• Elizabeth Hart, LMT

Advice from a Pregnant Massage Therapist

There is no denying that pregnancy, in all the glory of its amazing process, can really affect your day to day in difficult ways. Pregnancy truly is an incredible event; you’re growing a human!


But there will be days that you just don’t feel your best. From nausea, lack of sleep, cramping, hemorrhoids, headaches, back pain, etc. and now the added stress and dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pregnancy during this time can be stressful, scary, uncertain and confusing- on top of normal pregnancy symptoms.

I became pregnant right in the beginning of the pandemic. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some coping methods that have helped me during this crazy, wild, scary and amazing time.


The following articles highlight how Prenatal Massage, Breath-work, Yoga, Exercise and Stretching has helped me with sleep, stress reduction, pain management and headaches through my pregnancy.


Prenatal Massage

With increased protocols and policies in place, I highly recommend prenatal massage for pain reduction, decreasing stress and providing comfort. Please talk to you Doctor first- depending on your personal history, profession/public exposure, risk factors, etc, your Doctor may or may not recommend prenatal massage, especially during this current time of COVID-19.


If they approve, Prenatal Massage focuses on the special needs of the pregnant person as their body goes through physical and emotional changes during pregnancy. Massage can help decrease stress hormones, reduce muscle tension and headaches, help support quality sleep, among other aids.


You can read further on the benefits of receiving a massage from a certified prenatal massage therapist here. With permission from my OB/Gyn, at their recommendation of waiting until I was 10 weeks pregnant (because of COVID-19) and having increased PPE/Cleaning protocols in place, I have been receiving massage every 2-3 weeks.


I have found it has helped greatly with neck and shoulder tension, decreased the severity of headaches and has helped with lower back pain. The ligaments in your body naturally become softer and stretch to prepare you for labor, which puts strain on the joints of your lower back and pelvis- hence causing lower back pain as a common pregnancy symptom!


At the time of me writing this, I am in my 6th month or pregnancy, and we have resumed massage at Integrity Chiropractic due to the safety measures we have put in place, which go above and beyond many of the CDC guidelines to give me and other expecting mothers as much peace of mind as possible. You can read about them here.


Sleep During Pregnancy

Sleep is a necessity. It is our body’s time to heal and reset. During early pregnancy, levels of the hormone progesterone increase, and your metabolism is running high.


This can cause daytime sleepiness and fatigue- if you have the opportunity to nap, try to take advantage of it. But sometimes trying to go to sleep during your pregnancy can activate restless legs, back aches, frequent urination, heartburn, shortness of breath and anxiety.


I have followed these recommendations from The Mayo Clinic and have found them helpful when trying to both fall asleep and stay asleep:


Set the Scene to Encourage Sleep

  • A dark, quiet and relaxing environment. White noise can help drown out exterior noises and black out curtains can help reduce light pollution in your bedrooms.

  • A comfortable temperature.

  • Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day might improve your sleep health.

  • Remove electronic devices from your bedroom.

  • Preventing heartburn: Sleeping on your left side with your head elevated can ease heartburn symptoms at night. During the day, try eating small, frequent meals. Avoid eating three hours before bedtime.

  • Practice relaxation techniques:  Guided meditations, deep/focused breath-work or practicing a relaxing prenatal/restorative yoga sequence are possible techniques to try. Doing them before bedtime might be helpful.

  • Keep active. Regular physical activity and exercise during pregnancy may help you fall asleep more easily.


Supportive Sleep Pillows

My added suggestion would be to use pillows to prop yourself into the positions that are the most supportive and comfortable to you (which can change from day to day). I recommend this pregnancy pillow, due to being able to remove and rearrange sections for maximum comfort.


What is comfortable will change from night to night. Honestly, much of my pillow fort ends up on the floor by morning, but at least I am cozy while trying to fall asleep. That is half the battle, isn’t it?


Stress Reduction

There is no escaping it; stress is a part of our everyday life. From managing time, pressure from deadlines, to hitting the brakes to avoid an accident, our bodies are ready to activate the 'Fight or Flight' response.


However, when there's never any relief from stress, this sustained response can be problematic leading to headaches, elevated blood pressure, stomach problems, and difficulty sleeping.


Stress can also lead to developmental problems for the fetus such as ADHD and even impaired cognitive development. That’s why it’s so important that you keep chronic stress to a minimum, for your health and your baby’s health.

There are a variety of coping mechanisms for pregnant women to utilize which can effectively counteract the effects of stress. I have found breath-work, sleep and exercise to be the most effective stress-reducers that have worked for me during my pregnancy. Here are some tips/research supporting these methods:


Breath-Work

Concentrate on your breathing. Stress can have a significant effect on the quality of your breath. It can cause you to take shallower, shorter breaths, therefore decreasing oxygen in your body.


Shallow breathing causes your stress levels to rise even higher as your body reacts to the lack of oxygen. When you feel yourself getting stressed and your breathing is affected, try sitting or lying down, close your eyes, and take at least five deep breaths.


Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth while paying attention to the rise and fall of your chest. As you breathe, try to focus on slowing and deepening your breaths. If you need more than 5 breaths, keep going until you feel your body start to relax a bit.


I personally employ a yoga breathing technique called Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, or Alternate Nostril breathing.


Here is the process step by step:

  1. Sit in a comfortable seat and bring your right hand up close to your face. Fold down your pointer and middle finger, making what is in yoga called Mrigi Mudra (pictured here).

  2. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, then close the left nostril with your ring/little fingers. Release the thumb to open the right nostril and exhale slowly through the right nostril.

  3. Keep the right nostril open, inhale, then close it, and open and exhale slowly through the left. This is one cycle. Repeat 3 to 5 times, then release the hand mudra and go back to normal breathing


The following is a great video from ‘Yoga With Adrienne’ that demonstrates how to effectively perform this breath work.


Get More Sleep to Reduce Stress

I cannot emphasize the power of sleep on the body. As you have already read above, it is the ultimate reset button for your body and mind. I won’t repeat the details listed in the section above, but here is what sleep experts Scott Bonvallet, MD, FCCP, DABSM, and Reuben Walia, MD, with Overlake Clinics Sleep Medicine say about how stress affects sleep, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.


“Stress can affect our sleep in a lot of ways. One is that we ruminate and worry about things, particularly when we're not distracted by work or kids. So, when people go to bed, they're not as distracted and that's when they start worrying more. That can affect our ability to g