NEW YORK -- There might be nobody -- and no body -- whose back aches and feet hurt more than those of a pregnant woman.
But while a heavy-duty massage might seem like the easy solution, pregnant women are limited in the type of body rubs they can receive.
One of the main reasons massage is soothing to muscles is the increase in blood flow that gets oxygen traveling to sore spots, explains Glenn Teyf, founder of the Teyf Wellness Center in New York. It's a lack of oxygen that's usually to blame when muscles are tied up in "knots."
But, he says, during the first trimester of the pregnancy, it isn't desirable to redirect the blood flow from the fetus.
Teyf's advice, especially early on, is: "No body massage in the first trimester. Never massage the stomach. Kiss it, hug it and rest your head on it. Do not massage it."
That doesn't leave partners who want to help the uncomfortable moms-to-be with many options.
Foot massages should be safe for all 40 weeks of pregnancy, says Teyf, but even that should be checked with individual doctors.
Teyf's foot massage tips include using massage, vegetable or olive oil instead of baby oil, which clogs pores; elevate the feet above the heart to increase blood flood; start at the heel up to the toes and end by slowly pressing the thumb and third finger over each toe staring with the little toe and working in.
Once a woman passes the three-month mark, there are more options for massage and during the later stages of pregnancy massage can be beneficial beyond offering a little muscle relief, says Teyf.
The last stretch of a pregnancy, when a woman's weight has soared, her proportions change and she walks in a different posture, causes some unique physical ailments that can be helped by massage.
"The healing power of touch is the oldest form of medicine, both on the emotional and physical level," he says. "Massage will help the expectant mother feel wonderful and loved."
Teyf adds, "It's one of the greatest things you can do for someone you love."
Other bonuses, according to Teyf:
* Massage helps an expectant mother's body to eliminate waste products through the lymphatic and circulatory systems, which helps boost energy levels.
* By increasing blood circulation, massage eases the load on the expectant mother's heart and might help stabilize her blood pressure.
* Massage can help relieve depression and anxiety caused by hormonal changes. Reducing stress might help a pregnant woman sleep better and more deeply.
However, Teyf advises, a woman should avoid massage at any stage of pregnancy if she is experiencing vomiting, diarrhea or fever; has excessive swelling around the extremities; is inactive or has been placed on bed rest; or has any bleeding or abnormal discharge.
And while the lower back may be a hot spot for pain, massage there should be kept to a minimum and the touch should be light.
He also says that at-home masseurs should use only the strength of their hands, not their whole body, when applying pressure and no pressure should be put on the spine. Keep the strokes smooth and flowing, and the slower the strokes, the better it feels.
A pregnant woman can't, or at least shouldn't, get into the traditional face-down massage position. Teyf says the best body position is seated with the expectant mother straddling a narrow chair with her arms, shoulders and head leaning upon a pillow placed upon a table or desk.
Teyf, who says he's given more than 20,000 massages in his career, says the following steps result in the ultimate mini-massage.
Place gentle pressure with open hands, fingers facing outward, on the back just above the curve of the buttocks. Slowly move up both sides of the spine inch by inch.
When you reach the neck, don't pinch. Grab it sideways like you are holding a tennis racket. Continue grabbing slowly up the neck.
Very slowly, turn hands and fingers upright. Press thumbs into the spine on both sides and move slowly up the neck to the head. Continue the thumbs into the base of the skull; this can be a great release of tension but be sure to get feedback from your partner about the pressure level.
With one hand holding the head steady, the other hand grabs the total back of the head and gently pulls back, using the fingertips. Gently yet firmly, scatter your hands all through the hair, pulling back.
The woman receiving the massage has two jobs. First, to rate the pressure on a scale up to 10, which would indicate pain and, of course, should be avoided. The second task is easier: to enjoy it.
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