If you have had massage therapy, you know there is a feel-good sensation and a boost in your mood. For pregnant women, physiotherapists say massage not only helps improve mood but also lessens postoperative (the period following a surgical operation) pain as well as reduces labour pain during childbirth. Lucky Stanley Mudahigwa, a physiotherapist at Home Massage Rwanda in Kicukiro, says normally for pregnant women, there is extra weight and changes in posture which normally bring about new aches and pains. For this reason, it’s ideal to provide a professional massage that will help keep these discomforts at bay. Generally, he says, prenatal massages are adapted for the anatomical changes a woman goes through during pregnancy. He, however, cautions that before starting this kind of therapy, it’s important to consult a gynaecologist to ensure you are safe for the massage. In addition, the service should be provided by trained specialists to avoid any complications that might occur. “This is so because only experts are in a good position to know the areas that should be massaged to avoid making the woman and the baby uncomfortable, as well as ensure general safety for both the mother and child,” he says. Benefits Jacques Nshimiyimana, a healthcare practitioner specialising as a physiotherapist in Kigali, says it’s important to keep in mind that during the last trimester, prenatal massage is not suitable. However, he notes that massage is good for pregnant women in the earlier stages because usually, as the belly grows, it accentuates the lower back curvature lordosis and weakness of the belly muscles abdomens and this is why they experience lower back pain. Pain experienced in the feet and hands, he says, is due to compression of the nerves in those areas caused by increased swelling (fluids build-up) in those areas. “Therefore, massage can help them reduce pain and tightness in those muscles and improve their function. However, I recommend them all to consult a general practitioner or a physiotherapist for recommendations,” Nshimiyimana cautions. Meanwhile, research shows that massage can reduce stress hormones in your body and relax and loosen your muscles. It can also increase blood flow, which is important when one is pregnant, and keeps your lymphatic system working at peak efficiency. Celestin Karangwa, a physiotherapist working at TCM Technology Clinic in Kigali, says one of the major reasons why pregnant women choose massage is to gain relief from constant back pain, as this is one of the most common occurrences of pregnancy. He explains that in early pregnancy, back pain stems from shifting hormones. Later on, it is caused by muscles straining to keep up with extra weight gain and a changing body structure. “Massage comes in to soothe this pain and give relief to achy back muscles. It also helps reduce stress and builds energy back up,” he says Nshimiyimana goes on to note that it has been proven that women with higher stress levels are more likely to birth their babies prematurely or to have babies that are underweight. Mudahigwa says prenatal massage also helps increase relaxation as receiving regular massage helps relax the central nervous system and regulates hormones. This, he says, provides an overall sense of well-being and relaxation, which is essential for any pregnant woman. In addition to this, he says professional massage also helps increase circulation, noting that having good circulation is critical during pregnancy, as the blood volume increases dramatically during these nine months. Research indicates that massage techniques physically move blood through the body and prevent it from pooling. If blood is allowed to pool it can cause clots. Also, the risk of clots is five times higher during pregnancy and early postpartum. The best way to decrease the risk and reap the circulation benefits of massage is to receive it on a bi-weekly schedule, which keeps blood moving regularly. Karangwa says with a good massage, sleep for pregnant women is improved. He explains that it’s normal for any pregnant woman to have issues with their sleep, especially when it comes to getting adequate sleep, as they normally struggle to sleep because of discomfort with their growing abdomen. He says massage helps the body increase serotonin levels. The increase in serotonin leads to better sleep. Improved relaxation and decreased pain also contribute to a better ability to sleep at night.