One of the well-documented benefits of massage therapy is improved blood flow.
Not only does a mother-to-be enjoy the perks of enhanced circulation, but the fetus also realizes important health advantages before and after birth.
During pregnancy at about week 24, cardiac output peaks and blood volume increases 30 to 50 percent, and then begins to drop at week 30. Blood flow to the kidneys increases by 35 percent and its filtering function rises by 40 percent, putting pressure on the kidneys.
These changes in circulation can cause swelling, especially in the legs and feet, due to the elevated blood volume and pressure on veins in the lower extremities. Fatigue and sometimes headaches are the end result. Even worse, the mother may develop hemorrhoids because of restricted blood flow to the lower half of her body.
Benefits for Mom-to-Be
During pregnancy, the strokes of Massage activate the nervous system, which, in turn, causes blood to circulate more freely. Enhanced circulation improves oxygen in the blood, heart and arteries and makes blood flow more freely, preventing or minimizing the risk of edema.
Good circulation also promotes cell growth, helps organs function better and improves the health and appearance of skin, providing some protection against bacteria and infection. Better circulation reduces heart rate, helping heart muscles to relax, and regulates blood pressure. Moreover, circulation enhances brain function and enables the mom-to-be to handle stress better.
For the fetus, massage during pregnancy increases systemic blood circulation so oxygen and nutrients can reach fetal cells, providing greater nourishment and a better health index for the growing baby. The nutrients the baby receives in utero help determine physical and medical conditions later in life.
Here’s how it works: The fetus receives its nutritional needs through the placenta, a temporary organ made of blood vessels and membranes. The blood travels through the mother’s arteries into the placenta and then moves through the umbilical cord to the fetus. At this point, the fetus extracts the nutrients and the oxygen it needs and sends deoxygenated blood back to the placenta through the two umbilical arteries in the umbilical cord. This deoxygenated blood circulates back into the mother’s cardiovascular system and through her veins to the lungs for oxygenation.
If circulation is poor, a fetus can become undernourished and may compensate for lack of nutrition by expanding the surface of the placenta to extract more nutrients from the mother. Additionally, restricted blood flow to the fetus could result in intrauterine growth restriction. Inadequate circulation can have serious consequences on the mother as well. She could also become anemic.
Massage during pregnancy might help avoid a dangerous rise in blood pressure and a subsequent appearance of protein in urine may signal the development of preeclampsia, a life-threatening condition that could lead to seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure or death for the mother or baby.
Once you understand the importance of good circulation during pregnancy, you’ll welcome an opportunity to “pump it up.”