If you have received any massage during pregnancy, no convincing needs to be done about the rich body and mind benefits of this treatment. But what about after your baby is born? Pregnancy changes the body so much through the gestation period and after the child is born, the birthing parent’s body now belongs to them again- with a lot of changes. The purpose of postpartum massage is to help the birthing parent’s body recover from carrying and birthing a baby, and can be just as important as prenatal massage.
Besides providing a quicker recovery in general, postpartum massage has a lot of specific benefits:
Stress reduction and relaxation: Relaxing muscles and providing an increase in full body circulation- whether it’s deep work to break up knots or more gentle work to soften tissue, no massage modalities are ineffective. Anxiety and depression respond rapidly to bodywork. About two-thirds of birthing parents experience temporary blues while adjusting to new hormones, new responsibilities, and frustrations, so this is a great treatment.
Pain relief: 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.
Hormone regulation: 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. Massage also increases naturally occurring biochemicals that fight depression (dopamine and serotonin) and cardiovascular problems (norepinephrine), supporting the birthing parent with the challenges of parenthood.
Decreased swelling: 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.
Better Zzzzzzs: After grueling labor and delivery, around-the-clock care is required for a newborn. 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. Arranging some help to get regular massages for better rest and sleep can be extremely helpful.
Improving breastfeeding: Massage therapy relaxes the body, increasing circulation and milk production. Studies show that massage increases prolactin levels, a lactation hormone.
Relaxation in the chest muscles opens the shoulders and improves lactation.
A question I often get from clients seeking postpartum massage is, “When can I start?” The answer is: whenever you are ready! A part of postpartum massage is accommodating the client’s needs with positioning, pillows, and towels as needed.
The other question I get most is, “can I bring my baby?” If you are working with me (Rielle LMT), absolutely. Newborns usually sleep a lot and therefore it’s easy to adjust the routine to your newborn, if needed (breastfeeding, etc.) If you are working with another therapist, it’s best to call ahead and ask if they will allow it.
My hope for western medicine is for prenatal and postpartum massage to be a no-brainer part of the average care plan for pregnancy, but unfortunately we are not there yet. Some clients I’ve talked to who are pregnant even, don’t know that postpartum work exists or the benefits of the work, but now you know- so spread the word.
Rielle Gordon, LMT
Osborne, Carole. (2012). Pre- and Perinatal Massage Therapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Prenatal, Labor, and Postpartum Practice, 2nd Edition, Wolters Klower