I like to share some of the work my students do for the projects as part of the course work to gain the Wellmother qualifications. Here one of my recent pregnancy massage students shares her project: which is about the many benefits of pregnancy massage: so much more than simply relaxation.
If you want to find out about the Wellmother Pregnancy massage courses in London and Bristol click here
There are also Pregnancy Massage courses in New Zealand (taught by Suzanne Yates) and Glasgow (taught by Lucy Trend)
Claire is now listed on the Wellmother Find a practitioner
Reconnect: benefits of pregnancy massage: more than simply relaxation
By Claire Cannie
My love of all things pregnancy and birth related comes from my own experience of becoming a mother. Although it wasn’t easy, I gained an immense respect for my body and its capabilities. I learned a lot about myself in labour, I really felt I connected with my inner self, I knew what I needed to do, and I had the confidence in my body to entrust the birth of my child with it. It wasn’t me giving birth, it was as if all the universe had conspired together to take over my body in this sacred act. And I trusted it.
I needed to pass this wisdom onto other mothers. I needed to empower woman to believe in their bodies ability to bring life into the world. Something our society is trying so hard for us not to believe; besides, medical intervention is a profitable business.
This assignment will explore the role that massage can have in supporting the very essence of a woman’s belief in having confidence in her own ability to give birth.
Touch as a first Language: benefits of pregnancy massage and touch
Touch is the first language we all learn. When we are safely embodied in our mother’s womb we are feeling the waters surrounding us, touching the uterus wall, gripping and playing with the umbilical cord. It is what makes us feel safe, and to begin to make sense of the world around us.
We have been conditioned by western society to believe that we can ‘spoil’ babies by showing them too much love and attention. This to me now seems preposterous, and almost upsets me as I allowed society to influence some of my decisions as a parent. I am now much more aware of the touch between myself and my children and embrace them whenever they need it.
We can teach our baby this language before they have even taken their first breath. Massage can help encourage a healthy connection and cause the baby to respond. Massaging the abdomen has powerful effects.
“Overall results suggest that maternal touch of the abdomen was a powerful stimulus, producing a range of foetal behavioural responses. Foetuses displayed more arm, head, and mouth movements when the mother touched her abdomen as compared to maternal voice in situ,”
“In summary, the results from this study suggest that foetuses selectively respond to external stimulation earlier than previously reported, foetuses actively regulate their behaviours as a response to the external stimulation, and that foetal maturation affects the emergence of such differential responses to the environment.” – Marx V, Nagy E (2015) Foetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch. PLoS ONE
‘Ethnographers have long noted a striking phenomenon: Inuit and African babies generally tend to be much calmer than western babies. In fact, they cry very little – certainly much less than babies in much of the rest of the world. Much of the difference seems to be that these babies are held constantly. Mothers carry their infants with them throughout the day, while they work. As a result, they learn to communicate directly with their mothers through touch while being carried on their mothers’ chests and backs. An Inuit baby, for example, is bundled skin-to-skin on her mother’s back, and lets her mother know that she is hungry by nuzzling, rooting, and sucking against her mother’s skin. To westerners, this quiet communication seems remarkable. Many of us believe that babies communicate by crying. But for the Inuit as for many African peoples, a baby communicates by touch – not by crying.’
Research conducted in 1992 by Dr. David Cheek, an obstetrician in San Francisco, observing 1,000 subjects under hypnosis, strongly suggests ‘mothers and their unborn babies communicate without words.’
“Time in the womb is not a free period for which there are no consequences for anything. The child is already forming it’s attitudes and it’s understanding of life from the stimulation that it receives in there”- Dr. David B.Chamberlain, who is the president of the association for Pre and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH)
This evidence shows just how important it is to support, love and nurture the new mother and foetus. The benefits of pregnancy of massage stem way beyond a form of relaxation for the mother. It has far reaching effects on her baby in the womb, and therefore in the outside world. Teaching a mother to connect without words, using touch, is an important part of the nurturing process.
This physical contact is also very important to the father of the child. He is developing his own relationship with the baby in the womb, and seeing as though he in not connected to the baby physically and emotionally 24 hours a day as the mother is, it is important he feels he can build a connection. One way this can be done is through massage. Massage/ stroking of the abdomen.
‘Mrs H said that she felt a real connection between the three of them which she hasn’t felt before. She felt really relaxed and closer to her husband and felt that she wasn’t doing this alone. ‘ Mrs H – Treatment 4
‘Claire helped my husband to feel really involved, and he now says he doesn’t feel ‘useless’ in this pregnancy as he has some tools to be able to help, and I will certainly be utilising that!’ Mrs H – Treatment 4
As you can see the work involving the partners can also have a huge beneficial effect in strengthening the relationship not only between the partner and baby but the partner and the mother as well. Providing an increasing sense of support and confidence in growing her tribe!
If this has taught me anything it is that the western civilisations need to relearn a language. The language of Touch.
Western Approach: medical more than sacred touch. Benefits of pregnancy massage in supporting women to connect with their baby and body and prepare to give birth
For more than a century, pregnancy and birth has increasingly been seen as a medical event, rather than a sacred one. A process which involves various medical intervention, both mechanical and invasive at times. Instead of seeing birth as a natural and instinctive process, many women are now of mind that birth is a medical emergency. Because of this, many women in western cultures natural intuition is lost in this belief of the need for medical management, and this distrust in their bodies inevitably causes the need for the intervention. A vicious circle has been born.
Programmes such as ‘One born every minute’ only heightens our fear, as more often than not, show birth in a very clinical, machine managed environment, with woman generally not handling the situation very well, lying in the worst possible position, screaming for drugs, and partners passing out. Whilst for many this unfortunately will be their reality. If we share more positive birth stories, show natural, positive, home birth situations on these tv programmes this will open up peoples subconscious to the reality that our bodies are designed to do this.
In my experience I have found that many women feel that they do not have the ‘time’ to focus on themselves or their baby. There is pressure on the pregnant woman to continue to perform as she was prior to conception, and with this comes the feeling of failure if the body begins to reject this way of living.
‘I advised this was also an opportunity for her to relax and connect with baby. She advised that she has a very hectic schedule and relaxing / connecting is often neglected. ‘– Mrs C – treatment 1
‘Claire is really helping me to slow down! I am not the type of person to stop and listen, I’m focussed on the job I need to get done. I’ve been a fitness instructor my whole working life, and I think it’s taking me a bit of time to realise, that actually, my focus now needs to be on this baby! I am pregnant! My body needs to make this baby! And I’m going to make it hard for myself if I don’t listen to my body!’ Mrs C – Treatment 2.
This lifestyle culture and belief has stripped woman of their natural instincts to give birth. We are designed to give birth safely in the wild without supervision or medical intervention. It is as natural to us as eating, breathing, digestion, elimination and sleeping. It’s in our genes.
‘When you consider birth as an involuntary process involving old, mammalian structures of the brain, you set aside the assumption that a woman must learn to give birth. It is implicit in the mammalian interpretation that one cannot actively help a woman to give birth. The goal is to avoid disturbing her unnecessarily. – Odent M. Birth and breastfeeding: rediscovering the needs of women during pregnancy and childbirth. Clairview Books 2007
Anxiety and Fear: benefits of pregnancy massage in being able to offer support
During the time with my case studies there was a common theme throughout. Anxiety and fear around childbirth, and their ability to actually give birth.
‘Mrs L came across as quite anxious as a first-time mum and inquisitive to my experiences with pregnancy and Labour. I made sure to remain impartial and to keep the session about her, although giving her the information she needed. – Session 1 – Mrs L.
‘She said she is a little worried about the possible haemorrhage, her sister in law has been through it and she is getting support and advise from her. She is a little disappointed that she won’t be able to deliver in the birth suite (low risk) and will have to be on the High-risk delivery suite. Mrs C says that she is a bit anxious about the birth and generally tries not to think about it.’ Session 1 – Mrs C
This is true with many of the other pregnant ladies I have massaged over time, and it brought me to question, why are we the only mammals on earth that doubt our ability to give birth, and how can I, as a massage therapist, support these woman in helping them believe they can.
Attitudes to Pregnancy massage: what are the benefits of pregnancy massage? emotional, physical and spiritual connections
The origins of pregnancy massage date back some 3000 years. Unlike today, medical intervention was not an option in ancient times, therefore prenatal massage was adopted, not by scientific reasoning, but because the physiological benefits could be felt and seen. Massage was used to reposition the baby if necessary during Labour, tone and comfort the Mother’s Body during Pregnancy, and speed Postpartum Healing after Birth.
Westernised perception of massage is that of physical relaxation. Many people see it as a ‘luxury’ and time to ‘pamper’ something for the wealthy, and I feel that while relaxation is one of the goals of the session, this, for me, is not the main goal, and these beliefs can inhibit what I am trying to achieve as a holistic massage therapist. My aim is to connect with a woman on an emotional and spiritual level supporting their confidence in themselves. I would have loved to work with a woman in her first trimester and see her through to the end of her pregnancy and beyond. Supporting her, baby and partner, both physically, emotionally and spiritually. But because of general perception, most pregnant ladies I see have been brought a gift voucher as a present – and use it as a ‘one off pamper’ or come to me in their third trimester as their body is under a lot of strain and they feel pregnancy massage may be able to help. Whilst I treat every woman like the goddess that they are, I do find it difficult to try and connect with someone on that emotional level who I will inevitably not be seeing again.
People do not associate the benefits of pregnancy massage from an energy / connection perspective. I certainly feel more of an affinity with traditional Eastern methodology and would like to further my career in this field. Until then I feel it is important to try and educate people into the importance of massage therapy, particularly in pregnancy, on a more spiritual, connective / emotional level. I can do this through talks, informative leaflets, social media and my website.
Recently I found a beautiful piece on facebook about the African Himba tribe. This story, to me, depicts the raw essence of woman hood.
‘Of all the African tribes still alive today, the Himba tribe is one of the few that counts the birth date of the children not from the day they are born nor conceived but the day the mother decides to have the child.
When a Himba woman decides to have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child who wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father and teaches him the song. When they make love to physically conceive the child, they sing the song of the child as a way of inviting the child.
When she becomes pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people gather around him/her and sing the child’s song to welcome him/her. As the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or gets hurt, someone picks him/her up and sings to him/her his/her song. Or maybe when the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honouring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.
In the Himba tribe there is one other occasion when the “child song” is sang to the Himba tribesperson. If a Himba tribesman or tribeswoman commits a crime or something that is against the Himba social norms, the villagers call him or her into the centre of the village and the community forms a circle around him/her. Then they sing his/her birth song to him/her.
The Himba views correction not as a punishment, but as love and remembrance of identity. For when you recognise your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.
In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when the Himba tribesman/tribeswoman is lying in his/her bed, ready to die, all the villagers that know his or her song come and sing – for the last time that person’s song.’ – Excerpt from a Story – Found on Facebook
Benefits of Pregnancy Massage: Connection and confidence during birth
This raw, uninterrupted, powerful maternal instinct, which has been supressed by westernised medicalisation took me back to my birth. I had an overwhelming instinct to ‘do it on my own.’ I didn’t want anyone in the room with me – I could have done without my husband too. I went into myself, nothing else mattered, it was as if I was on a different spiritual plane than everyone else. My body was dancing the birth dance and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I went with it, cleared my mind of any doubt and my body did what it was intended to do. It was empowering. I want every woman to feel as empowered and confident as I was on that day. These anxieties and fears we have created for ourselves are the enemies of a calm, safe birth.
It is this aspect of the benefits of pregnancy massage that I wish to explore. Whilst the practical and physical benefits of pregnancy massage are massively important, and it is imperative to offer the woman space to discuss her needs, and as a massage therapist to be able to assess her physical needs. It is the emotional connection. The woman’s connection to her own inner goddess, her own inner voice, to have the confidence that has been taken away by todays society to trust herself through her birth journey.
Each one of us is a goddess. Within each and every female we have the power and ability to do whatever we put our mind to. So why, when it comes to childbirth, are we so fearful.
knowledge is power. And I feel we have become so fearful many woman would rather bury their heads in the sand and be ignorant to what is inevitably going to happen to them, instead of embracing and believing in it.
‘Mrs C says that she is a bit anxious about the birth and generally tries not to think about it.’ Session 1 – Mrs C
‘Mrs L came across as quite anxious as a first-time mum and inquisitive to my experiences with pregnancy and Labour.’ – Mrs L Treatment 1
When I meet a pregnant client for the first time I feel privileged. Privileged that they are allowing me into their energy to help support their bodies into what they were designed to do. Within my pregnancy massage sessions, I always start with providing them a safe space to relax, unwind, and freely express emotions and fears. I often find that when I first meet them they initially ‘tell me what they feel they’re supposed to say.’ What westernised culture has conditioned us to believe. We are OK, just getting on with it’ But when I have asked questions such as, what are your hopes for this pregnancy / birth. What are your fears? This tends to open a deeper level of conversation and occasionally unconscious thoughts are exposed, and I try to support the woman in working through them and hopefully, being able to let go of any negativity and release any hidden issues. I feel it instantly creates a connection between myself and the mother before I have even begun with physical touch.
‘To start I felt it important to have a discussion with Mrs H about how she was feeling about her birth options. I felt she was a little upset by the consultant’s distain for a home birth and feel that she’s internally fighting between a natural birth and an elective C section. Mrs Ho opened and verbalised a lot of emotions about how she was feeling, and I just listened and allowed these thoughts to be verbalised. I thought this would help her general energy by offloading.’ – Mrs Ho – Treatment 1
Motherhood should not be done alone. It is not a one woman show. As the saying goes ‘it takes a village’ just like that of the Himba tribe. Pregnant woman need positive support, love and care from those around them. Particularly from other mothers. My hope for my clients is that I can honour them as a maternal being, give them the confidence, and connection with their amazingly beautiful bodies to do what it is they are made for. To expel this distrust that has been created by our society and empower woman to take back control of their birth rite.
Being a mum myself, I feel a real connection when a mother comes to me for the first time. I almost feel like a mother towards them – an energy wanting to help protect, and nurture them and their unborn baby. I have two babies of my own and I know what I needed during my time growing them, and I also know the areas where I felt let down.
I want each mother I see to feel as though I am there for them, physically and emotionally. Offering them the support they need to be able to create life. I don’t want any woman to feel that she is doing this on her own. I feel my role as a massage therapist can compliment that of a midwife and by the additional emotional support needed which is so often unnurtured by the strain on the NHS.
At the end of each session I discuss the physical exercises she can do to help improve any ailments she may be experiencing physically, however, I also offer them further emotional support by letting them know that I am always available as an additional support in their tribe. I offer them an open channel to get in touch with me at any time. It can be very comforting to know someone is there, especially if your midwife is not consistent.
I want each woman to leave my session feeling empowered by the miracle of their own bodies and believing in their inner goddess.
I compare myself to that of listening to the sea in a seashell. We hear the sea, which in fact is just fluid within us, that fluid is always there, we just don’t always hear it, just like intuition. It is within all of us, and we, as massage therapists, can be the shell that’s needed to help support the woman into hearing it.
Benefits of pregnancy massage: in changing times
I talked to my mum about her pregnancy and birth experiences as I was interested to know what the general attitudes were 30 years ago. She said that her experience of pregnancy was quite a lonely place. There weren’t many groups you could attend other than NCT which she couldn’t afford, and there was no other option she was aware of than delivering in the hospital. The only knowledge she got was from her midwife, but the birth itself was still quite taboo to talk about. Her experiences of birth are somewhat traumatic, and it saddens me that woman went through this magical sacred time in an almost taboo type fashion.
However, I have started to see a change in attitudes. There are a lot of activists out there who are trying to change the way we see pregnancy and birth and encouraging the positive Birth stories. Such as Milli Hill, founder of the positive birth movement, and author of The Positive Birth Book. Her aim is to take the fear out of giving birth by setting up a free global network of antenatal groups linked up by social media. Connecting pregnant woman together to share stories, expertise and positivity about childbirth. In essence, building a village. Empowering woman and building them up, whilst allowing them the space to discuss any concerns / fears in a positive environment. A little like what I’m trying to achieve in my sessions.
Mark Harris who is a NHS midwife of 20 years and founder of Birthing 4 Blokes most recent social media post stated ‘What if we called maternity units Birthing Temples?’ This really got me thinking. It’s this clinical wording we have adopted that is feeding into our social anxieties around childbirth. Birthing Temple sounds like a sacred place to experience a wonderful life changing event. Maternity Unit however……..
Hypnobirthing and active birth classes played a huge part in both of my pregnancies. These classes gave me the space to relax, move, express myself, gain knowledge and make a connection with myself and my baby. I regularly encourage my clients to attend these classes. To reinforce the work, we do in my sessions and heighten their inner connection to themselves. Hypnobirthing over the past few years is gaining in popularity and is no longer seen as a ‘hippy’ thing to do. This is encouraging a woman’s natural ability to bring forth their baby into the world and giving them the confidence and power to do so. I felt so empowered by the classes and I know this feeling is shared by the other mothers that participate.
‘Advised of local private antenatal classes she can do which will help with mobility but also connection to herself and baby, such as daisy birthing which is an active birthing class including visualisations / hypnobirthing. She was interested and will look into the classes. – Mrs C Treatment 3
I feel having a close network of birth workers whom I have a good relationship with really enhances the work that I do as I’m able to pass on their details and provide a bigger support network.
Benefits of pregnancy massage: Supporting the unconscious
Pregnancy is a bodily process, so becoming aware of physical sensations is necessary in order to be fully present in it. Receiving massage is to experience a great lesson in body awareness, learning what areas are tense in the body, what parts when touched bring the most relaxation and which parts are perhaps extra sensitive. Massage is very grounding and anchors one in their body . This is crucial for the pregnant woman as she connects more with her body and her baby. – Article by Karen Stuart of Karuna Flame Holistic
Supporting this bodily process is allowing the subconscious to become more prevalent. Energy work, visualisations, breathing techniques, all play a part in allowing the mother to connect with her baby on a more spiritual ground. Taking her somewhere she may have never experienced or allowed herself to go to before. Becoming more in tune with themselves, their bodies and their babies.
‘I did this to help connect the energy and to also ‘introduce’ myself to baby. Whilst doing this I did some visualisation and breathing work. Asking Mrs Ho to take some deep breaths, taking the breath deep into the womb, visualising nourishing the baby.’ Mrs Ho – Treatment 2
‘activating Liver 1, Feeling grounded, I began some visualisations about connecting with the baby, asking her to stretch her hands to the sky, making space for the baby, continuing with the breathing exercises, starting to think about the birth, Baby easing its way into the world. I finished the visualisations and asked her to continue with the breathing, hand on belly moving the body how she felt comfortable, and to slowly open her eyes when she feels ready.’ Mrs L – Treatment 2
‘I then wanted to connect some energies and relieve any congestion into the pelvis by doing spinal mobilisations. Firstly, effleurage to the whole back again working upwards towards the neck and out across the rhomboids. Then palming down the erector spinae and feeling between the vertebrae for areas of low energy. I found her lumbar region felt like it needed some energy work I connected with the thoracic vertebrae to help rebalance the energy flow. Mrs L Thoracic spine was tight, so I began spinal rocking to help tension.’ Mrs L – Treatment 3
We don’t need to learn how to give birth – we almost need to unlearn everything society has conditioned us to believe and go back to basics! Listen to our bodies, our intuition, our spirit.
Considering the times we live in, never has there been a more prevalent time to embrace new mothers and shower them and their new life with love, acceptance and respect. It is our birth right. And as a massage therapist, a job I consider to be very privileged to be able to partake in.
I see the benefits of pregnancy massage as being accessible to all mothers. There are going to be apprehensive attitudes due to the society in which we live. But with education, advice and birth workers working together in championing this sacred right, I believe all mothers will begin to take this spiritual journey, of connecting with their inner being, her soul, her baby’s soul, accepting the fertile ground in which she is bearing, providing a safe, nurturing, happy place for the child to flourish.
Conclusion: Benefits of Pregnancy massage: holistic support for safe and sacred space
In conclusion, I see the benefits of pregnancy massage: truly holistic, and can help a mother in so many other ways than just the physical relaxation. Whilst meaningful, skilful touch enhances the experience, breathing, visualisations, connections, and providing a safe space to openly discuss feelings and emotions can take the pregnant woman on a journey of self-discovery. Connecting to her inner voice, feeling nurtured within the session in turn helping her to nurture her baby.
As a massage therapist I must be fluid in my sessions. Forever changing just as the mams body is also changing. I must be creative, bringing all my knowledge and wisdom to be able to nurture my client. Nurturing their very essence, helping them to discover their own voice. Their inner connection. Their intuition.
From writing this essay I have realised just how important our role is on a more nurturing level. We are not just therapists who provide physical relief during the strains of pregnancy. We are the nurturing mothers. Nurturing our clients so they can nurture their babies. We are part of their tribe. A wise elder, providing advice and guidance both verbally and physically. Providing them a connection on a different level they may have not experienced before, allowing them to listen to their own bodies and babies, encouraging their confidence, their sheer natural ability to be able to bring life into the world. Our role is to walk alongside the mother in a transformational journey from fear to love.
So, I encourage every woman to listen to their baby’s song. Embrace their inner being, give forth to the universe and entrust in our amazing body’s ability to embrace the ancient art of birth.
References, Resources and information
Pregnancy and Childbirth – S.Yates
Marx V, Nagy E (2015) Foetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch. PLoS ONE
Odent M. Birth and breastfeeding: rediscovering the needs of women during pregnancy and childbirth. Clairview Books 2007
Research conducted in 1992 by Dr. David Cheek
Dr. David B.Chamberlain, who is the president of the association for Pre and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH)