Massage therapy during and after pregnancy


eMediNexus    13 April 2018

Prenatal massage therapy could play a major role in women’s prenatal care. Massage therapy has been shown to be effective during pregnancy.1 Massage therapy during pregnancy can potentially reduce anxiety, help with depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and improve labor outcomes.2 A study in 26 pregnant women revealed that massage therapy reduced anxiety, improved mood, improved sleep and reduced back pain. Additionally, urinary stress hormone levels (norepinephrine) were decreased among the women in the massage therapy group and the women had fewer complications during labor and their infants had fewer postnatal complications.3 Tactile massage has been found to be a good alternative and complement to traditional treatment of severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (SNVP).4 Cortisol levels have been shown to decrease with massage therapy which decreases excessive fetal activity. The rate of fetal prematurity has also been shown to be lower in the massage group.1

Pregnant women with major depression given 12 weeks of twice weekly massage therapy showed reduced depression by the end of the therapy period, and reduced depression and cortisol levels during the postpartum period in comparison with control group. Their newborns were less likely to be born prematurely and with low birthweight. 5

Postpartum, the benefits of massage include hormone regulation, reduced swelling, better sleep and improved breastfeeding.6 Poor postpartum sleep quality can result in the development of postpartum depression. Massage has been found to have a considerable impact on maternal sleep quality in the postpartum period.7 In an evaluation of the impact of back massage on lactation, levels of noradrenalin were noted to fall to a statistically significant extent in the massage group compared with the control group. The levels of oxytocin and prolactin were noted to increase in the massage group. Therefore, back massage in the postpartum period was noted to increase mother’s milk.8

Several herbs are known for their soothing effects on the body in the form of massage oils. Some such herbs are mentioned below:

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera or Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry) is known to be a safe and effective adaptogen. This herb acts on various systems of the human body including the neurological system, the immune system, the energy-production system, the endocrinal system and the reproductive system. It has been shown to safely and effectively improve an individuals resistance towards stress and improve self-assessed quality of life.9

Sesame oil is known to have possible skin barrier repair effect. It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. It has been shown to relieve the inflammatory pain of joints and wounds.10 Topical application of sesame oil has the potential to reduce pain severity and frequency of received NSAIDs in patients with upper or lower extremities trauma. It is thus recommended as a complementary medicine for pain relief.11

Sida cordifolia (linn) syn. Country Mallow, also known as Bala, contains ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Ephedrine is known to stimulate the central nervous system (CNS), and can enhance weight loss. The Plant is a tonic, astringent, emollient, and aphrodisiac. It increases pain tolerance, has an anti-inflammatory effect and a possible antioxidant effect. It is known to provide relief from anxiety. Sida cordifolia oils are used topically to relieve sore muscles and sore joints. The herb also has antimicrobial activity and is an adaptogen.12

Aloe vera is known for centuries for its health, beauty, medicinal and skin care properties. Aloe vera can be used in numerous conditions including erythema, dermatitis, and as a skin moisturizer. It also has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. It produces skin hydration.13

Vetiver (khus) grass has skin soothing potential. Vetiver oil is used in aromatherapy, on account of its sedative qualities and its balancing/regulatory activity on skin. It exerts antiseptic, tonic and detoxifying effects on the skin. Vetiver oil is also known to replenish moisture in dehydrated and dry skins and to prevent stretch marks.14

A product that contains all these potentially beneficial oils can help women during pregnancy and postpartum period in more ways than one as they provide hydration, and exert antimicrobial, adaptogenic, stress relieving, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.


  1. Field T. Pregnancy and labor massage. Expert Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Mar; 5(2): 177–181.
  2. Available from: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/prenatal-massage/. Accessed on April 9, 2018.
  3. Field T, Hemandez-Reif M, Hart S, et al. Pregnant women benefit from massage therapy. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology1999;20(1).
  4. Ågren A, Berg M. Tactile massage and severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy – womens experiences. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences 2006;20(2):169-76.
  5. Field T, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M, et al. Pregnancy massage reduces prematurity, low birthweight and postpartum depression. Infant Behav Dev. 2009 Dec;32(4):454-60.
  6. Available from: http://americanpregnancy.org/first-year-of-life/postpartum-massage/. Accessed on April 9, 2018.
  7. Owais S, Chow CHT, Furtado M, et al. Non-pharmacological interventions for improving postpartum maternal sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews 2018 Jan 31.
  8. Kosova F, Demirtaş Z, Çalım S, Sapmaz L. The Effect on Lactation of Back Massage Performed in the Early Postpartum Period. J Basic Appl Res. 2016;2(2):113-8.
  9. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62.
  10. Lin T-K, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19:70.
  11. Shamloo MBB, Nasiri M, Dabirian A, et al. The Effects of Topical Sesame (Sesamum indicum) Oil on Pain Severity and Amount of Received Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs in Patients With Upper or Lower Extremities Trauma. Anesth Pain Med. 2015 Jun; 5(3): e25085.
  12. Jain A, Choubey A, Singour PK, et al. Sida cordifolia (Linn) – An overview. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science 2011;1(2):23-31.
  13. Bhuvana KB, Hema NG, Patil RT. Review of aloe vera. International Journal of Advanced Research 2014;2(3):677-91.
  14. Burger P, Landreau A, Watson M, et al. Vetiver Essential Oil in Cosmetics: What Is New? Medicines (Basel). 2017 Jun; 4(2): 41.

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