Women's Healthcare Topics

Is it Safe to get a Massage in Pregnancy?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Prenatal Massage the Quest to a Healthy Self

You know that massage can relax you (and who couldn't use a little relaxation from time to time?), but did you know that it can improve your health?

And that's not just due to the fact that you'll feel better emotionally, though certainly that plays a part. Massage can be beneficial to anyone, so prenatal massage is something you might want to partake in.

One of the things you will hear and read over and over again for the next two decades as you raise this baby you're carrying is that one of the best things a mom can do for her children is take care of herself. If you're at your very best emotionally, physically, and spiritually, you will be a better mom.

Guess what? Since baby's snuggled deep inside you, that starts now. You know that already, that's why you go to the obstetrician, take your prenatal vitamins, and take all the other precautions you're taking to safeguard your pregnancy. Massage can help you on that quest to be your most healthy self.

During Pregnancy, you Should opt for a Professional Massage

While you may never have had a professional massage, I'll bet you've received a nice relaxing massage from your partner at some point. Think about how wonderful it felt. Now imagine having a massage done by someone who has been educated in massage, someone who has studied the proper technique for massaging expectant moms. While receiving a quick back or neck rub from your partner is nice, this is the time to treat yourself (or let someone else treat you) to the services of a professional masseuse.

You can visit a day spa, indulge in a spa weekend, go to a masseuse at a local physical therapy or chiropractic center, or have a traveling masseuse come to your home.

Sound a little too fancy for you? Remember, you need to do what's safe. That means being massaged by professionals, rather than well-meaning friends or loved ones, who may apply the wrong kind of pressure to the wrong body parts or use oils which are not pregnancy-safe.

Pregnancy Health Section

Learn about a massage in pregnancy.

How is a Pregnancy Massage different than other Types of Massage?

Traditional Swedish Massage (relaxation massage) involves lying flat on your back and then later flat on your front while your neck, shoulders, arms, legs, and feet are massaged with firm pressure (with friction reduced by massage oil). Sounds good, right? Yes, but not good for pregnant women. Lying flat on your back or directly on your stomach while someone applies weighted pressure to your body is not in your or baby's best interest.

When you are pregnant, massage must be adapted to accommodate your pregnant body. So, if you call to book a massage appointment, ask about whether pregnancy massage is offered. If it's not, do not book a traditional massage. Ask for a referral to a masseuse who has been trained in the needs of pregnant clients.

When booking your appointment, be sure to ask if your masseuse has a pregnancy table or pregnancy pillow system (for his/her standard table) which will cradle you the way you need to be cradled. Cradle you like, well, like a baby. At first glance, a massage table made for pregnant clientele will be similar to other massage tables (hard table, cushioned by a mattress, with a donut head piece which allows for breathing while lying facedown). The difference lies in the mid-section of the table.

At the mid-section, there is an open space, where the belly (and sometimes the chest) lie. This keeps pressure off the mother-to-be's abdomen. Some salons opt for mattress/pillow systems which elevate the mother up off the standard table, cushioning her entire body, but keeping the belly securely nested in the soft structure so that it is not hanging below the table. When massaging women in the last weeks of pregnancy, both forms of pregnancy table adaptation may be abandoned completely. Instead, a mother beyond 36 weeks or so may lie on her side, propped by pillows while she is massaged on one side of her body, then will be flipped to the other side, keeping her safely stabilized and comfortable when she is too large to lie on her face or back any longer.

You should not be massaged in the same way as a person who is not pregnant, not even at the start of your pregnancy.
So if you're a regular visitor at the day spa, be sure to tell your masseuse about your wonderful news right from the start. This is also why even the best intentioned spouse should stick to very gentle foot or shoulder rubs. No pressure should be exerted by untrained hands. Some massage movements are not advised for pregnant women, nor are certain oils.

Will my Mid-Section be Massaged?

There are different schools of thought on whether or not to address the abdomen. Some masseurs will do a light rubbing of the tummy, really just a gentle caress. Most pregnancy massages do not include the tummy at all, concentrating on the ankles, legs, arms, feet, hands, shoulders, neck and back. All these areas are affected by your pregnancy, so treating them is as important (if not more so, than the gentle massage which may or may not be offered at your midsection.)

Do I have to Take Off my Clothes?

You will be asked to remove your clothing down to your underpants. Some places offer a robe to wear until you are lying on the table and covered by the sheets/blanket. Others will not. Even the most modest women usually are comfortable with the clothing situation once they have begun massage, because all but the body part being worked on are discreetly covered.

This is a much less revealing situation than something like a bikini wax, and unlike a bikini wax you are being nurtured. Besides, all the visits to the obstetrician have probably made you less self-conscious about being seen less a few items of clothing.

More than a few moms have told me that having a baby took away all sense of modesty. Well, I don't know about all sense of modesty, but it's logical that you may be more comfortable with your body now than when you were pre-pregnancy.

What Exactly Can a Pregnancy Massage do for You?

  • Reduce swelling of hands and feet

  • Reduce headache

  • Increase blood flow (benefiting all your organs)

  • Relieve muscle fatigue

  • Relieve stress

What Stages of Pregnancy are Appropriate for a Prenatal Massage?

"But I'm only in my second trimester, I'm not that big yet," you may say. Why go for a massage if you're feeling good? Well, how about feeling even better. Some doctors do not recommend massage in the first trimester, but encourage it in the second and third. Some contend that all stages of pregnancy are good times for massage.

If you're only going to indulge once, then you may want to wait until your growing uterus and belly (and all that comes with that growth) is causing you some swelling and some aching. However, if you have the time, inclination, and budget to take care of yourself in this way, pregnancy massage has been cited as being beneficial at all stages of pregnancy.

Most women are lucky enough to have a holiday, birthday, and anniversary fall into the course of their pregnancies. What a wonderful gift massage would be. Pick up a brochure at your local day spa and share it with your spouse. Ask your doctor about the benefits of massage at the next prenatal visit with your husband in earshot. Many masseurs will offer a discount for multiple treatments if the treatments are purchased as a package. What a wonderful gift that would be. Good for you, which makes it good for baby.


Doctor's Corner

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