Abhyanga or massage is a part of the daily regimen in Ayurveda. Ayurveda advice that massage should be done on a day-to-day basis so as to nourish the body, ensure sound sleep, increase lifespan, relieve strain and improve skin quality. Through this article, Dr. Lakshmi Anoop, elucidates on how massage should be done before and after pregnancy.
Basically, massage is a simple procedure in which oil is smeared all over the body and rubbed gently for some time. During this process, the oil tends to penetrate slightly into the body, increasing the body temperature.
Massage in pregnancy- Is it safe?
Massage in pregnancy is safe, if done cautiously. According to Ayurveda, the fetus is in a jelly-like form in the first three months after conception. During this stage the fetus is feeble and unable to undertake any type of shock or irritation or sudden changes in the environment. Therefore, women at this stage are advised to take complete rest and are not expected to do any work that will cause any kind of physical or mental strain for e.g., eating very hot food or very cold food, taking bath in very hot or very cold water etc. should be avoided. At this stage, the pregnant mother’s body should be handled gently and only warm oil should be applied to the body for best health benefits of the mother and child.
As pregnancy progresses, various body parts of the fetus starts getting formed hence, it is necessary that besides the internal nourishment provided by food, external nourishment is also necessary for the healthy formation of various organs. One of the procedures for external nourishment is a gentle massage. Regular massages tones up the body and makes it ready for all the pains and strains caused during pregnancy and labor.
What oils to use?
According to Ayurveda, during or after pregnancy oils that are cooling and that which promotes strength and mitigates vata should to be used for massaging e.g., Sesame oil and Dhawantaram oil. Oils that are hot in potency and that which causes irritation should be avoided. Different oils are recommended for different parts of the body. Sesame oil or Coconut oil or Castor oil is considered the best for the breasts. For head massages, oils that are cooling, induces sleep and calms the body and mind are suggested e.g. Coconut oil, Brahmi oil, Kshirabala oil.
Benefits of prenatal and postnatal massages
Massage during pregnancy is beneficial in many ways. These are classified into two types prenatal as well as postnatal. Massage helps to relax the body and mind of a pregnant woman. Back massage with particular Ayurvedic oils helps to relieve any kind of back pain occurring during pregnancy. Mild to moderate pressure can be applied over the back during this massage. Breast massage with oil helps to avoid cracks in the nipples and helps to keep an even tone for the breast. Foot massage helps to induce deep relaxation and avoids water retention in the legs. It also eases muscle cramps in the leg and avoids all kind of foot pain. Head massage helps to calm the mind, relieves stress and anxiety. In general, body massage strengthens the muscles, joints and bones, reduces muscle tension and relieves aches and pains, improves mood, lowers anxiety and promotes better sleep. If massages are done daily, starting from early days of pregnancy, stretch marks in pregnancy can be easily prevented.
Gentle pressing of the marma points (viral energy points) on the extremities especially in the second and third trimester are beneficial as this balances the flow of energy. However, it should be avoided in the first trimester.
While there are many benefits of massage during pregnancy, there are a few and important precautions that need to be considered.
When not to massage during pregnancy?
It is understood that while taking care of the pregnant body through external nourishment, care should be taken to make sure that no harm occurs to the fetus. Massage should be done in all parts of the body except the abdomen. Fomentation should be strictly avoided on the abdomen and the breasts. However, the process of massage cannot be performed in isolation and has to be done as a part of well-planned procedure, the description of which is found in the Ayurvedic texts and also in the traditional practices of vaidyas (Ayurveda physicians) over the ages.
Massage position & Massage techniques
During massage, the body of a pregnant woman needs to be positioned in a very comfortable manner, taking care not to put pressure on the abdomen and the chest. Soft pillows and paddings are essential at this stage.
There are various techniques employed in massaging, before pregnancy, during pregnancy and after delivery. It can be classified into the following four categories.
- Before conception
- After conception till 3rd month of pregnancy (1st trimester)
- From 4th to 6th month of pregnancy (2nd trimester)
- From 6th to 9th month of pregnancy (3rd trimester)
- After labor or postnatal massage
Massage Before Conception
This is applicable for both men and women. This is done like a regular Abhyanga or therapeutic Ayurvedic massage using marma therapy. Here, oils that increase strength of the body like Bala Ashwagandha oil are generally used. Massage as a part of daily regimen is recommended at this stage not just to obtain the regular benefits of the massage but also as nourishment for all the tissues of the body which is one of the requirements for a healthy progeny. If massaging is done properly and regularly at this stage, one can be sure of good health for both the mother-to-be, father-to-be and their progeny.
Massage in First Trimester
In this stage, mild massage of the head, soles and palms are beneficial for both the to-be-mother and fetus. This is based on the principle of Ayurveda that believes that both mother and child are inter-connected so whatever benefits the mother benefits the child too.
In Ayurvedic texts, this fact is used to stress that if the mother undergoes a physical strain over some part of the body the fetus too undergoes the same strain over the same part of the body. Alternatively, this means that if some beneficial action is performed over a part of the mother’s body the fetus too will also experience the same benefit. Hence, in the first three months, since the fetus is not well developed only a mild massage on the mother is advisable. The above principle of Ayurveda holds well for the rest of the pregnancy period especially when the organs starts becoming well-defined.
Massage during Second Trimester
During this stage, head massage is performed and then the body is massaged in the following six positions in the same order – Sitting, Supine, Left lateral, Supine, Right lateral, Sitting. The above order is followed as long as the pregnant mother is comfortable. If not, then the pregnant mother is massaged by making her sit or lie in her comfortable position.
While massaging the legs, the strokes should be done in the upward direction to improve blood circulation and prevent any kind of fluid retention which is mostly likely to occur in the second and third trimesters. This can be followed by fomentation with a hot towel. For back pain, the patient is made to sit or lie in a lateral position and the back is massaged gently and this process is also again followed by fomentation. For muscle cramps, spasms and pre-eclampsia, gentle kneading and gliding on the arms and legs are beneficial. To prevent sore nipples, cracks on nipples and sagging of breasts, the breasts are massaged with upward strokes and circular strokes. Also, care should be taken to make sure that the nipples are massaged. On the abdomen, only application of oil is advised to prevent stretch marks. Fomentation should be avoided on the breasts and abdomen.
Ayurveda believes that the heart of the fetus is formed in the fourth month and this is the period when the fetus starts becoming stable. Various rituals and functions are performed at this stage, which concentrate on improving the mental health of the mother. In such cases, mild massages are beneficial. However, this should be done with utmost care especially in the abdominal region. The pregnant mother should get up and sit before changing from right lateral to left lateral and vice versa, or else there is a risk of the cord entwining the neck of the fetus.
Massage in the Third Trimester
In this stage, head massage is done with the mother in a seated position. Then the mother is made to lie down with folded knees. Thereafter, gentle massage should be performed on both the legs. The massage should consist of only downward strokes. Following this, the arms and breasts are massaged gently. Oil is gently applied on the abdomen without any pressure. Oil can be applied gently on the vaginal opening or a tampon or cotton pad dipped in Sesame oil can be inserted in the vagina and kept for at least one hour. This will soften the vaginal passage facilitating normal delivery. It will also mitigate the pathogenic bacteria of the vaginal canal and thus help to prevent puerperal sepsis.
Following the massage, the pregnant mother is given bath with specially prepared warm water boiled with bark of Nalpamara or Dashmoola or roots of Bala.
Massage during third trimester helps to balance the vata dosha in the body thus improving the chances of a normal delivery. Also, it strengthens the body and the reproductive organs, tones up the pelvic muscles, helps to ease the pains of labor, prevents or reduces itching that arises due to striae gravidarum and helps prevent sore nipples and cracks on nipples. Massage is done with utmost care and its main objective should be to provide the body with oleation and the reproductive organs with lubrication in order to minimize the pains of labor.
After birth, the process of labor would have exhausted both the mother and the child. In such a case, massage provides instant physical and to some extent mental relief to both the mother and child. For the mother after labor, the body should be gently massaged with oils that mitigate vata like Sesame oil or Dhanwantaram oil to impart strength to the body. Care should be taken while massaging the abdominal region so that no complication occurs on account of the sudden contraction of the uterus. After massage the abdominal region should be tightly wound with a cloth or abdominal belt to help uterus contract and to help the mother stay in good shape. Oil is applied on breasts especially to the nipples to prevent any sores and cracking of nipples which usually occurs after delivery while feeding the baby. Also, daily bath in hot water is highly recommended for both the mother and child. This procedure should be done for a minimum of seven days after delivery and is recommended to be continued for up to 40 days.
Postnatal massage is very important for helping the uterus contract and bringing the body back to perfect shape. This also helps to strengthen the sagging abdominal and the weak back muscles. It also calms the mind and helps regain the strength depleted during the process of labor and pregnancy.
Vaidya Lakshmi Anoop, B.A.M.S
Consultant Ayurveda Physician, Chakrapani Ayurveda Clinic & Research Centre, Jaipur