Discovering you are pregnant is a monumental moment in most women’s lives, exciting and frightening – all at the same time. The questions are endless in those first few weeks, but for a pregnant massage therapist even more so. Michelle Vassallo shares her personal story.
Pregnant massage therapists are faced with an especially challenging time as they come to understand that the professional demands on them are highly unique. The most pressing question of all in the beginning for me was, “How will I handle the pressure of growing a baby while still being able to do my massage work?”
In the beginning
Although morning sickness was not a major feature of the first three months there were a few days when I was nauseous and felt pretty low. My personal experience was that it lasted for about ten weeks, and came and went throughout the day. This was a real challenge to my focus during massages, but there were a few things that helped. Chamomile tea was a staple during both pregnancies in the first few months, so I always had a cup to sip on close by. Also, adding a bit of ginger to hot water worked, as did the occasional bottle of ginger beer. Avoiding low blood sugar by eating small amounts of dried foods helped, so I always had crackers or dry cereal available, and a small square of high quality dark chocolate did wonders for low energy.
Also during this time, I found that in order to complete a day of massage I had to take naps every afternoon, even if it was just lying down for half an hour to regroup. I have never been one for afternoon naps, so found this very challenging, but as the fatigue factor was high it was nigh impossible to go without a rest. Finding brief opportunities during the day to focus within really helped me to avoid exhaustion and it helped to create a more mindful approach to the physical part of my work. I really had to listen to my body if I was going to grow this miracle within and look after my clients at the same time.
For most pregnant women, myself included, once I got over that first trimester, things started to improve in terms of my energy levels. As we massage therapists know, there is a certain level of fitness that goes with our jobs and so it was my aim during this time to maintain that fitness. I strongly believe that fitness plays a vital role in our ability to deliver a good massage – and to also have an easier pregnancy, physically. I made sure that I did some form of aerobic exercise daily, even if it was a brisk walk and I always made breathing a strong focus of any exercise I was doing. I also participated in pregnancy yoga and did some very basic small weightlifting to maintain my strength.
Changing posture and physical challenges
Pregnancy posture is different from normal posture for two reasons. The expanding uterus moves our centre of gravity up and out, crowding the other organs, and hormonal changes soften connective tissue, creating instability in joints, increasing the likelihood of overstretching muscles and straining ligaments. As most of the body weight falls forward with this shift in posture, the bony alignment changes and other muscles compensate as well. Muscle compensation leads to tension from either overshortening or overstretching.
Bearing all this in mind, I had to watch carefully that my increasing bump didn’t knock clients during treatment. I had to modify positions slightly. In doing massage, the abdomen was getting in the way, so I had to work with my hips farther away, increasing the distance from the table while I was trying to touch the client. This created more work for my back, neck and shoulders, as they worked to keep me from collapsing onto the client. I experimented with several things and those that worked for me included lowering the table, then, later on, when my belly kept running into the low table, I found that elevating the table meant I didn’t have to lean toward the client as much and my belly could expand below the table while I worked. I also modified my positions by bending the knees more, working off to the side and sitting on a ‘fit ball’. I also advocated Manual Lymph Drainage more for my clients as this type of massage meant less physically demanding upper body work and more movement and flow in my delivery. I wore loose clothing and made sure that I wasn’t going to overheat by having too many layers or having the room too warm.
What to tell clients
This was probably the most difficult part of working and being pregnant. Having spent years building up an excellent practice with an excellent work ethic and great client relationships, how did I tell those people that I would be taking time off to have a baby? Reactions were mixed: most people were thrilled for me and were more than willing to accommodate the changes I needed to make in order to continue treating them. There were a few sad faces and also clients who were upset not because I was pregnant, but because I would no longer be able to “take care” of them. To be honest, these were usually the clients I found most draining to work with. In some ways it was a blessing in disguise as they were not the sorts of people to wait around until I returned to practice but they went on to find other massage therapists and I was happy to pass them on.
The others waited until I was back in practice and then picked up virtually where we had left off and are now regulars again. It is scary thinking you may somehow lose the groundwork you have put into building your clientele, but at the end of the day, there are plenty of clients willing to stick with you because they come to you for who you are and how they feel once you have worked with them. That kind of relationship is not so easy to find, and once they have that connection with you, taking time off to have a baby is not really such a big deal to them at all.
Return to work
I came back to work ten months after I had my little boy and although now I only work part time I was thrilled to be back in the massage room doing what I love after the amazing early motherhood journey. Being back at work is indeed fulfilling and rewarding. It reminds me of who I am and how much life can change. It illustrates for me how rewarding being a massage therapist is. And best of all, it shows you that whatever happens to you in your life, the skills you have in your hands will never be lost … no matter how many nappies you change or sleepless nights there are in the beginning!
Michelle Vassallo, Rhythm MassageDevelopment.