Massage therapy is gaining widespread acceptance as a part of integrated health care. It complements conventional medicine in stress reduction, muscle relaxation/restoration, and injury prevention. Studies have shown that it can reduce stress, relieve fatigue, stimulate the production of endorphins, facilitate relaxation, and promote a sense of well-being. Who doesn't want all of those benefits?
Research shows that pharmacological pain relief can interfere with the physiological processes of labor and birth and can lead to unnecessary obstetric interventions that adversely affect the initiation and duration of breastfeeding. New research is beginning to confirm that non-pharmacological coping strategies for labor and birth — such as massage, hypnosis, meditation, water therapy, labor/birth positions— provide exactly those benefits that traditional healers have known for ages.
Pregnancy and Labor Benefits
Since you learned you were pregnant, how many times have you found your hands resting on your belly? Too many to count? Your instincts have already shown you that touch is a powerful way to be aware of your changing body and to connect with your growing baby. Soothing strokes flush the body with endorphins — hormones that can make you and your baby feel good physically and emotionally. Studies show that massage during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period can:
• Promote the parasympathetic (relaxation) response.
• Relieve muscle spasms, cramps, and pain, especially in the back, neck, hips, and legs.
• Increase the circulation of blood and lymph, increasing cellular nutrition and reducing edema.
• Reduce strain on weight-bearing joints.
• Develop sensory/body awareness.
• Improve labor outcomes (e.g. shorter births, lower rates of prematurity).
• Promote postpartum restoration of abdominal muscles and weight-bearing muscles and joints.
• Support new mothers emotionally and physically.
Infant Massage Benefits
It is never too early or too late to begin massage! Whether your baby is a newborn or several years old, massage can bring immediate and lasting benefits. Evidence-based practice supports the use of infant massage. Several studies, most notably from the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, reveal that infant massage can:
• Improve weight gain, particularly in pre-term infants.
• Improve the functioning of the circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems.
• Enhance immune system function.
• Reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
• Promote relaxation and helps babies self-regulate, and sleep deeper.
• Encourage pre-verbal communication between caregiver and infant.
• Provide the essential elements of parent-infant bonding and attachment: eye-to-eye contact, touch, voice, smell, movement, and thermal regulation.
• Help parents reconnect if/when they are separated from their children for extended periods.