Pregnancy Massage; How is it Different and Is it Safe?

Massage is a form of relaxation, something that is needed even more so during pregnancy. But is it truly safe to receive a pregnancy massage? By reading this article, you’ll learn whether receiving a pregnancy massage is safe, and if so, the dos and don’ts that will keep you and your child safe in the process.

Introduction

Full body pregnancy massage sounds like a dream, right? You might be tired, swollen, possibly nauseous, not quite feeling like yourself? Who wouldn’t want someone to massage the aches out of your hips and feet? But, there’s the lingering question of whether it’s actually safe for you and your baby. Will massaging your body send you into pre-term labour? If the masseuse hits a certain pressure point, will it cause cramping? Could a pregnancy massage cause more harm than good? These are some of the questions that will be addressed as you read on. Hopefully, this article will help answer some of the unknowns and contribute to making an informed decision.

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Is it safe to get a massage while pregnant?

Rebecca Buffum Taylor, author of Pregnancy Massage for WebMD.com, supplies us with a few reasons why doctors might be hesitant to recommend a massage to their expecting patients, most surrounding the lack of certifications and training some massage therapists receive. Each state in the US has their own guidelines concerning licensing a massage therapist leaving the question of whether they’ve received proper training, especially concerning clients that are looking for pregnancy massages. The “What to Expect” books, well-known to many first-time mums, has insight into this debate. Catherine Donaldson-Evans, author of Prenatal Massage on the What to Expect website, agrees that if you are to treat yourself to a pregnancy massage, “it’s best to go to a specialist who has a minimum of 16 hours of advanced training in maternal massage.There also seems to be a consensus among the experts that pregnant women should not receive a massage in the first trimester when nausea and dizziness are already at an all-time high and miscarriage is more of a danger.

pregnancy massage
A pregnancy massage in the first trimester is usually discouraged, but make sure you check with your Doctor as to what is appropriate for you.

What’s the difference between a pregnancy massage and a normal massage?

There are several differences between a pregnancy massage and a normal massage: body position, certain areas of the body avoided, and amount of pressure given during the massage.

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So what does a pregnancy massage involve?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, “a Swedish massage is the recommended massage method during pregnancy because it addresses many common discomforts associated with the skeletal and circulatory changes brought on by hormone shifts”. During a normal massage, therapists can work all parts of your body, unless you request otherwise. During a pregnancy massage, however, there are certain parts of the body that should be avoided so as not to cause pain or complications to the mother and baby. Another difference is that it’s perfectly comfortable and safe for you to lie on your back during a normal massage; during a pregnancy massage, however, it can be both uncomfortable and problematic. Simone Marie, author of How to Safely Get a Massage While Pregnant, informs us that “lying on your back after 20 weeks could put pressure on blood vessels, including your aorta and inferior vena cava, which can restrict blood flow. This in turn can cause your blood pressure to drop and decrease blood flow to your uterus.” https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/where-not-to-massage-a-pregnant-woman.

“A Swedish massage is the recommended massage method during pregnancy because it addresses many common discomforts associated with the skeletal and circulatory changes brought on by hormone shifts”

American Pregnancy Association

What is important to avoid during pregnancy massage?

Not only should lying on your back be avoided but also your stomach if the proper support is not in place. Other avoidances are receiving a massage during the first trimester, and not communicating with your masseuse to make sure they have the background and experience necessary to keep you and baby safe.

Related: What Is Homebirth Like? An Interview With Aja From MilkieBra

pregnancy massage
Some pressure points should probably be avoided during pregnancy as there may be a risk of pre-term labour

Are there pressure points to avoid during pregnancy massage?

The massage therapist with the proper training will understand the importance of pressure points and the problems they could cause to your pregnancy. Though this question has conflicting answers because adequate research hasn’t been conducted, the safe answer is that certain pressure points should be avoided during a pregnancy massage. Zawn Villines, author of Acupressure for Inducing Labor: What to Know, shares the 4 pressure points that should be avoided due to the possibility that massaging one could induce labor. These four points are: between the thumb and index finger, the inside of the leg above the ankle, below the spine and butt, and the back of the ankle above the Achilles tendon. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323402#summary

Can I get a massage in the third trimester?

You can receive a pregnancy massage in the first, second, or third trimester. However, most experts and massage therapists suggest waiting until the second trimester. In the first trimester, your body is still adjusting to creating another life, so nausea, dizziness, cramping, and risk of miscarriage may be your constant companions and those complications could be increased with a massage.

How often can you get a pregnancy massage?

Again, there doesn’t seem to be a concrete answer regarding how often this can occur. The answer looks to be similar to how often you can get a normal massage, basically however often you’d like. The important thing is to listen to what your body is telling you and relay anything out of the ordinary to your doctor, especially if a massage is at any point causing you pain, cramping, or bleeding.

Can I lay on my stomach for a massage while pregnant?

We’ve addressed the issue of lying on your back during a massage, but lying on your belly is a bit of a different story. Though some may not suggest it, if your masseuse has the proper set-up (pillows that support your body or a hole in the massage table to accommodate your belly) then lying on your stomach shouldn’t be a problem as long as you’re comfortable. That being said, the best position is a side lying position or even sitting up, hunched over.

pregnancy massage
If you’re comfortable to lay on your stomach and your therapist has the proper set up (eg – massage table with a hole for the belly), then it can be very beneficial to have a massage in this position

“Massage is very beneficial. As your body carries increasingly more weight, your back and hips take on stress and tension. Getting regular massage to help release this tension will make moving around easier and more comfortable”

Miinkay Yu – professional massage therapist, trained in prenatal massage (on Healthline.com)

Are there risks to consider with a pregnancy massage?

The risks of a pregnancy massage are conflicting due to lack of research, but the most important thing to do if you are considering getting one is to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. The pros don’t outweigh the cons of receiving a massage during the first trimester; it is best to wait until your body has adjusted to all of the changes occurring. Not only is the potential for nausea, dizziness, miscarriage, and pre-term labor possibly higher, but if there are already complications in regard to mother or baby, pregnancy massage may not be the best option. These complications include: a risk of pre-term labor, preeclampsia, high blood pressure, blood clots, placenta previa, and gestational diabetes. https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/where-not-to-massage-a-pregnant-woman#when-to-avoid

Related: Breastfeeding; Benefits, Common Challenges And Support Services

What are the main health benefits of a pregnancy massage?

Who doesn’t want to feel less stressed, tense, and anxious? How about more rested, happier, and healthier? Pregnancy massage has many benefits for your health which may include:

  • Increase blood flow to joints
  • Reduce stress hormones (cortisol)
  • Decreased levels of norepinephrine (the “not-so-feel-good” hormone)
  • Reduce swelling and fluid retention
  • Pain management
  • Improve your sleep
  • Increased levels of serotonin and dopamine (‘feel good’ hormones)
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Deep relaxation

https://www.webmd.com/baby/pregnancy-and-massage

Pregnant or otherwise, having the aches and pains, knots, and stress massaged away feels like a reset button has been pushed on your body.

pregnancy massage
It’s usually recommended to lay on your side for a pregnancy massage but you can consult with your healthcare professional and your qualified therapist if you prefer a different position.

What was my experience with pregnancy massage?

When I was 8 weeks pregnant, I was in Thailand and I didn’t know I was pregnant! I felt nauseous all the time and I wasn’t feeling quite myself, but I did want a massage! I booked in for a 3-hour full body Thai massage and let’s just say it wasn’t quite what I had in mind! First of all, they left me in a sauna room for a little too long and it made me feel quite claustrophobic and anxious. Once the massage began, they massaged my whole body including a stomach massage (which I asked them to stop as it made me feel uncomfortable), a scalp massage, and a hand & foot massage (which I enjoyed). I doubt the therapist had any formal training and was definitely not certified for pregnancy massage.

I couldn’t communicate my pregnancy to the therapist anyway, as I didn’t even know! All in all, the pregnancy massage was long but relaxing and I had a safe, healthy pregnancy. I was feeling extra nauseous, my breasts were very sore and I didn’t like my stomach being touched but I also didn’t feel like getting any more massages while pregnant, and once I was back in Australia.

Conclusion

Whether getting a massage is something you do regularly or as a special treat, the good news is, it doesn’t have to stop during pregnancy. A pregnancy massage can be very beneficial, either by helping a pre-existing problem such as joint pain or by providing much-needed anxiety and tension relief. A well-relaxed body makes for a happier and well-rested person; at least as rested as one can be with an ever-increasing stomach size and a tiny human pressing on your bladder.

All that being said, the risks should not be diminished. Listen to your body and your healthcare professional, and make sure you seek out a qualified therapist who has plenty of experience. Make sure you keep good levels of communication with your therapist to ensure the massage techniques are specially formulated for you and the treatment designed is individual to your issues (if any) and for what you want the massage to achieve.

Pregnancy massage is generally considered safe and can be a wonderful experience with some careful considerations, a qualified therapist and clear communication.

Enjoy your pregnancy journey as much as you can and don’t forget to pack that hospital bag as soon as you can.. Once baby arrives, you’ll be presented with a whole new set of challenges and a whole new (wonderful) journey!

Have you ever received a pregnancy massage? Was it a positive experience? Let me know in the comments!

You might also be interested in my articles on:

Breastfeeding; Benefits, Common Challenges And Support Services

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What Is A Lactation Consultant? A Woman’s ‘Breast’ Friend?

What Is Homebirth Like? An Interview With Aja From MilkieBra

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