Have you ever wondered what the difference between prenatal and normal massage is? How about yoga when you’re pregnant? Joleen Cullens is an experienced, licensed massage therapist, prenatal yoga instructor, and birth and postpartum doula based here in Davis County. And on today’s blog, she’s going to help answer some of our questions!

How is prenatal massage different than a typical massage experience?

A prenatal massage is different in a few ways in order to be safe for the pregnant person: 1) safe positioning to protect the pregnant belly, 2) careful and select use of essential oils, and 3) careful and select use of certain pressure points. So, it’s important to find someone who specializes and is trained in prenatal massage for the best results. A safe and effective prenatal massage will leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. It can also help relieve swelling, improve sleep, alleviate headache, reduce heartburn, balance hormones, and relieve back and nerve pain.

I give my clients the option to either lay on body cushions (which allow you to lay on your belly safely and comfortably), or lay on their side. I usually focus on massaging the hips and lower back, as well as the pregnant belly (if the mom is comfortable with it), since those tend to be areas of tension. (Kaitlyn side note: I mean, your belly’s carrying all that baby weight all day, everyday! I’ve heard that general massage therapists tend to shy away from touching that belly – it needs as much love as the rest of your body!) Since the body is all connected (for example, working on the legs helps relax the back, and working on the back helps relax the legs), I also do a full work over. I also make sure to only work certain pressure points and use oils such as clary sage after moms are full-term (during an induction massage).

How is prenatal massage helpful?

Prenatal massage helps your body adjust to the many changes that happen during pregnancy and prepare your body for birth. I find that it’s most helpful when you receive prenatal massage consistently throughout your pregnancy. I recommend at least one session once a month starting in the second trimester, but the gold standard is monthly sessions in the 4th and 5th months of pregnancy, biweekly sessions in months 6 and 7, three sessions in the 8th month, and weekly sessions in that last month.

Prenatal massage can also help with prodromal labor (contractions that don’t progress, or get more intense and longer). In some cases it can be from the body not being in the best alignment, which can keep baby from being in a good position to help labor progress. I have seen massage do great things for these moms – one client of mine came to me, exhausted after two weeks of prodromal labor (contractions about 10 minutes apart off and on). I worked on her that night, and, after a finally restful night, she went into labor the next morning.

I also offer what I call an induction massage. Though this only helps if mom’s body and baby are ready for labor, it can be the thing that helps get things moving! With an induction massage, I add clary sage oil and specific pressure points to the massage. These stimulate your uterus,  help baby engage into the pelvis, shorten labor, and reduce pain. A good massage also can be the thing that releases a mental or emotional block that has gotten in the way of your birth hormones from doing their thing.

How is prenatal yoga different from typical yoga, and how does it help me?

Again, prenatal yoga is best when you have someone trained in how to adjust yoga for pregnancy. (Sidenote from Kaitlyn: Joleen is trained through Utah Prenatal Yoga!) Generally, pregnant people should avoid inversions, backbends or closed twists. While you can attend and make adjustments at any yoga class (and most instructors will be able to help you practice safely), a specific prenatal yoga class is most helpful, as it is also designed to prepare your body for birth.

Prenatal yoga specifically can make a big difference in your birthing experience by keeping your muscles, tendons, and ligaments loose and flexible, but strong. It can also strengthen your pelvic floor to be able to stretch during birth, and then recover afterwards more easily. (If your pelvic floor is too weak or too tight, you might lose bladder control, have organ prolapse, have difficulty emptying your bladder and/or bowels, or experience pain during sex. A physical therapist can also help with pelvic floor issues.) I also love the body-mind connection strengthened in yoga, bringing a spiritual aspect to your practice as you connect with your baby and prepare for birth.   

What do you do as a doula?

As a birth doula, I meet with moms and their partners at least twice prior to the birth to discuss labor wishes, concerns and postpartum plans. Then I come and support both mom and her partner during labor. This looks like helping get baby into a the best position for labor (using my education with Spinning Babies and the Miles Circuit) as well as supporting mom with comfort measures such as hip squeezes, massage, pressure points, oils, music, working through emotional stresses that arise and more. It’s important to know that I do not replace a medical provider (like an OB or midwife), or offer medical care or advice. Rather, I focus on supporting my clients mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

One of my favorite things is helping dads support their partners. It can be hard to see someone you love in pain. But I’ve seen that as soon as partners have some knowledge and direction, they make all the difference in a positive and potentially healing birth experience. I also love when my doula clients have also been my massage and/or yoga clients. We build trust over her entire pregnancy, and that trust helps create a positive birth experience and a relationship that lasts a lifetime!

What are the benefits of having a doula?

There are a lot of benefits! Evidence shows that having a doula at your birth helps you avoid a c-section, decrease your need for pain medication, and improve your chances of a spontaneous vaginal birth. Having the experienced, continuous support from an experienced, trustworthy doula can also shorten labor, decrease your need for pitocin, and help you have a more positive birth experience.

A birth experience is a memory that will last a lifetime, and is worth the investment in having a good one. I am always honored to assist moms and couples in this transforming time – whether it’s with massage, yoga or labor support. It is amazing and beautiful!

Joleen is such a wealth of knowledge and experience, and truly does SUCH important work helping mamas have both a positive pregnancy and birth – from helping relieve some of those pregnancy symptoms with massage to preparing for birth both physically and mentally to being their support during labor. For more of her work or to connect with her, visit her website, Instagram, or Facebook!

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