Part 4 of the Benefits of Massage Therapy Series is about the benefits of receiving postpartum massage. Earlier posts have been about how regular massage therapy can benefit your body, mind, and pregnancy, but let's look at why you should receive massage after baby.
I find that while prenatal massage is becoming more popular, many moms stop coming in after they give birth. While I understand that there are the stresses of recovering from birth while taking care of a new baby which makes it hard to find time for yourself, it is important to remember that those things make it all the more important that you DO take care of yourself.
I always tell my clients, "Pregnancy is temporary. The body you have after you give birth will last a lot longer." I'm not talking about extra weight or the desire to get back to your pre-pregnancy body (which is a whole other post), I'm talking about imbalances, tension, and misalignments. My pre-perinatal massage teacher said that she works with women in their 60's who are still having physical discomfort that can be traced back to their pregnancies because they never took time to make sure they were healing well postpartum.
Pregnancy takes it's toll on your body for about 40 weeks give or take. Then you go through the physical and sometimes emotional trauma of giving birth. Even the most perfect natural birth is like trauma to your body. You hold positions you wouldn't normally hold, and work really hard for an extended period of time, not to mention pushing a baby out. Afterward you will be sore and feel physically and emotionally exhausted. If you have a Cesarean birth, the trauma is even greater on your body and perhaps emotionally if it was an unplanned Cesarean. It is so important to acknowledge that you deserve to take an hour or two now and then to take care of yourself and make sure that you are healing well. When you feel well physically and emotionally, you are in a much better place to step into your new (or new again) role as a mother.
So what are the benefits of regular massage therapy after having a baby?
Aid in Emotional Adjustment
Regardless of how many times you give birth or how you view your birth experience, every mom has to make an emotional adjustment. A great way to do this is by telling your birth story. Most new moms feel a desire to share their story whether it was good or bad in their mind. For moms who had great births it is a way to share their excitement. For moms who didn't have their ideal birth, telling their story can be a way to heal.
Seeing a massage therapist is a great way to unwind after birth and share your birth story with a professional who will not pass judgement. Massage therapists are bound by confidentiality, which is great for moms who feel like they need to unburden themselves of any negative feelings. Just about every new mom has negative feelings, and may feel ashamed to voice them to family and friends. Having a professional there to tell you that it is perfectly natural to experience negative feelings is great. We are also trained to notice signs and symptoms of Postpartum Depression, and if signs are present, we can voice our concern and provide referrals to therapists who can help.
Sometimes when we are holding negative emotions, we hold tension in certain areas. The most common areas are neck, shoulders, back, and jaw, but it depends on the individual. By unburdening yourself and allowing yourself to voice your opinions in a confidential, non-judgmental space, you may be able to release some of the muscular tension you have been holding.
Facilitate Physical Healing
There are many different kinds of physiological healing that you must go through after giving birth. There is of course the physical toll that the birth takes. Massage can help to ease sore muscles and relax tension areas. Massage also helps to flush your body of any toxins that you may be retaining from your birth experience. Such physical exertion creates metabolic waste which can make you feel less than great. If you received any kind of medication during your birth, be it Pitocin, IV narcotics, epidural, nausea or anxiety medications, or cervical ripening medications, there is probably some amount of residue left in your system for a while afterward. Massage can help to flush out your system, helping you to feel better faster.
Massage can also help to ease exhaustion. By giving you a chance to relax and focus on yourself, or even take a nap on the table, your body and mind should feel more at rest after your massage, and many people feel more energized after they receive regular massage therapy.
Massage is also a great way to help with digestive discomforts such as constipation, difficulty urinating, or uterine or abdominal cramping. Don't worry, the abdominal massage you receive from a massage therapist is very different than the painful massaging of your uterus that you went through in the hospital.
Reestablish Postural Integrity and Reduce Pain
When you are pregnant, your posture changes to accommodate your growing belly and widening hips. These postural changes can cause pain during pregnancy as well as postpartum. If you don't address postural imbalances as part of your postpartum healing, your body will hold on to bad postural habits that can continue to cause discomfort throughout your life. A massage therapist can help to re-educate your body and your muscles as to where they should be and how they should work. This will not be accomplished with one 60 minute session, but may take some time to work out. You were pregnant for roughly 40 weeks, the postural changes that your body learned to accommodate your pregnancy will take some time to correct as well.
During the birthing process, you are also holding positions you wouldn't normally hold and moving in ways you wouldn't normally. If you had an epidural (and sometimes even if you didn't), your legs may have been pulled back toward your head, putting great strain on your hips. Maybe you tried squatting for labor or pushing and your hips and knees weren't used to being in that position for extended periods. Whether you deliver vaginally or by Cesarean, your body is doing things it wouldn't normally do. It is important to remind your muscles and bones where they are supposed to be to work most efficiently.
Healing from Surgery
Whether your Cesarean was planned or unplanned, emergent or non-emergent, you have a lot of healing to do after surgery. Although it is treated like a routine procedure and though to be no big deal, a Cesarean birth is MAJOR abdominal surgery. Caring for a newborn on top of recovering from major surgery is a daunting task for a lot of new moms. Massage is a great way to heal physically and emotionally from a Cesarean birth.
In addition to the benefits listed above, receiving regular massage therapy after undergoing a Cesarean birth has the added benefit of helping with scar tissue. Therapists trained in postpartum massage are familiar with techniques that can help to ease discomfort from scar tissue, and even lessen it's appearance. When you receive a deep wound, your body jumps into overdrive and basically tries to heal as fast as possible by laying down new skin cells more quickly than it normally would. Often, in the rush, the new skin cells are laid down a bit haphazardly. This is scar tissue. Scar tissue therapy done right afterward coaxes the body into laying down the new cells in a more organized manner, lessening the appearance and discomfort of a scar. If you have an old scar, it is also a great way to help loosen up some of the adhered tissue in and around the scar, helping you to feel less discomfort.
For mamas who know that they are going to have a Cesarean birth, I hand out instructions about beginning scar tissue therapy. There are a couple of very light, superficial techniques that can be done immediately following surgery. Once the incision site has healed a bit, and the doctor approves it, further work can be done to help aid recovery.
No matter what kind of birth you have, massage therapy can be an important part of your recovery process. Receiving regular massage therapy can help to not only speed up your recovery, but help you to have a more complete recovery.
Especially in the first few months postpartum, it is important to find a massage therapist who is specially trained to work with postpartum women as there are still some safety considerations that untrained therapists may not be aware of. A trained therapist also has a better understanding of what is going on in your body and has more tools specifically designed to aid in your recovery.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, or ask in the comments.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.