscle aches and joint pain.
- Refreshed senses.
What could be the ticket to this sort of blessed relief from the discomforts of carrying a child?
Prenatal massage, if you believe its proponents.
All over the country and in Western New York, the trend is real: More and more pregnant women are becoming aware of prenatal massage as a tool to use during their pregnancies to keep stress, body aches and pain away.
Some even swear that it helps with labor itself.
Like Carol Kaminski. A Buffalo resident, Kaminski, who gave birth to Olivia Rose in February, was so worried about suffering worsened neck pain and stiffness during labor — an outgrowth of a chronic neck pain condition — that she went for prenatal massage sessions once or twice a month throughout her pregnancy.
She said she attributes her good experience during labor, in part, to those massages.
“I did get a lot of relief,” said Kaminski, who works as an MRI technologist. “It was preventative medicine, I felt. It was so important that I keep that pain at bay. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
Her massage therapist, Carrie Griffin-Owens, based in West Seneca, said that prenatal massages used to make up a small fraction of her work.
Now, she said, the massages are getting so popular that she does them frequently.
“A lot of women are desiring to have a more natural pregnancy,” said Griffin-Owens, a licensed massage therapist who practices at Lifetime Health Medical Group’s complementary-medicine office, and who is such a big believer in prenatal massage that she has received it herself during the course of her current pregnancy.
“It’s an awareness level. Women are seeing more information about it — and they’re less concerned about possible bad effects.”
Many women try massage for the first time while pregnant; others are massage regulars who simply decide to keep going while they are expecting a baby, said Griffin-Owens.
The massages have even become popular gifts for expectant mothers to receive from friends and at baby showers, she said.
Historically, women have received mixed messages — or even outright warnings — about the wisdom of using various alternative therapies, including massage, while pregnant.
But in recent years there has been a growing consensus that, as long as a woman checks with her general practitioner or OB-GYN first, there’s no reason to worry about any potential negatives from getting a prenatal massage. Some doctors still recommend that women not receive massages in the first trimester, because pregnant women in that trimester are at a higher risk of miscarriage overall.
Groups such as the American Pregnancy Association have said that women may consider prenatal massage as part of an effort for overall wellness during pregnancy.
How is prenatal massage done?
“The technique is really Swedish-based massage,” said Griffin- Owens, who earned a special certification in prenatal massage in 2004.
The woman patient typically lies on her side on a massage table with pillows cushioning her head, belly and between her knees, Griffin-Owens said. Massage tables built for pregnant women with cut- out holes for her stomach may be uncomfortable, she said, so she doesn’t use one in her office.
The massage focuses on areas where the woman is having pregnancy- related pain, including hip and leg joints, upper and lower back areas, and the neck and shoulders.
“The first thing most women talk about is the relaxation. Late in pregnancy, it’s hard for women to find a comfortable position,” said Griffin-Owens. “A lot of the women joke that they’d like to stay on the table and just go to sleep right there.”
These days, massage of all varieties is a growth industry in Western New York and across the state.
The last five years have seen high numbers of new licenses issued for massage therapists, including 1,207 new licenses in 2007, according to data from the state Education Department’s Office of the Professions.
In Erie County, 731 people held licenses as massage therapists in 2007, state data showed.
In Niagara County, the number was 170, and in Chautauqua County there were 64 licensed professionals, data showed.
No breakdown of the data was available to show how many of those massage therapists offer prenatal massage, state officials said, but they said that massage in general has become a boom segment of the health care field.
“Massage has become very, very important and popular as a health profession, around the country,” said Kathleen Doyle, executive secretary for the state board in massage therapy, located in Albany. “We have more people taking the exam each year. Last year we had at least 1,400 people taking our exam.”
Part of the reason for the growth in popularity is more public awareness of massage and its benefits, said Doyle.
The profession also fits in with an emphasis in the culture right now on wellness and alternative, natural therapies, she said.
“It’s a profession that deals with the holistic person, and that focuses on the ability of the individual to maintain their health and preserve their health,” Doyle said.
In her own case, Kaminski said she’s convinced the massage therapy played an important role in keeping her positive and healthy during pregnancy.
She recommends it, now, to other women she knows who are pregnant.
“I felt so relaxed after it,” she said. “I got some relief. That was so important — especially toward the end of my pregnancy