When looking for pain relief, most Americans reach for an over-the-counter pain reliever; however, relatively new research finds that this habit could be a risky move for expectant mothers. Some common pain relievers are not ideal for relieving pregnancy-related pain. Luckily, skilled bodyworkers can offer a superior alternative to help the aches and pains typical of pregnancy.
Potential liability issues discourage many spas and massage therapists from working with pregnant women. However, knowing how to properly and safely administer pregnancy massage is an especially rewarding niche. Especially for professionals who prioritize health and compassion, there are few achievements that are as gratifying as helping a woman enjoy the miraculous nine months of pregnancy.
During pregnancy, the body is constantly changing. The increased demand on a woman’s body can make them vulnerable to pain. Some of the more common areas for pregnancy-related pain include:
- Breast pain
- Leg pain
- Back and hip pain
- Abdominal pain
When people have a discomfort that escalates into pain, many reach for the most accessible over-the-counter painkiller in their medicine cabinet. Pregnant women are no exception. Because Americans can buy them in any convenience, drug or grocery store, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are generally thought to be safe – and fair game for relieving just about any kind of pain. Despite this common practice, NSAIDs may not be the best choice for pregnancy-related pain.
Unless affected by other conditions contraindicating its use, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is considered to be one of the safest pain relievers for a pregnant woman. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage to the mother or fetus if the recommended dosage is exceeded; however, most experts state that it can be used during all three trimesters of pregnancy when needed.
NSAIDs are a different story. Used to treat arthritis pain for over 30 years, NSAIDs have anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-pyretic properties. There are two types of NSAIDs available over-the-counter in the U.S.:
- Salicylates – such as aspirin
- Traditional NSAIDs – over-the counter examples include Naproxen (Aleve) and Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin)
Unfortunately, neither type of over-the-counter NSAID is very safe for a pregnant woman. Unless directed by a physician, aspirin can be problematic for both the mother and the fetus. It may be prescribed for women at high risk of blood clots, but aspirin can otherwise be dangerous for an expectant mother. In this situation, traditional NSAIDs had been generally considered to be a safer option for relieving aches and pains. Except for obstetricians discouraging their use in the final few months of pregnancy, Motrin, Advil or Aleve are frequently used to relieve pregnancy-related pain.
Throwing a curveball into a pregnant woman’s use of over-the-counter NSAIDs, researchers from the University of Montreal found a link between the use of traditional NSAIDs in early pregnancy and a higher risk of miscarriage. By following over 50,000 Canadian pregnant women, the investigators found that those who received at least one prescription for an NSAID in early pregnancy were more than twice as likely to miscarry than those who didn’t get a prescription. While Americans can pick up ibuprofen or naproxen just about anywhere, traditional NSAIDs require a prescription in Canada.
Interestingly, the researchers determined that the risk of miscarriage was independent of the dose of drug that women were prescribed. Consequently, the lower dosages seen in over-the-counter NSAIDS likely carry the same risk as the more potent, prescription only medications. Follow-up studies are needed to further clarify the increase in miscarriage with NSAID use; although this study is reason enough to encourage natural methods of pain relief during pregnancy.
Massage therapists who work with pregnant women are in one of the best positions to help their clients manage pregnancy-related pain. As long as they are knowledgeable about how to safely work with expecting mothers, their hands can help ease pregnancy-related pain more safely than traditional NSAIDs.