I’m a bit spaced out after having a pregnancy massage today, no I’m not pregnant but Jette Rasmussen who is the sports massage therapist I see regularly did a refresher in pregnancy massage a few weekends ago and needed a willing volunteer, (me me me!). Far from the usual mindfulness and hypnosis techniques I have to employ when my piriformis or my ITB is being kneaded, I fell asleep. It felt fantastic, just the sort of thing every mum-to-be should put into her pregnancy calendar. I particularly enjoyed the lymphatic drainage part of the massage, definitely worthwhile if you are having problems with water retention.
Jette, is a very experienced massage therapist, which a deep interest in anatomy. Last week she went on a course where she had the opportunity to do some training at a London Teaching Hospital on a cadaver. Teaching the class was a Professor of Anatomy, and Jette asked specifically for him to show her the muscle function in the pelvic cavity and hips in relation to childbirth. He said anatomically there is no question about it; our bodies are well designed to birth but the best position by far for labour is squatting, low. However, our quadricepses (the muscle running down the front of your thighs) are not strong enough, well not mine and many other women. This is why birth stools and ropes (and the neck/shoulders of a taller, willing birth partner) can often be used to help support a standing squat; many women also learn supported squats.
But what was very interesting and new for me was the discussion we had about the psoas and the illac muscles, which run down from the base of the spine to the tops of the legs. Jette explained that these muscles run through the pelvic cavity; when a women is relaxed and calm during labour the psoas and illiac muscles are flexible, soft and pliable, able to be easily pushed aside, like curtains, as baby moves through the pelvis. If those muscles are tense, blood is pumping to them they expand and the tension creates less room and makes it harder for baby to move through. It can also create pain as baby pushes against a tense muscle, and slows things down as it can take more time. You can easily see in the picture below how the muscles run through the pelvic cavity and can imagine how every millimetre is important.
She said imagine Arnold Swarzenegger, or any body builder, when they are showing off their muscles they have to create tension in them by ‘pumping them up’, right now if you tense your bicep it becomes bigger and firmer as blood rushes to it.
This diagram really illustrated to me how the psoas and iliac muscles run through the pelvis and how important it is that they are soft, like curtains.
This is why the relaxation work you are doing in pregnancy, in preparation for labour, is so helpful. Every time you do your practice or listen to your hypnobirthing mp3s, you are conditioning your body to automatically relax and soften in the pelvic area, allowing those muscles to gently and easily move aside, creating the maximum space for baby to mould into your pelvis and move down. See it as a parting of the waves, instead of having to battle through a storm!
The anatomy professor, also said that during labour the baby does most of the work and movement, and that a woman’s body is designed to accommodate that movement. The baby is also perfectly structured to allow it to move through a woman’s body. Even the plates in baby’s skull are designed to soften, overlap and shape themselves to fit their mothers unique pelvis shape perfectly. It makes sense that any tension or anxiety in your body will make it harder for your muscles to respond to the movements of baby, and that when you relax you create the optimum environment for baby to do their thing.
So trust that your body is perfectly designed to birth your baby, Jette’s closing words were “It’s amazing to see an actual pelvis rather than a model and you know what? The pelvis was the exact shape of a baby’s head”.
You can book a pregnancy massage with Jette at Grantham Tennis Club, on its own or as part of a pregnancy package.