Childbirth is a time of intense change for a new mother, whether it be her first, or a subsequent birth. Massage has many physical and emotional benefits that can make this transition easier. After I received my first postnatal treatment, I realized that it is just as important to receive massage in the postpartum period as it is during pregnancy.
How soon after childbirth can you receive a postnatal massage? The answer is, as soon you feel ready! Leaving your baby for the first time can be stressful, so it may take several weeks or even months before you are ready for this. That being said, often new moms look forward to some time alone to relax. For mothers who have gone through a caesarean birth, it is important to make sure that the wound is sufficiently healed before coming in for a massage. After that, your massage therapist may give instructions on how to gently massage the area to increase blood supply thus encouraging healing and possibly reducing the amount of scar tissue.
Positioning during postnatal massage can vary depending on how the birth went and how the client is feeling. Side-lying position, similar to that used in prenatal massage, can be used if the client is experiencing sore breasts, pain in the abdomen, or low back. If she had a particularly traumatic birth, it can also be a very nurturing and emotionally safe position to be treated in. Otherwise, lying face down or face up on the table can feel wonderful after months of avoiding these positions. Extra bolstering and support will be used to make sure the client is as relaxed and comfortable as possible.
The main focus of the massage will be to relieve muscle tension, reduce pain, and promote relaxation. Soon after the birth, a gentle whole body massage can be wonderful or, if some time has passed, you may feel like you need some deeper and more localized work. Back ache (“mom-back”) is fairly common after nine months of carrying extra weight in the abdomen and breasts. Relaxin, a hormone secreted by the placenta that causes the cervix to dilate, is still present for up to six months after birth and can contribute to looser joints and muscle pain. Often new moms also feel muscular imbalances and soreness throughout their body due to the demands of carrying their new baby, and older siblings in some cases, as well as awkward feeding and sleeping positions. Massage can do wonders for these new or existing aches and pains. It also helps with breastfeeding by increasing circulation and promoting hormonal changes for recovery and milk production. Special considerations will be taken if the mom has a severe case of diastasis recti, the separation of the rectus abdominis muscle, that can lead to weak abdominal muscles and low back pain.
On top of all the physical changes, the postpartum period can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. Lack of sleep combined with rapid hormonal changes and the stress of caring for a new baby can be debilitating. It is estimated that 80% of new mothers experience some kind of postpartum blues. Symptoms vary from more severe postpartum depression to mild restlessness and impatience. They can come on any time during the first year after childbirth. Massage releases natural endorphins (feel good hormones) and promotes relaxation. It can be the nurturing touch a mother needs after constantly caring for her children.
Recovering from birth can feel slow and often frustrating. Your body can feel like it is no longer yours or completely different than it was before (and it is!). So whether it be for some much needed mommy time or to care for postnatal aches and pains, massage can be a great addition to postpartum care and recovery.
Written by Tessa Keefer, massage and bodyworker