Toward the end of pregnancy, a woman can no longer sleep on her back or stomach and is discouraged from dozing on her right side, for fear of restricting the blood flow to the vena cava.
That means she’s basically limited to sleeping on the left side, perhaps wrapped in a pregnancy pillow and hopefully with some support between the knees to take the pressure off her hips. It doesn’t leave much room for tossing and turning through the night.
Sounds like fun, right?
Which is why recently, at 36 weeks pregnant with baby No. 2, I was itching to finally use a Christmas gift certificate to Five Branches Wellness in Greenport, one of the few local facilities to offer a pre-natal massage table featuring a pregnant-belly-sized hole. As a natural stomach sleeper, I’d have paid the $100 massage fee just to lie face-down on the table for an hour, which I haven’t done since week 20 of my pregnancy.
Instead, I was treated to a 60-minute full body pre-natal massage with Five Branches owner and licensed massage therapist and acupuncturist Rachel Reich.
The table has a removable pad where I inserted my protruding mid-section, which was supported by two layers of elastic. When you haven’t lain face-down in more than 16 weeks and you feel as though the weight of your entire body is resting on your little one, the sensation can be unnerving at first.
But Reich assured me that my weight was evenly distributed along the table and that the straps on the Robert Hunter-brand table were doing their part to support my little girl.
“Your baby is protected in a balloon of water,” she said, adding that she spent seven years working at a Manhattan facility that catered exclusively to pregnant women and never once had an incident.
When I was finally able to settle into the position, the sensation felt great.
Five Branches Wellness shares a space with River Rain Renewal Spa and North Fork Yoga Shala on Main Street in Greenport. The studios occupy a former Masonic temple, an inviting space that sets the stage for relaxation — so that helped.
A pre-natal massage carries all the benefits of a traditional rubdown, including aiding with lymph node drainage, stress reduction and pain relief, Reich said.
“Your body changes so much during pregnancy. This helps your body stay loose,” she told me. “The baby feels everything the mommy feels, so whatever the mom can do to relax, helps the baby.”
She said acupuncture, also offered at the spa, can jump-start labor and that she once caused a breech baby to turn by needling certain points on an expectant mother.
While few scientific studies have been dedicated to pre-natal massage, one study from the University of Miami School of Medicine found that it might be able to lower stress and anxiety, according to WebMD. And while I have no doubt that Reich knows exactly what she’s doing, it is a good idea to check with your ob-gyn before making the appointment.
A mother of two, Reich recommends regular massages throughout pregnancy. She said doing so can lead to an easier and faster labor, something she benefitted from with both her son and daughter.
“I think the more massages the merrier,” she said. “From beginning to end.”
But in my opinion, one of the greatest benefits of a pre-natal massage is knowing that you are indulging in a bit of self-care. When you’re pregnant with a toddler at home and you work full-time like me, you might go the whole nine months without doing much for yourself. Taking some wind-down time before the physically traumatic and emotionally altering event of giving birth can go a long way.