If you’ve recently given birth, congratulations! Those nine months of pregnancy will certainly have brought their own unique challenges and there’s no doubt that labour and giving birth were miraculous feats of their own but parenthood is no walk in the park. Now is where the real work begins. And sleep? For the majority of new mothers, sleep is a distant memory and a total luxury. Giving birth is called a miracle for a reason. The physical, mental and emotional toll of carrying a human for nine months and delivering it can leave mothers exhausted, stressed and utterly overwhelmed.
This is where massage therapy can help. You probably already know of all the relaxing benefits of normal massage and prenatal massage therapy. Regular massage sessions can boost a positive state of mind, soothe anxieties and ease tense muscles. Postpartum massage is just as important, if not even more vital for new mothers. Think about it – pregnancy and labour are physically and emotionally draining. A massage would help your body recover, stimulating your circulation, relieve pent-up stress and allow you to re-energise.
Here are some of the benefits postpartum massage therapy can have on your body:
1. You get a good night’s sleep
Quality and quantity of sleep definitely drops after you have a baby. There may be people who brag that they can get through the day on a few hours’ of sleep but this is neither strength nor endurance. In fact, recent studies have shown that lack of sleep is linked to various serious health concerns – from obesity to early death. British and Italian researchers examined data from 16 different studies that were conducted over a period of 25 years and involving more than 1.3 million people and 100,000 deaths. The study, which was published in the journal Sleep, found that people who slept for less than six hours a night were 12 per cent more likely to suffer from a premature death. On the other end of the spectrum, people who had more than eight to nine hours of sleep per night were 30 per cent more likely to suffer from a premature death.
Sleep is important for many reasons. For one, when you sleep, your brain stimulates the release of hormones, triggers and compounds that:
• Decrease risk of particular health conditions
• Manage hunger levels
• Boost and maintain your immune system defences
• Retain memory
In short, increasing numbers of healthcare professionals are stressing the importance of sleep for better health because a lack of would trigger many significant changes within the body. It’s important for a new mother to maintain a good state of health, as she needs to be passing antibodies to her new-born through her breast milk. And so, sleep is particularly important for mothers. Postpartum massages can help with that; reducing stress, lowering fatigue and promoting better sleep overall.
2. Easier breastfeeding
Nursing often causes breast pain and postpartum massage can help with that. As well as this, massage can help increase prolactin levels. Prolactin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland and responsible for encouraging breast development and milk production. The more prolactin there is in your bloodstream, the easier breastfeeding will be for you and your new-born.
3. Relief from postpartum swelling
Many new mothers experience swelling after childbirth, particularly in their legs and feet. Massage helps to ease the swelling because the therapist gently applies pressure to the muscles. This stimulation activates the lymphatic system, causing the fluid to be drained, by natural means, from the body. This decreases the swelling and provides relief for new mothers, so they can resume their busy daily activities.
4. Relief from deep stress
Growing and carrying a child for nine months takes a toll on your physical and mental health. Giving birth is even more so – it’s no easy feat. Massage therapy is one of the most relaxing therapies you can choose and affects the person physically, mentally and emotionally. Massage manually manipulates the body which relaxes muscles, works out tense knots and stimulates circulation. A boost in blood circulation means that there is a more efficient flow of fresh blood, carrying a new supply of nutrients to cells and transporting waste products away which help the body heal more quickly.
As for mental and emotional healing, massage is well-known for its ability to bring relief from stress. Massage is pampering at its finest. Every mother’s bodies are craving some pampering after undergoing nine months of change that culminated in the birth of a bundle of joy. Massage allows you to feel your tensions metaphorically melt away and this sensation is very satisfying. The therapy is known to increase levels of endorphins in your body – hormones that are responsible for making you feel good. This is particularly essential for new mothers as 10 to 15 per cent of women experience postpartum depression after childbirth. This can be controlled with medication, but massage is a natural alternative. And choosing the natural options will be one of your priorities while you’re breastfeeding.
A study to investigate if massage reduces postpartum anxiety
A 2016 study published in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal examined the effect of a slow back massage on the anxiety levels of women on their first postpartum day. The sample was 100 first-time (nulliparous) mothers, who delivered normally and the average age was 22. They were randomly assigned to either the massage or control group.
The massage lasted 20 minutes. The therapist began by placing their hands on the participant’s shoulders and made small circular movements of the thumbs on the upper neck. Long strokes down the spine from the base of the skull followed. The therapist alternated hands and then slowly stroked down the sides of the neck, the collarbone and shoulders.
Then the therapist ran their thumbs down both sides of the spine and the participant’s back several times. Finally, long, sweeping strokes of the palms were made down both sides of the neck, across the shoulders and down the back.
Anxiety levels were noted immediately before and after the massage or control session (20 minutes of sitting quietly in a room with a researcher), and again the following morning. The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory was used. According to the study’s author Maryam Mehrabad, the STAI was “designed to check the status of fear, tension, unrest and anxiety feelings of individuals in the current situation and the moment”
It was found that massage therapy had a significantly positive effect on anxiety. The results revealed that there was a substantial difference in anxiety scores between the group that was massaged and the group that was not. The lowered levels continued even into the next morning.
“During the postpartum period, mothers may be very anxious due to insomnia, pain, fatigue, and breast-feeding initiation problems. No treatment is available for these problems in the early postpartum period. Although the family is close to the mother, they always care for the baby, and they really do not know how they can help improve maternal well-being. This study showed that slow-stroke back massage is an effective, simple, inexpensive, and non-invasive intervention to reduce the anxiety level on the first postpartum day in nulliparous women.” (Maryam Mehrabad)
New mothers should try massage therapy
Evidence from studies, public recommendations and blog posts alike all seem to say that massage therapy is beneficial for new mothers, particularly those susceptible to postpartum depression. Child birth is no simple task and it’s easy to fall under the clutches of stress. If you’re a new mother or know a new mother, be sure to treat yourself to a postpartum massage.