By Debby Smith, B.S., B.A., L.M.T
The postpartum period, also known as the fourth trimester, refers to the six weeks following childbirth. This is the period in which nature un-does what it sustained for nine months. It is an intense period of physical and emotional change for new mothers. Her body will be ridding itself of the extra fluids and waste products that it no longer needs, and the uterus will begin shrinking back into the pelvic cavity. She will also experience a dramatic shift in hormones. The hormones that were present during pregnancy (estrogen and progesterone) decrease, whereas oxytocin and prolactin increase in preparation for breastfeeding. Massage can be effective in helping mom through this period of transition. A woman can receive postpartum massage whenever she feels it will be physically comfortable.
In the days and weeks following birth, many women begin to feel the effects of sleepless nights and around the clock baby care. Massage can ease fatigue and aid in the removal of excess fluids by increasing circulation. Residual anesthesia and metabolic wastes that built up during labor are also moved into circulation for removal. The added benefit of the increased circulation will also speed healing time for episiotomies, tears and abdominal incisions.
In addition, neck, shoulder and back pain often sets in during the postpartum period as a result of changing countless diapers, and sustaining positions for an extended time while holding, carrying and comforting the newborn. Moms also sometimes find themselves in uncomfortable positions while breastfeeding resulting in arm, wrist and hand pain. Massage is very effective in treating the pain and soreness that results from repetitive muscle use. But the benefits of massage are more than just physical.
It is estimated that almost 80% of women experience the postpartum blues, emotional highs and lows due to the dramatic drop in hormones following birth. A smaller percentage of new moms experience postpartum depression, a more profound and enduring form of the “blues”. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fear and anxiety may last for weeks and months following birth. Traditional massage and Acupressure can be extremely beneficial in bringing about a soothing, nurturing, and more natural easing of the “blues”.
Those moms who deliver by cesarean section, may be confronted with the “blues” and postpartum depression. Mom faces more physical challenges in recovering from this major surgery. Massage can play an important role in her physical and emotional recovery as well. If the birth was an unplanned cesarean section, mom may also harbor unexpected feelings of failure, guilt and anger because the birth did not go as planned. Massage can be a part of the emotional support and nurturing a woman needs at this very special time.
If mom chooses to breastfeed, massage can help in the emotional and physical challenges that may arise. Mothers who are new to breastfeeding can be overwhelmed initially as mom and baby learn from, and adapt to each other. The stress and anxiety that often accompanies breastfeeding can interfere with mom’s ability to produce milk. This can then lead to frustration and more stress. It is important for mom to remain calm and committed to her choice to breastfeed. When challenges do arise, be sure to seek the assistance of a lactation consultant. Massage, Acupressure, meditation and yoga are all ways to alleviate stress. Acupressure can also be specifically utilized for increasing milk production in nursing mothers. Incorporating these types of bodywork into mom and baby’s routine will increase the likelihood that breastfeeding will be a positive and contentment filled experience for both mother and baby.
Acupressure and massage are safe and effective options for treating both the physical and emotional challenges that new mothers face. With so much focus on caring for their newborns, mothers often neglect caring for themselves. When mom feels nurtured, rejuvenated and revitalized everyone around her benefits!
Osborne-Sheets, Carole., Pre-and Perinatal Massage Therapy, Body Therapy Associates, San Diego, CA, 1998.
Stillerman, Elaine, LMT, Mother Massage, Dell, New York, NY, 1992.
Debby Smith, B.S., B.A., L.M.T., is a licensed massage therapist specializing in pre- and perinatal massage at her practice at Carolinas Natural Health Center. Debby can be reached at 704-708-4404 or firstname.lastname@example.org