Massage For Two: Pregnancy Massage FAQ

Aromatherapist and naturopath Paula Harris, from Elements Natural Therapy, answers some of the common questions she gets asked about massage during pregnancy.

Is massage safe during pregnancy?

If performed by someone who is trained in pregnancy massage, then massage is not only safe but also a wonderful experience throughout your pregnancy. There are some precautions that need to be kept in mind, but pregnancy is a natural phenomenon and women have been massaged during it for thousands of years.

What are the benefits of pregnancy massage?

Regular pregnancy massage treatments help reduce stress and anxiety (great for first-time mothers!), help relieve back pain and muscle tension in the back, hips, neck and shoulders and aid relaxation.

Massage also encourages circulation, which can help reduce fluid retention.

The Touch Institute in Miami has also found that women who have regular pregnancy massage report shorter, less intense labours, with lesser need for intervention.

Is there any time during pregnancy when I shouldn't get a massage?

Pregnancy massage is generally safe for most healthy women, and should only be avoided in weeks 12 to 14 (the changeover from first to second trimester is considered the time of greatest vulnerably in terms of massage).

There is a school of thought that massage should be avoided during the first trimester, however many women don't even realise that they're pregnant during this time! If a pregnancy is high risk (women under 20 years or over 35, genetic problems, asthma, liver or kidney problems, previous history of problems during pregnancy, previous history of miscarriage, multiple births, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension) then it is advisable to avoid massage during the first trimester, and to discuss massage with your midwife or obstetrician.

Is there anyone who shouldn't have massage during pregnancy?

There are some circumstances when massage during pregnancy isn't advisable. These include:

  • Risk of early labour, risk of miscarriage, placental or cervical dysfunction
  • Gestational Edema Proteinuria Hypertension (GEPH)
  • Eclampsia
  • Gestational Diabetes

If you are suffering from any of the following signs and symptoms, pregnancy massage may not be for you. Talk to your massage therapist or midwife if you any concerns:

  • Bloody discharge
  • Continual abdominal pains
  • Sudden gush or leakage of amniotic fluid
  • Sudden, rapid weight gain
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Protein or sugar in urine
  • Severe back pain that doesn't subside with a change in position
  • Visual disturbances
  • Severe nausea and/or vomiting
  • Severe headaches
  • Excessive hunger and thirst
  • Increased urination in the second trimester

In general, massage is also not recommended by people suffering from phlebitis, thrombosis or suspected clotting conditions; kidney, liver or spleen dysfunction or infection.

Should I tell my midwife/obstetrician I'm having pregnancy massage?

It's a good idea to keep your midwife or obstetrician informed. If you have any health problems or complications with your pregnancy, it's advisable to seek their consent before having a massage.

How far into my pregnancy can I have massages?

For as long as you want! I've had women on the massage table the day before they've given birth; as long as you're comfortable, then massage is fantastic for you.

Are there any parts of my body that shouldn't be massaged during pregnancy?

During the first trimester the abdomen and deep work on the lower back should be avoided; there are also a couple of pressure points on the ankle and hand that shouldn't be used during massage, as they can stimulate uterine contractions.

Does my abdomen get massaged?

This is personal preference; if you don't want your abdomen massaged, you don't have to. Abdomen massage can be wonderfully relaxing, and some women find it helps ease that sense of their skin being overstretched. However, I also find that quite a few pregnant women don't want to have their abdomen massaged as they're tired of having so many people touch their belly! Just tell your massage therapist what you're comfortable with.

But where does my tummy fit?

Massage tables such as the one in my clinic have a removable abdomen pad, which creates space for your bump to fit into. This is great during the first few months of your pregnancy, and some women love the opportunity to lie on their front when that's not possible at home (especially women who are usually "front sleepers"). After week 22 you will need to be propped up on pillows as you lie on your back, so you're in more of a semi-sitting position. This keeps weight off deep blood vessels in your abdomen.

Later on you may find that even the "tummy hole" becomes uncomfortable; then you can be massaged in a side-lying position, supported by pillows. This still allows your massage therapist full access to your back, as well as legs, arms and, if you choose, abdomen.

Can the baby feel the massage?

They do seem to be aware that something's happening! Some women find that during a massage is the only time they can get some peace and quiet in their belly; others find their baby-to-be gets an extra bounce during massage. Several times I've found my hands being followed around a woman's abdomen by a persistent hand or foot.

How long does a pregnancy massage go for?

The maximum time I recommend for pregnant women to be on the massage table is 45 minutes – after this your metabolic rate starts changing, and it also can get just plain uncomfortable!

The most popular length I find for pregnant women is 30 minutes; enough time to relax and escape the outside world, and get some much enjoyed relaxation in the muscles of your back.

Palmy Parent - April/May 2008