Pregnancy can be a wonderful experience but for many women it also comes with a wide range of aches, pains and discomforts. Typically, massage is great for relieving aches and pains, but is it safe during pregnancy? In this article, Breeze Academy explores the safety of prenatal massage, its benefits and how often prenatal massage is recommended. We’ll also take a look at the risks of prenatal massage and the medical conditions where massage should not be given.
So, can you have a massage when pregnant? Yes, pregnancy massage is generally considered safe from the second trimester onwards. Experts recommend monthly massages until week 27, then twice monthly massages until week 36. Weekly massages are then recommended up to your due date to relieve late-stage pregnancy symptoms.
Read on to learn more about the safety of pregnancy massage, how often women are recommended to have them and the benefits of pregnancy massage.
Are Pregnancy Massages Safe?
Pregnancy massages are generally considered to be safe after the first trimester has passed. A systematic review of a wide range of studies concluded that complications from pregnancy massage are rare in pregnancies that don’t have complications.
However, many specialist Massage Therapists will not accept pregnant women in their first trimester as some argue that this stage carries an increased risk of miscarriage. It can also make women dizzy and nauseous.
Additionally, if a pregnant woman has one of the following medical conditions, Doctors and Midwives may advise against pregnancy massage:
- Risk of preterm labour
- Gestational diabetes
- Blood clots or blood/clotting disorders
- Problems with the placenta, such as Placenta Previa
- Other known pregnancy complications
During the second and third trimesters, massage is not only considered to be safe but is commonly recommended as alternative therapy to help relieve aches, pains and other pregnancy symptoms.
When Can I Get a Massage During Pregnancy?
Some argue that prenatal massage is safe at any stage of pregnancy but that most Massage Therapists will not take on pregnant women in their first trimester due to a rumoured increased risk of miscarriage. However, there is limited scientific evidence to support this. If clients are concerned about safety or the stage of their pregnancy, it’s best for them to consult their pregnancy Doctor before proceeding with prenatal massage.
Generally, however, it is widely accepted that pregnancy in the second and third trimesters is both safe and beneficial provided that the Massage Therapist is suitably qualified and best practices are followed.
How Often Should You Have a Pregnancy Massage?
Women can benefit from monthly prenatal massages until around 27 weeks, then twice monthly appointments from 27 to 36 weeks. After 36 weeks, women may find weekly appointments particularly beneficial to help with late-stage pregnancy symptoms.
What Type of Massage is Safe During Pregnancy?
The following types of massage are generally considered to be gentle and low-risk for pregnancy so long as high-risk areas are avoided.
Swedish massage is considered to be a safe pregnancy massage. It typically involves long strokes to the muscles and pays attention to joint mobility - something that often causes pain and discomfort during the later stages of pregnancy.
Shiatsu massages are also generally considered to be safe during pregnancy. However, it is advised that clients consult their Doctor before proceeding with an appointment. This type of massage typically involves pressure and tapping on acupressure points to stimulate the body’s natural energy - similar to Acupuncture.
Learn more about the types of massage suitable for pregnancy in our blog, Can You Have a Sports Massage When Pregnant?
Benefits of Prenatal Massage
Research around the benefits of prenatal massage is limited, however experts on the topic suggest that it may have a wide range of positive effects on the symptoms of pregnancy. These include:
- Lowered anxiety and stress
- Increased levels of serotonin and dopamine
- Reduced back and leg pain
- Improved sleep
- May reduce risk of prematurity and postpartum depression
- May relieve fluid build up and pregnancy-related swelling
- Reduced labour pain
Risks Associated with Pregnancy Massage
We’ve already discussed the potential risks of first trimester pregnancy massages, as well as conditions where women should take extra precautions and consult their pregnancy Doctor. But, there are other risks and considerations to be aware of.
Can a Pregnancy Massage Induce Labour?
There is no evidence to suggest that massage induces labour. In fact, experts recommend that pregnant women increase massage appointments from twice monthly to weekly in the weeks leading up to their due date.
What Areas Should Not be Massaged During Pregnancy?
With safety in mind, there are a number of areas which should not be massaged on a pregnant woman. These include:
- The abdomen - massaging on or around the abdomen may hurt the baby therefore it is best that this area is avoided during pregnancy massage. Gently rubbing stretch mark or other types of cream onto the abdomen should be fine, however.
- The legs - gentle rubbing or stroking is generally fine, but strong or deep pressure should be avoided. During pregnancy, blood volume increases but blood flow in the legs may slow down, making women prone to blood clots. Deep stroke or pressure from massage could dislodge such clots.
There should also be considerations to the position and support of the body to ensure comfort and safety. Pregnant women should be positioned laying on their side, sitting upright, or in a semi-reclining position. They should not be positioned laying on their back or stomach. Laying on the stomach is uncomfortable and laying on their back may put pressure on blood vessels, restricting blood flow.
A review of a wide range of studies concluded that complications are rare in pregnancies that don’t have complications themselves. However, many Massage Therapists will not massage women in the first trimester of pregnancy. It is generally accepted to be safe from the second trimester onwards and is not thought to induce labour in the later stages of pregnancy.
In fact, in uncomplicated pregnancies, the benefits of pregnancy massage outweigh the risks. To receive these benefits, it is recommended to have monthly massages up to 27 weeks, then increasing to twice monthly massages until 36 weeks. In the last stages of pregnancy, weekly pregnancy massages are recommended.
Learn more about massage therapy in our Sports Massage Training courses. Curated and delivered by expert clinicians, our courses provide you with everything you need to safely and effectively provide massage to clients. If you’re completely new to massage, take a look at our level 3 course. For those more experienced, our level 4 course may be more suitable.
Note that to massage pregnant women, further specialist training is required.