Postpartum massage: is it safe and what are the benefits?

A midwife massaging a patients abdomen
(Image credit: Getty)

Postpartum massage is something that's increasingly popular nowadays. If you’ve just had a baby, taking a few hours off for some self-care may be the last thing on your mind, but postpartum massage might be exactly what you need to kickstart your healing journey. 

After giving birth, many new mothers find themselves feeling forgotten about while all the focus is on looking after the new baby. Your body has just gone through an intense experience, on top of nine months of aches and pains from pregnancy, and now you have to try to get back to normal with a tiny person in your life.

As well as having a host of physical benefits, a postpartum massage could help you to deal with any stress you may have from your new arrival, alleviate sleep problems and help you to feel more calm and in control after the challenging experience of birth.

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What is a postpartum massage?

Postpartum massage is a type of massage therapy used to aid the body’s recovery after giving birth. The massage can help your aching muscles to relax, promote lymphatic drainage and may help you to process the emotional side of birth too. 

Alexa Dean, a postpartum massage specialist and doula, also says that massage can aid in postpartum recovery. “This depends on the individual, but for a normal birth, you can receive a massage as soon as you want,” she says.  “For some this may be within the first week, whereas for others it may take a few months. I recommend postnatal massage as soon after the baby’s birth as possible to concentrate on the muscles most recently used during labor and birth.”

What are the benefits of a postpartum massage?

Postpartum massage has been shown to be beneficial for mothers in a number of ways:

Improved sleep

We all know that a new baby will impact your sleep, but your hormones are often all over the place after birth too, which can make it difficult to settle down and rest. One 2012 study showed that sleep quality improves significantly in new mothers who received massages. 

Stress reduction

Your life has changed significantly, so it’s understandable that you may be feeling stressed. One study indicated that massage therapy may help to increase the amount of dopamine and serotonin (the body’s happy hormones) and reduce the amount of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone), making it a good option for new mothers dealing with stress. 

Pain relief

Massage therapy helps to relax the body, which may have the added benefit of relieving pain. If you are holding tension in your body that is causing you pain or soreness, you might find a postnatal massage is just the thing to ease these issues.

woman getting a postpartum massage

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Breastfeeding aid

A 2019 study found that breast massage is an effective way to reduce pain, blockages and other lactation issues in new mothers. Problems or pain with lactation can cause some new mothers to give up on breastfeeding, so postnatal massage that includes the breast may help avoid this outcome.

Decreased swelling

A postpartum massage can help to improve circulation, assist in lymphatic drainage and reduce swelling throughout the mother’s body.

Emotional wellbeing

While postpartum massage will not cure postnatal depression, it can help with hormonal regulation, which has a knock-on effect on mood. Estrogen levels dip after building up in the body throughout pregnancy, which can cause a drop in mood similar to the mood changes often seen in post-menopausal women. By helping with the regulation of cortisol levels and increasing dopamine and serotonin, the impact of this large hormonal change may be decreased.

“A postnatal massage works not only on a physical level, but on the emotional state of the mother,” adds Dean. “Body, mind and soul are nurtured and help them to be the best mum they can be. Regular postnatal massage can decrease discomfort and help a mother to feel relaxed and cared for during this intense time of their mothering journey.”

Is postpartum massage safe?

Postpartum massage is safe and beneficial, but for women who may have experienced a traumatic birth or had a c-section, it is best to consult your doctor before having one. 

Dean encourages new mothers to talk about what they need from a postpartum massage, particularly if they have had a c-section. “After c-section I normally recommend starting with a self-scar massage from three weeks, so long as the incision has healed well, is scab free and there are no signs of infection,” she says.  “A c-section scar always benefits from massage to promote healing and mobility. After a c-section a woman would be able to receive a full body massage, including the abdomen, from around six to 10 weeks, but I sometimes treat women on their side and do not touch the area of the wound at all.”

If you’re looking for a postpartum massage soon after birth and have had an epidural, it is worth mentioning this to your massage therapist, as the site of the epidural may still be sore and best avoided. 

Lou Mudge
Health Writer

Lou Mudge is a health writer based in Bath, United Kingdom for Future PLC. She holds an undergraduate degree in creative writing from Bath Spa University, and her work has appeared in Live Science, Tom's Guide, Fit & Well, Coach, T3, and Tech Radar, among others. She regularly writes about health and fitness-related topics such as air quality, gut health, diet and nutrition and the impacts these things have on our lives. 

She has worked for the University of Bath on a chemistry research project and produced a short book in collaboration with the department of education at Bath Spa University.