Prenatal massage is helpful to ease the muscular and skeletal strain pregnant women experience as they grow a new human inside of them. But most massages take two — the massaged and the masseur. Luckily, for many moms-to-be (particularly during a pandemic), there’s an extra set of magic hands in the house, attached to their loving partner. The even better news is when expecting parents engage in prenatal massage not only does it provide relief for minor pregnancy discomforts, it also helps fathers-to-be build connection, intimacy, and awareness with their partner and their unborn child.
Importantly, mothers-to-be can, and should, get a massage from the very beginning of pregnancy, as long as it does not include vigorous abdominal pressure, according to prenatal massage therapist and doula Sara Lyon, founder of Glow Birth & Body prenatal massage spas.
“Massage and meditation is one of the best things you can do to prepare for labor and parenthood,” Lyon says. “It teaches you to breathe through discomfort and bend with the pressure. It teaches you to use your mind and breath to overcome challenges, which is something you’re going to do every day with your two-year-old.”
Prenatal Massage Prep: Set the Mood and Get to Work
Prenatal massage is pretty uncomplicated. Set the stage, communicate, and get to work.
First, relax. Not you — your partner. “The most important thing for giving any good body work is that it’s only as relaxing as the person doing it is relaxed,” Lyon says. “Don’t overthink it. Touch, generally, feels good.”
Beyond a relaxed environment, you need only your hands. “Your tools are your hands, your elbows and your forearms,” Lyon explains. “Just apply pressure on yummy, juicy locations on her body. Your hands will apply the least amount of pressure. Your forearms will be medium and your elbows will be acute pressure.
This also means you can skip the oils or lotions. Oils, like fear of getting massage techniques wrong, can be a barrier to actually doing the important work. Also, if couples want to bring the techniques into the delivery room it’s unlikely the hospital will accept outside oils and lotions being used.
But there’s one more thing that men need to bring to a prenatal massage session: curiosity. “You’re going to learn about your partner’s body,” Lyon says. “Don’t be scared.”
That doesn’t mean you dive right in. Start soft and remain communicative. Be ready to adjust based on feedback from your partners. As long as you don’t take the feedback personally and remain adaptable, things are likely to work out just fine.
Prenatal Massage Techniques
You don’t need techniques for prenatal massage. Set a relaxing mood, talk to your partner and what feels good, and rub away. But, if you’re looking to up your game — you prenatal pro, you — these techniques are the way in.
Technique 1: Double Hip Squeeze
This technique doesn’t require any kind of dynamic movement. It’s simply about applying pressure.
The pregnant woman stands or sits on an exercise ball and leans forward at the waist with the weight of her upper body supported by a counter, table or high bed. The partner stands behind her, places his hands on her hips, and presses inward, squeezing the hips together.
“It transforms so much of the soft tissue structures that are important to pregnancy,” Lyon says. “It helps hips, lower back, sciatic discomfort and relaxes the pelvic floor.”
Technique 2: Shake the Tree
More dynamic than the double hip squeeze, shake the tree does share the previous technique’s standing start position. It’s movement more than pressure that provides relief in this technique.
As the pregnant woman supports her upper body on a sturdy surface, the partner positions himself behind her, placing his hands on the inside and outside of one of her thighs. He then gently “shakes” or “churns” the thigh by gently rolling the muscle back and forth between his hands, almost as if trying to start a friction fire with a log. The idea is to softly roll the muscles around the axis of the femur.
“Those muscles start at your pelvis,” Lyon explains. “So this technique relaxes and releases the ligaments, the pelvic floor and the back as well.”
Technique 3: Lower Back Stroke
Again, the woman leans forward. Partners then drag their hands from her mid to lower back down to her tailbone on either side of the spine. Partners should “complete” the stroke by dragging the hands down until they fall off the body.
Technique 4: Tailbone Press
Partners should imagine there are dots on each side of the spine, along the tailbone. As mom-to-be leans forward in a comfortable position, with upper body supported, the partner applies pressure with fingers on the imagined dots on either side of the spine, from the top to the base of the tailbone.
How to Find a Prenatal Massage
If these techniques are too daunting, Lyon offers some tips for finding a prenatal massage practitioner near you. “You want to find a specialist,” she says. “People get nervous about treating pregnant women so you may end up paying for an expensive moisturization instead of a beneficial massage.”
Contact a doula: Doulas will often have the best connections with prenatal massage practitioners. They should be able to make a referral, or offer the treatment themselves.
Read the worst reviews first: Avoid massage practitioners where customers complain of being injured.
Look for keywords: Massage practitioners who are highly rated and mention prenatal massage specifically are good bets.
Lyon notes that however couples go about it, the connections built through connecting through massage will ultimately help dads be more effective during labor. “If you’ve been doing this and communicating about body feelings until labor, you’re already speaking that language,” she says. “Physically and verbally.”
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