Benefits and Risks of Prenatal (Pregnancy) Massage

Prenatal massage can have many benefits when provided by a trained therapist

pregnancy massage
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What Is Pregnancy Massage?

Pregnancy massage is massage therapy specifically tailored for a pregnant women. It is also called pre-natal massage.

How is pregnancy massage different from regular massage?

In pregnancy massage, the woman's body must be properly positioned and supported during the massage using pillows and padding. Proper positioning ensures comfort and safety for the mother and baby. Specifically:

  • After about 20 weeks, mothers-to-be should be positioned on their sides rather than on their backs. Tables that provide a hole for the belly may cause unnecessary ligament stretching and should be avoided.
  • In reflexology (a popular form of touch therapy), the area between the heel and ankle bone should be avoided. 
  • Many pre-natal massage therapists have a special table designed specifically for the needs of pregnant women.

What Types of Massage Are Preferred for Pregnant Women?

The purposes of prenatal massage include:

  • relief of fatigue and strain on joints and muscles
  • relief of edema (swelling) in arms and legs
  • improvement of the flow of blood and lymph
  • increase of oxygen flow to the blood
  • relaxation to improve sleep and raise levels of hormones such as endorphins
  • relief of anxiety, depression, or other negative emotions

With these purposes in mind, along with the limitations created by the pregnancy itself, certain types of massage are preferred.

Swedish massage, which is relatively gentle and specifically addresses many of the issues described, is preferable to deep tissue massage.  Reflexology or shiatsu, both of which involve pressure point work, may be helpful as well.

Are There Risks Associated with Prenatal Massage?

There have been few studies looking at risks and benefits of prenatal massage.

That said, however, there are common sense guidelines that should be considered. 

  • There is increased risk of blood clots during pregnancy because more blood is produced at the same time that blood flow may slow down. To avoid the possibility of releasing clots, it is important to use long, gentle stroke and avoid deep or intense massage.
  • A woman's abdomen is, of course, larger and heavier during pregnancy. The abdomen should be supported with pillows or other aids, and it is usually best to avoid massage in that area.
  • Although there is no evidence that massage can increase the risk of miscarriage, some doctors recommend avoiding massage during the trimester -- just in case.
  • Little is known about risks associated with prenatal massage for women experiencing issues such as extreme morning sickness, gestational diabetes, or other pregnancy-related issues. It is probably smartest to err on the side of caution if you have serious medical problems related to your pregnancy.

Bottom line, if you are considering prenatal pregnancy, it is a good idea to check with your doctor first -- and, of course, you will want to select an experienced and trained prenatal massage therapist.

What are the benefits of pregnancy massage?

Preliminary studies suggest that pregnancy massage may help to reduce stress, decrease swelling in the arms and legs, and relieve aches and pains in muscles and joints.

In alternative medicine, pregnancy massage is sometimes suggested for back pain.

Not only can massage be physically beneficial, but the human touch can be comforting and provide emotional support during pregnancy.

Preliminary studies also suggest that massage therapy may reduce anxiety and depression.

Who do I go to for pregnancy massage?

Look for a licensed massage therapist who has additional certification in pregnancy massage. Your doctor may be able to recommend a therapist in your area.

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