You've just given birth — congrats! — now it's time to take care of your new baby. Just don't forget about taking care of you, too. Your body has gone through many changes over your pregnancy and you'll need to take the time — and a little bit of extra effort — to allow it to rest and recover.
Postpartum massage is a full body massage that can help ease women into motherhood by offering both physical and emotional benefits. If you've had a miscarriage or unsuccessful delivery (stillbirth), you may also want to consider postpartum massage to help your body recover.
Keep reading to learn more about postpartum massage, its benefits, and some safety considerations to keep in mind.
What Is Postpartum Massage?
Massage has long been used as a therapeutic way to promote relaxation, pain relief, and stress reduction. Postpartum massage has all of these same benefits, along with helping any new mom experience a quicker recovery and overall better health after giving birth.
Some of the benefits of postpartum massage include:
Muscle relaxation. Postpartum massage relaxes muscles, increases circulation, and lowers stress hormones, bringing both physical and emotional relief. Some women prefer a light-touch massage, while others opt for a deeper massage that reaches further into the muscles and soft tissues of the body for more complete healing.
Pain relief. It's normal to experience achy muscles after childbirth. A postpartum massage can help relieve pain, especially in areas that are prone to getting sore like the arms, shoulders, and back. Massaging the chest area also opens up the shoulders and relieves breast pain.
Hormone regulation. Hormones like estrogen increase at a significant level during pregnancy and then decrease after delivery. Postpartum massage can help balance your hormones, as well as your mood. Massage can work to balance naturally occurring chemicals that are linked to depression, including dopamine and serotonin.
Decreased swelling. During pregnancy body fluids typically increase by about 50%. After pregnancy, a postpartum massage can help increase circulation and lymphatic drainage so that the body can effectively process excess fluid and restore balance.
Better sleep. It’s common to feel exhausted after giving birth and especially as you take care of your newborn. Massage can help ease fatigue, support relaxation, and improve quality of sleep.
Improved breastfeeding. Postpartum massage has been shown to increase a lactation hormone known as prolactin, which increases milk production.
Why You Might Need Postpartum Massage
After delivering a baby, a woman may experience a postpartum phase known as “baby blues.” This experience could involve depression, postpartum psychosis, stretch marks, and vascular problems:
Baby blues. New mothers can experience the "baby blues," which often involves symptoms including mood swings, increased feelings of anxiety and sadness, reduced appetite, and difficulty sleeping.
Postpartum depression. This is a severe type of depression that affects some women after giving birth. Symptoms include mood swings, withdrawing from friends and family, loss of appetite, and difficulty bonding with the baby.
Stretch marks and pain. After giving birth, women will often notice stretch marks on their stomach, and may experience pain throughout the body as well as residual muscle aches.
Vascular problems. Pregnancy causes an increased pressure on the leg veins, causing some women to experience varicose veins (twisted enlarged veins).
Any one of these conditions can affect a woman’s ability to heal emotionally and physically after giving birth. But many of them can be improved with postpartum massage. Physical therapists use a variety of treatments and activities to help you recover and heal as quickly as possible.
Postpartum Massage Methods
Postpartum massage occurs within the first 12 weeks of giving birth. A full body massage can be given in any position and can be adjusted for your comfort. A trained therapist will help facilitate your massage and create the best complement to your post-delivery care.
If you have concerns or complications related to postpartum massage, consult with your doctor.
Postpartum massage offers many benefits to women, but, like any type of treatment, there are some risks to consider.
Massage can increase blood flow and potentially affect certain health conditions. If you're experiencing any of the following conditions, talk with your doctor before scheduling a massage:
- High blood pressure
- Congenital heart disease or preeclampsia (a condition that includes high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling in the legs, feet, and hands)
- Recent surgery or injury
- Recent organ transplant
When selecting a postpartum massage therapist, there are a few things you should look out for:
- A clean, hygienic office
- A certified postpartum massage therapist (look for their certification in their office or online)
- Proper equipment, including high-quality massage tables with pillows and cut-outs for the belly to rest