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Calling all dads/partners/co-mamas! Massage for your pregnant lady, please!

I love it when my pregnant clients bring their partners in to learn some massage techniques for pregnancy and for labor.

Partners, you are ON the hook, my friends.  Some of the recent research on the beneficial effects of massage on pregnancy (on mom and baby) has been done by teaching mom’s partner a 20 minute massage to do at home twice a week. And, the effects have been great for mom, baby….AND YOU!

Here are a few samples from the research literature:

Latifses, V., Bendell Estroff, D., Field, T., & Bush, J. (2005). Fathermassaging and relaxing their pregnant wives lowered anxiety and facilitated marital adjustment. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 9, 277-82. Fathers learned to massage their pregnant wives conducted progressive muscle relaxation. Massage therapy lowered the fathers’ anxiety and improved marital adjustment.

Field, T. (2004). Massage Therapy Effects on Depressed Pregnant Women. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Jun;25(2):115-22. Eighty-four depressed pregnant women were recruited during the second trimester of pregnancy and randomly assigned to a massage therapy group, a progressive muscle relaxation group or a control group that received standard prenatal care alone. These groups were compared to each other and to a non-depressed group at the end of pregnancy. The massage therapy group participants received two 20 min therapy sessions by their significant others each week for 16 weeks of pregnancy, starting during the second trimester. The relaxation group provided themselves with progressive muscle relaxation sessions on the same time schedule. Immediately after the massage therapy sessions on the first and last days of the 16-week period the women reported lower levels of anxiety and depressed mood and less leg and back pain. By the end of the study, the massage group had higher dopamine and serotonin levels and lower levels of cortisol and norepinephrine. These changes may have contributed to the reduced fetal activity and the better neonatal outcome for the massage group (i.e. lesser incidence of prematurity and low birthweight), as well as their better performance on the Brazelton Neonatal Behavior Assessment. The data suggest that depressed pregnant women and their offspring can benefit from massage therapy.

And, Tiffany Field and her colleagues report a summary here in this review article from 2010.

Field, T., et al. (2010). Prenatal Depression Effects and Interventions: A Review. Infant Behav Dev. 2010 December; 33(4): 409–418.“Because we had shown that partners could effectively provide pregnancy massage (Field et al., 2004b), we repeated the study using partners as therapists. In this study we also assessed the effects on the partners. Prenatally depressed women were randomly assigned to a control group or a group that received massage twice weekly from their partners from 20 weeks gestation until the end of pregnancy (Field, Figueiredo, Hernandez-Reif, Diego, Deeds, & Ascencio, 2008f). Self-reported leg pain, back pain, depression, anxiety and anger decreased more for the massaged pregnant women than for the control group women. In addition, the partners who massaged the pregnant women versus the control group partners reported less depressed mood, anxiety and anger across the course of the massage therapy period. Finally, scores on a relationship questionnaire that we developed for this study improved more for both the women and the partners in the massage group (Figueiredo, Field, Diego, Hernandez-Reif, Deeds, & Ascencio, 2008). These data suggest that not only mood states but also relationships improved when depressed pregnant women were massaged by their partners. This finding on the fathers/partners benefiting from giving massage was also noted in another study but in a higher socioeconomic status sample (Latifses, Bendell, Estroff, Field, & Bush, 2005). In that study, the partners who massaged the women across pregnancy had lower anxiety and better relationships.”

Awesome!

But…did you notice the parts where the massages were 20minutes long? not 5 minutes? not 3 minutes? yes!

This is the part where the partner often gets tired, their hands starting hurting or aching and the massage ends after a few minutes. Below are some tips are we give to our mamas’ partners to build a little more “massage stamina.”

Ten Tips for giving a GREAT massage to your lover/loved one at home

1) Set aside the time — 20minutes at a minimum, extra time for set up.

2) Position her for comfort. Decide with your partner which position she wants to be in — perhaps seated in a chair or on the floor in front of the sofa cross-legged, or, perhaps lying on her side along the edge of your bed or even on the couch. If she’s going to be lying on her side — gather lots and lots of pillows. Help her get comfortable.

3) Meet her needs. Decide with your partner what if anything she needs out of your massage time together. Does she need some gentle massage to relax and unwind? Does she need some more focused work on her shoulders? Meeting her needs will help her relax more deeply.

4) Consider using oil. You don’t need oil, but if your partner is going to be partially unclothed, it can be really nice. Our favorite oils — sweet almond oil, grapeseed oil — or even coconut oil if she can handle the smell. Lotion works as well, however, it will absorb much more rapidly into the skin and you will need to keep applying more. (remember: oil will stain, so keep it away from clothing and linens). When you go to apply the oil, put a little in your hands first to warm it before applying it to your partner’s body.

5)Do your homework. This will really impress her! Check out some youtube videos on massage — trying searches on effleurage in particular (warning: any search on massage will yield lots of “adult only” content).

6) Set up your relaxation zone. Turn off the tv. Turn off your gadgets and technology. Stop the chatter. Gentle music (think — slow down your heart rate). Dim the lights. Check for temperature — too warm, too cold? And if she is going to be lying down — lots and lots of pillows.

7) Set your intention. Do you actually like massage? Do you remember how good it feels? Focus on your memory of that sensation and use it as your inspiration as you touch your partner. Try not to approach them as an object to be manipulated or a piece of dough to be kneaded, poked and prodded. They are a human to be nurtured and touched.

8) Use soft hands. If you use the “grip grip” technique to squeeze your partner’s muscles, you are going to tire fast, deliver ineffective massage and you will both be frustrated. Use your body weight to deliver pressure with your full hand, keeping your hand relaxed. Your hand is there to deliver pressure from your body weight, not to squeeze your loved one’s muscles. Save the gripping and your thumbs for the few tight spots she needs extra work on.

9) Increase surface area. If you’re gonna touch her, really touch her. Really commit to being with her and completely attending to her in this time you have set aside. Instead of just using your fingertips, make sure to use the entire surface of your palm. Maximize the amount of your hand’s skin that touches her skin.

10) Stop time. Slow it down. Way down. Slower. Even slower. When you receive massage, 20 minutes can seem like 2 minutes. It is our job as the “giver” to help stretch those 20 minutes out with long, slow strokes.

Have fun!

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