Pregnancy Massage -or Prenatal Massage- is a special designed massage therapy similar to a full
body massage but modified to address the different needs of the expectant woman. Pregnancy
Massage was originally favored by women looking for alternative therapies, but as scientific
research has proven it is safe and that it provides many benefits during the pregnancy, the
Prenatal Massage has become more popular.
The primary difference between Prenatal Massage Therapy and other massage therapies is that
the therapist will make the pertinent modifications to secure the well-being -and also the
comfort- of mother and baby. The Pregnancy Massage may involve various types of massage
therapies like Swedish massage, neuromuscular, and Oriental-based therapies, that can be applied
through the pregnancy and during labor and the postpartum period.
Prenatal Massage Therapy is looked upon by women searching to ease the sore on muscles, and
soothe the aches associated with the childbearing experience, as well to relieve stress.
Who can perform a Prenatal Massage Therapy?
A Prenatal Massage must be conducted by a massage therapist licensed by the State board and
then be certified to perform prenatal massage.
Who can get a Prenatal Massage, and When?
Any women can get a Prenatal Massage at any point during her pregnancy -from her first to third
trimester. There are spas and massage therapist that refuse to provide Pregnancy Massages to
women on her first trimester because of the risk of miscarriage associated with the first twelve
weeks of gestation.
Miscarriages has nothing to do with Prenatal Massages, there is no scientific evidence that proves
any relation between massages and miscarriages, and Prenatal Massages are actually safe for the
future mother during her first trimester.
Miscarriages occur very often, and “they rarely are caused by anything expectant women do or
don’t do”, states Elaine Stillerman a licensed massage therapist on an article about Prenatal
Massage during the first trimester. She explains the reasons and real factors behind most
miscarriages, adding “Massage is not causative of miscarriage”, and argues that the reason most
facilities refuse to provide the service during the first trimester is based on legal concerns rather
than logic or science.
Yet, it is strongly recommended by professionals that pregnant women talk with their prenatal
care provider before appointing a Prenatal Massage Therapy. The best way to avoid the risks of
Prenatal Massage is to be informed and work with professionals.
Origins and Myths of Pregnancy Massage
Prenatal Massage has been part of many cultures across history. Anthropologist say that
massages during pregnancy were and will continue to be and important part of health care among
many cultures. There is recorded evidence of Prenatal Massage in ancient Ayurvedic Indian
medicine texts, which suggested the use of special prepared oils along with the massage.
Japanese midwives called “Sanba” were known for doing acupressure, and foot and leg massage
on expectant women. In England, there is evidence of midwives performing massages on laboring
moms with oils as far back as the 17 th century. Other places known with history of performing
massages during pregnancies are Jamaica, Mexico and Malaysia.
Among the myths surrounding Prenatal Massage Therapy there is the belief that it may not be safe
or cause miscarriage, which we already talk about and it is false. There are nonetheless situations
where the Prenatal Massage is not recommended: like high risk pregnancies, or pregnancies
experiencing symptoms we will discuss later. Other common myth is that it will release a great
amount of toxins which will be damaging for the baby’s health, which is also false.
Why you should get Prenatal Massage and What are its Benefits?
- It helps with swelling, or edema, which is normal in all pregnancies. The growing body of
the future mother will put more pressure on the legs, causing fluid buildup to be more
pronounced on the same legs, ankles and feet. Massages will help to reduce the fluid
- Eases muscular discomfort -knots, leg cramps, tension and muscular stiffness- by
improving and stimulating the blood circulation in such areas.
- The lumbar region is prone to muscular imbalance caused by posture changes, the
massage helps to relieve this and regain balance.
- It helps with constipation issues.
- Massage of the facial region, neck and shoulder helps to soothe the sinus pressure and
- The massage helps the pregnant women to sleep better. Insomnia is usually related to
physical pains, stress, or anxiety, all these three symptoms will be alleviated by the
- Studies found that women which regularly received Prenatal Massage Therapy during her
pregnancy were less likely to suffer from a premature birth in comparison with women
that never received Pregnancy Massage.
- A study published in the Expert Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2010 revealed that
women which received Pregnancy Massage had shorter labor periods -with an average of
three hours shorter, and less need for pain medications.
- Prenatal Massage Therapy improves the mood of the women that receive it. Several
studies show that massage helps with stress and depression. It increases the levels of
dopamine and serotonin (low levels of these hormones are associated with depression).
The massage also reduces hormones such as norepinephrine and cortisol (hormones
associated with stress). This leads to mood regulation and improved cardiovascular health.
- Another study performed by Annelie Ågren et al. from the Department of Obstetrics and
Gynaecology of the Hospital of Skövde, Sweden, proved that Prenatal Massage helps with
SNVP or Severe Nausea and Vomiting during Pregnancy.
- It is common for the pregnant woman to experience sciatic nerve pain, mostly in the latest
stages of their pregnancy. The Prenatal Massage Therapy helps to release the tension on
the legs’ muscles caused by the uterus resting on the muscles located in the lower back
and pelvic floor. With this, women may experience less sciatic nerve pain during their
- Research indicates that the Prenatal Massage not only help the mothers but also the
babies, reducing the levels of cortisol in them.
- Alleviates heartburn by relaxing the nervous system and reducing stomach pressure,
although, there are cases where women have felt the massage made the heartburn worst.
- Expectant women often feel rejuvenated as the massage allows them to rest and
Does it have side effects?
Receiving the appropriate Prenatal Massage Therapy performed by a licensed massage therapist
has no side effect known.
What are the Differences between Regular Massage Therapies and Prenatal
The main modification is the woman positions during the massage:
Contrary to other massage therapies the patient will not lay on her stomach, as it is both: unsafe
and uncomfortable. In Prenatal Massage Therapy the mother will have to lay on her side and
cradle a body pillow, for the therapist to be able to massage her back.
The pregnant woman won’t lay flat on her back in order to avoid pressure on the vena cava. She
will be semi-reclined with the use of pillows behind her, and under her knees.
Many massage therapies make use of oils, Prenatal Massage Therapy is no stranger to it.
Nonetheless essential oils contraindicated during pregnancy are avoided. For example, clary sage
is known as an oil that can trigger contractions. Other essential oils that should be avoided are
rosemary, oregano, nutmeg, peppermint, thyme, basil, and cinnamon. You should check with a
certified aromatherapist if you are unsure if an oil is safe for the pregnancy.
Another difference is that certain areas of the body will not be massaged. The abdomen and any
pressure point that can promote contractions or jump starts labor are avoided during Pregnancy
The pressure used in Prenatal Massage is lighter compared to a regular massage. Even when Deep
Tissue massage techniques can be used (only in certain areas), the overall pressure of the
Pregnancy Massage is rather gentle.
Some couples book a massage therapist to give them both massage and find that it is a good way
to enhance their emotional connection. They may even find that your massage therapist is willing
to show the partner some massage techniques that are safe to practice at home for themselves.
What Happens During a Pregnancy Massage?
You will enter a massage room -preferably with dim lights-, peaceful music, an overall calm
You massage therapist will have you begin laying on your back, in the semi-reclined position
explained previously. You will spend a third of your scheduled time in this position.
Your therapist may start with your neck, shoulders, and head, and then proceed with your arms
and the upper part of your legs. You can expect gentle strokes.
Then you will roll onto your side where you will be supported by pillows. You will spend the rest of
your therapy in this position. While laying on the side your massage therapist will massage your
back, neck, shoulders, legs, and feet.
Most facilities offer Prenatal Massage sessions of 60 minutes, although others may offer 45, or 90
What does Prenatal Massage involve?
The most popular forms of Pregnancy Massage make use of the principles based on Swedish
massage techniques due to its benefits, like reducing muscular tension, improving blood
circulation and lymphatic drainage.
Some spas and therapists make use of aromatherapy oils and burn incense to enhance the sensory
experience. There are oils which are avoided. And non-scented or very low scented oils may be
Some massage therapists make use of Deep Tissue massage techniques, this can relieve swelling,
tension and stress, but this type of massage cannot be applied on all the body during pregnancies.
Experts avoid pressure points associated with the pelvis, wrist, hands, and ankles. The use of this
technique is also avoided in the legs due to the risk of blood clots during pregnancy.
The amount of clothing is entirely up to you. During Prenatal Massage some women are more
comfortable wearing very little, and others prefer to be more covered. It is worth noting that for
you to get the most benefits from your massage, the therapist needs to be able to have access to
as much of your skin surface as possible.
Safety and Risks of Pregnancy Massage, and when should be avoided:
There are few studies that have researched the risks of Prenatal Massage. Knowledge of the
dangers of Pregnancy Massage on high-risk pregnancy and pregnancy related issues like
preeclampsia, bleeding, or gestational diabetes is scarce.
Studies show no correlation between massage and miscarriage, but since the overall risk of
miscarriage is high in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, your doctor or your maternity care provider
may recommend avoiding massage therapies during that first trimester. Some facilities may not be
comfortable scheduling a session until you reach the second trimester.
A licensed massage therapist and a professional spa will ask you to provide your medical history,
and in some cases, they will ask for an authorization from your doctor. You should provide the
therapist with the information on health conditions, medications, allergies, family medical history,
and your pregnancy status. It is important for you to have a good line of communication with your
massage therapist and express to them if you feel any discomfort during the treatment.
Again, we advise you to seek and be sure that your massage therapist is licensed and certified.
Only these professionals will know what techniques are safe to use, and which areas of the body
must not be massaged.
Some essential oils must be avoided in Prenatal Massage therapy. If you are considering using
them, talk first with a certified aromatherapist and with your doctor. The first will help you known
which ones to avoid, and your doctor may suggest avoiding oils use during your first trimester.
When to avoid prenatal massage?
It is highly recommended to avoid Pregnancy Massage at all under the following conditions and
-If your prenatal care provider or your doctor has advised you against it.
-If you have a high-risk pregnancy condition or have previously had a premature labor.
-If you have risk of pre-term labor.
-If you have pre-eclampsia (or High blood pressure related conditions), or sudden swelling with
retention of fluid.
-If you have blood clots or a clotting disorder
-If you have problems with your placenta, such as placenta previa
-If your massage therapist is too vigorous. In which case you need to say so, ask them to be gentler
and try to keep a good communication between you both.
-If you experience severe headaches.
-If having a pregnancy massage causes you to feel sick, lightheaded, gives you a headache or you
don’t enjoy the experience.
-If you were a heavy drinker, drug user or smoker prior to pregnancy, it may be best to avoid
massage altogether to avoid any detox reaction.
Foot Massages: Are they Safe during Pregnancy?
Expectant women often find their feet sore and swollen due to the additional weight they support
now. Foot massages can alleviate and relief these symptoms. Foot massage are safe for the
pregnancy, but certain acupressure points that can stimulate labor on and near the feet, must be
avoided. The massage therapist must be trained on prenatal foot massages.
Additional Tips for Enjoying your Pregnancy Massage.
Be certain that your massage therapist is certified and licensed by a professional organization and
ask if they have training and experience with Prenatal Massage Therapy. Your doctor or maternity
care provider may be able to recommend a qualified professional in your area.
Drink water. Massages can be dehydrating, and expectant women already need extra fluids during
pregnancy. Drink extra water before your scheduled session, and hydrate some more after your
Make sure that the environment where the massage therapy will take place is clean. Sheets and
towels should be recently cleaned and washed. The massage therapist must wash their hands
prior to beginning the massage.