Shiatsu massage in pregnancy
Whether it's for the aches and pains of pregnancy or better coping with birth, shiatsu massage therapist Mardi Kendall says if you let yourself relax, you will reap the rewards.
It's often said that pregnant women "glow". But this isn't to say pregnancy is easy. Between 50 to 80 percent of women suffer from back pain and a similar percentage experience morning sickness. So how do you enjoy pregnancy or, at least, carry on with everyday life? The good news is that some treatments can reduce aches and pains.
Shiatsu massage is one such treatment. This holistic approach combines therapeutic massage strokes with gentle stretching techniques, and its name literally means "finger pressure". An officially recognised massage therapy in Japan, shiatsu has also become a popular form of massage in Western countries.
Professional Sydney-based massage therapist Mardi Kendall describes shiatsu as 'the little sister of acupuncture'. The use of acupuncture to relieve pain and promote relaxation is more widely known. Like acupuncture, shiatsu works according to the principle that the stimulation of certain pressure points on the body can be used to heal the body, treat pain and improve overall physical and mental wellbeing. In acupuncture, these pressure points are stimulated using fine needles, heat and electrical pressure.
Shiatsu offers a gentler alternative. Kendall says, 'Shiatsu works quite deeply, but it isn’t painful. It works very therapeutically using thumb and sometimes even elbow pressure to various parts of the body.'
How can shiatsu help?
Kendall has seen women through the entire cycle of pregnancy - from those hopeful of improving their chances of conceiving during IVF treatment through to women recovering from delivery. She says shiatsu improves a variety of complaints, including lower back pain, leg pain, constipation, heartburn, bloating and swelling, and in some cases, morning sickness. Many women report an improved feeling of comfort and wellbeing following treatment.
So what does a shiatsu massage consist of? Kendall explains that shiatsu is carried out on a futon on the floor. Unlike other forms of massage, it is performed through light clothing, a factor that helps many pregnant women to feel more at ease. In Kendall's unique treatments, blankets and bolsters are used to prop the body up in various positions, so that 'the woman is more comfortable than she's been during pregnancy'.
Her massages incorporate many rocking motions, and tend to go for at least four hours (usually shiatsu massages last for around 60 to 90 minutes). While this might sound like a long time, clients say the massage passes quickly.
Kendall recommends that women take the entire day off, and treat it as a period of rest in order to draw the greatest benefit from the experience.
Technically, women can undergo shiatsu massage at any stage during their pregnancy, but it may be more beneficial for them after the first trimester has passed. Many of the symptoms shiatsu is most effective in treating (such as back ache and leg pain) occur later in pregnancy.
It is sometimes said that massage can lead to miscarriage in the first trimester, although this has not been scientifically confirmed. Pregnant women considering massage should check the experience and credentials of their massage therapist (including whether they have practiced on pregnant women previously) and, most importantly, inform them of their pregnancy.
East versus west
Whilst Western medicine has many benefits, it is sometimes also criticised as distancing women from the process of childbirth. Shiatsu, on the other hand, encourages women to feel more connected to their bodies and develop greater confidence in their abilities. Traditionally, shiatsu was learned by midwives in Japan to assist women both in pregnancy and during labour. It is said to help women to cope better with pain, providing an alternative to drugs and epidurals.
These days, birth partners can learn basic shiatsu techniques to assist mothers during birth. Studies have even suggested that shiatsu can encourage women to enter labour in cases where babies are overdue. A UK study of post-term women in 2000 found that those who used shiatsu were significantly more likely to enter labour spontaneously (17 percent more in comparison to those who did not).
But the uses of shiatsu don't stop there. Once the mother has rested for a few weeks, the gentle stretching techniques involved in shiatsu can hasten the body's recovery from giving birth. Perhaps one of the most valuable things shiatsu can provide mothers (and expectant mums) is some well-earned relaxation time.
Kendall concludes, 'We all need a good break sometimes. That's really important for everyone, pregnant ladies especially because there may be some uncertainty, tension and fear involved with having the baby, especially for the first time. It helps them come into their body, and find a way to be more connected to the process and the baby inside.'
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