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Pregnancy massage reduces prematurity, low birthweight and postpartum depression

I loved finding this study after teaching partner massage to a fantastic couple this weekend who knows how to touch each other (not always the case!). This lucky mom-to-be has a husband who could not have been more enthusiastic about massaging her (and with a good bit of natural talent!). So for all those moms out there who are looking for concrete reasons to have their partner rub their backs during pregnancy, read on!

A new study published in the Journal of Infant Behavior and Development by researchers at the Touch Research Institute found that massage therapy has significant impacts on depressed pregnant women and their babies.

It is estimated between 10 to 25% of pregnant women experience prenatal depression. This then becomes a risk factor for many complications, including prematurity, low birth weight and intensive care at birth. The baby may exhibit effects much later on as mental, motor and emotional delays.

Antidepressants are not the treatment of choice as they do cross the placenta and have been found to have adverse effects on the fetus.

In this study, researchers recruited pregnant women in early second trimester who were experiencing depression. These women’s partners were given instruction in massage and massaged the women twice a week at home for 12 weeks. The results were fantastic. Compared with the control group, the massage group experienced decreased depression and low back pain, fewer prenatal complications including a 75% lower prematurity rate and 80% lower incidence of low birthweight.

Interestingly, they found that depression and cortisol levels were still decreased in the massage group postpartum. Though the massage “ended” at week 32, the physiological effects lasted throughout the pregnancy and into postpartum. Newborns of the massage group also had lower cortisol levels than the control group.

Field T, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M, Deeds O, Figueiredo B. “Pregnancy massage reduces prematurity, low birthweight and postpartum depression.” Infant Behav Dev. 2009 Jul 29.

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