Is Fertility Massage Actually a Thing?
Massage is increasingly seeing the introduction of more specialised skills as a way for therapists to stand out from their competitors, and an example of this is "fertility massage". The question is, how valid is this ‘fertility massage’ and should it be seen as ethical practice?
Infertility causes an overwhelming amount of psychological stress which can place couples in a vulnerable position where they become desperate to try anything that will claim to have success. As therapists, therefore, we must be accountable for our own practice, and be honest and ethical in our advertising and our discussions with clients.
It is thought that approximately 15% of couples have been unable to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse.
• Fertility declines from around 35 years for both men and women, with a significant decrease (potentially 50%) for women by the age of 40
• Infertility may also apply to women who can conceive but are unable to carry to term
• Infertility can affect psychological and sexual well-being
Fertility massage is described as an abdominal/lower back massage for clients with:-
• hormonal, reproductive issues eg.PCOS, endometriosis,
• stress related conditions eg.pelvic trauma which has been buried
• women who are trying to conceive but experiencing fertility issues, or when undergoing IVF
• in pregnancy and the postpartum period
The following benefits have been advertised as reasons to have a fertility massage:-
• to promote optimal functioning of digestive and reproductive systems
• HORMONE BALANCE - massage promotes oxytocin and endorphin release and inhibits release of stress hormones, thus placing the body in a more relaxed state, and also opening pathways between the endocrine and reproductive systems
• SCAR TISSUE - massage helps to release scar tissue and adhesions from pelvic surgeries, infections and conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis
• REDUCES PAIN – endorphin release and scar tissue release help to reduce pain levels
• BLOOD CIRCULATION – improved blood circulation increases the amount of oxygenated blood being transported to the ovaries and the uterus, improving egg health and relieving bloating and tension in the connective tissue and pelvic organs, which may promote embryonic implantation
• LYMPHATIC CIRCULATION – improved lymphatic circulation means that stagnant blood is cleared, which relieves congestion around the pelvic organs, particularly in cases of endometriosis
• RELIEVES STRESS – massage is thought to reduce cortisol release and stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Research has shown that women who are under stress during ovulation are less likely to conceive.
DOES FERTILITY MASSAGE HELP YOU TO CONCEIVE?
Research so far has not shown that ‘fertility massages’ have a direct impact on fertility, and when you look at the techniques used and the benefits, they are actually the same as other forms of massage. As both a massage therapist and a midwife, therefore, I would suggest that anything advertised as a fertility massage is actually misleading, and if you are wanting to try massage while trying to get pregnant or for any other pelvic issues, you simply need to look for a therapist who is registered and adequately qualified in this area. Not only is trying to get pregnant stressful, but if you already have other stress from health issues, for example, this may kill the libido before you’ve even started, so in terms of easing stress and the other benefits, massage is beneficial.
TYPES OF MASSAGE FOR PELVIC AND REPRODUCTIVE ISSUES
• deep tissue massage - of the abdomen to increase circulation and ease areas of tension, combined with regular relaxation techniques
• reflexology – treatment of acupressure points in the ankles and feet which correspond to the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes
• abdominal massage – not often covered in full body massages by many therapists but this is so beneficial to digestive and pelvic issues (see previous post on endometriosis)
• swedish massage – perfect for inducing relaxation when trying to conceive is causing stress
• shiatsu massage - works on pressure points which correspond with the reproductive system and promote relaxation
HOW MASSAGE HELPS STRESS-INDUCED INFERTILITY
• stress and emotional trauma can cause the reproductive system to shut down, resulting in failure to ovulate, irregular or no menstruation, miscarriage etc.
• stress may reduce serum total testosterone levels in men which affects seminal quality
• increased levels of stress hormones in women inhibits oestradiol production, potentially resulting in poor quality of the oocyte and less retrieved oocytes in IVF
• stress reduces hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone secretion, which consequently reduces secretion of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. This can inhibit ovulation.
• stress brings increased catecholamine levels which causes vasoconstriction, and may reduce uterine blood flow. This could affect pregnancy outcomes.
• research has shown a link between stress and embryonic death, possibly due to the resulting hormonal imbalances
IS PROMOTION OF FERTILITY MASSAGE UNETHICAL AND MISLEADING?
• Ethical marketing of health care services means that the product/service should work and is only sold to people with an understanding of how their needs will be met. It is not enough for a therapist to believe in their service, there must be some corroboration with qualitative research, clinical experience and thorough understanding of physiology, for it to be deemed ethical. Promotion of any treatment must be supported by evidence, but there is little research available on fertility massage.
• The techniques and benefits of these ‘fertility massages’ are what would be included in normal massage treatments, and are therefore not specialist. That’s not to say, however, that the therapist should not be registered and experienced in the area of pregnancy and reproductive health.
• Massage for the purpose of decreasing psychological stress in order to improve ovarian health and conception, is limited , due to research only being more readily available for massage and stress, as opposed to massage and fertility. The term fertility massage, therefore, is misleading.
• Stress is just one of many factors involved in fertility issues, and may be the result of fertility issues as opposed to the cause. Therefore it would not be ethical to promote massage as a primary treatment for infertility. Through liaison with the gynaecologist, the intention of massage treatments can be better defined.
• couples struggling with infertility can be vulnerable and should be protected from misleading and unethical promotion of “fertility massage”
If you are struggling with any kind of pelvic medical condition or having difficulty in trying to get pregnant, by all means book yourself in for a massage treatment, and there are numerous benefits to be had, but:- - there is no evidence that massage will improve your fertility - ensure that you see a registered and experienced therapist who has dealt with these issues before and has a good understanding of the physiology - don't waste your money on a therapist who makes unethical claims that they can offer a fertility massage which will boost your chances of conceiving