Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Massage During Pregnancy and Labor

Do you really need convincing to get a massage while pregnant? Didn’t think so! In addition to just feeling so darn good, researchers have identified a myriad of health benefits for both mama and baby from a good pregnancy massage. Sweet baby gets more oxygen and a surge of happy hormones (serotonin) from mama. Mama gets a decrease in stress hormones (cortisol). Swelling and muscle tension are reduced, and aches, pains, and restless leg can all be alleviated.

Smiling during active labor while my CST practitioner works on my back and my lumberjack of a husband stands by. No fairy dust or patchouli-encrusted unicorns were involved in this photo.

Here’s something you may not have heard. Under most states’ heading of massage therapy is a modality called CranioSacral Therapy (CST). Developed by Dr. John Upledger in the 1970’s, CST uses a mere 5 grams of pressure, about the weight of a nickel, to assist the body in self correction and healing. Yes… sounds like horse pucky. Trust me, my left-brained accountant self thought this was voodoo medicine when I first heard about it. All I could picture was some patchouli-encrusted hippy dancing around my energetic fields and throwing fairy dust on me, while charging $90 for the hour.

Why did I decide to try it out? To “prove” that it was bogus. I hate when I’m wrong.

My first session was when I was five months pregnant with my first child and had a wicked headache. The CST practitioner had me reclined face up, fully clothed, on her table. She ever so gently rested her hands on my feet, thighs, hips, ribs, shoulders, and then head to get a read on what my body needed. Then she immediately went to work resting one of her hands on my abdomen and the other on my tail-bone (sacrum). I was a little annoyed at this point because I had told her I was there to treat a headache, not have my hips worked on. While it felt like she was doing nothing, I noticed my headache slowly subsiding until it was gone. She then moved up to my head and chest and continued the same light work. Within minutes I was fast asleep only waking occasionally to the sound of my own snoring. When the session was done I didn’t really know what she did, but I did feel better all over and my headache was gone. Huh! Maybe I need to try this again.

Fast-forward to my second pregnancy, I decided make CST a regular part of my self-care. Not for any issue in particular, just because I remembered feeling like a better version of myself and thought I could tackle pregnancy difficulties head on.  I watched in amazement as my son moved from lying transverse to head-down during one session, and rotated from posterior to anterior during another… again with only a nickel’s weight worth of pressure. I had no issues with swelling in my legs, no headaches, and only minimal back pains during the 9 months.

When my CST practitioner asked if I’d be open to her working on me during labor I jumped at the opportunity. Let me just say that CST is the closest thing to an epidural I can imagine, and with no negative side effects to my baby or me. Each time she laid her hands on me, the pain of contractions seemed to be cut in half. Now I won’t talk your ear off about all of the details of my 19 hours of active labor fun, but I will say that my midwife documented that during the few brief hours that my CST practitioner went home to sleep, my labor slowed. As soon as the practitioner returned and started working again, my contractions sped up and labor progressed. CST was doing something.

Now I am not one of those lucky mamas who pops out babies like a Nerf gun. No no. I felt completely physically wrecked and was nearly bedridden for two weeks following my 8-pound daughter’s birth. That’s why I was gobsmacked that just four hours after birthing my 9-pound son, I was cleared to leave the birthing center and was able to walk out on my own with no complications. In the wise words of Keanu Reeves, “Whoa.”

I consider CranioSacral Therapy to be one of the best-kept secrets of the bodywork field and a HUGE benefit to pregnant and laboring women. After my experience I never want to labor again without CST and hope that other women get to experience the same!

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