History of Prenatal Massage

Massage has a long and honourable tradition in a women’s journey to motherhood.  Women acted together as care providers, including the midwife, as well as family and friends who supported women in child birth.  Massage played an important role in the prenatal care of the mother-to-be.

From ancient time until the eighteenth century, massage was employed during labour by midwives, who were generally uneducated but highly skilled women.  The midwifery practice included abdominal massage, massage of the legs & back, and massage to correct breech presentation.

In Japan, the midwife is known as the Samba, or the women who massages.  In Mexico the work of the Partera is holding & massaging. “The Sloan Manuscript No. 2463”, was a sixteen century English Midwife textbook, teaches the midwife “anoint her hands with the oil of white lilies and then gently stroke the mother’s belly about the navel”.  The work of midwifes in these early times consisted of employing manual skills (massaging) and also had a ritualistic component which created a belief that midwives knew the mysteries of life and had mystical healing abilities.  Fear of this power lead to many hundreds of thousand women, many of them midwifes and healers were executed by the church as witches for their healing powers in the middle ages.

In England during the 1700s, as for hundreds of years before, labour was a social event.  The midwife would be called, along with the women’s family & friends, all of whom massaged her, supported her with her labour pains and observed the birth.

In United States in 1716, all midwives were required to be licensed. By the eighteenth century, it was accepted that midwives had no formal training & since they were largely women, had no intellectual capacity to learn the “modern Obstetrical methods.  Wealthy families chose to go to physician to have their babies, whereas poor women stayed with the midwives. By 1950, 88% of women gave birth in hospitals.

In 1980, a new movement reintroduced the time-honoured tradition of prenatal massage to massage practitioners, childbirth educators, doulas and the obstetrical community.  As scientific studies continue to validate the beneficial effects of prenatal massage, pregnant women, as well as the once-reticent medical community, are embracing massage as an integral part of their prenatal care.

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