What Is a Pregnancy Massage?

Also Called a Prenatal (Before Birth) Massage

There are several reasons you might consider having a pregnancy massage (also called a prenatal massage). Pregnancy changes your body and mind, bringing about a wide range of emotions and aches and pains in places that never hurt before.

A prenatal massage may help alleviate some of the discomforts of pregnancy while providing a sense of relaxation—but is it safe? In general, the answer is yes. However, there are some important things you should know before you schedule a session.

First, you will need to ask your doctor if it would be safe for you to have a prenatal massage, as there are some people who should not have massages while they are pregnant. Once you get your doctor's OK, you'll need to find a massage therapist who has the training and certification necessary to do pregnancy massage.

pregnancy massage

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What Is a Pregnancy Massage?

Massage therapy is a natural modality for improving the function of the body, reducing pain, and lowering stress. Prenatal massage is a type of massage therapy that is specifically for pregnant people.

Type of Bodywork Used

The unique needs of a pregnant person will determine the type of bodywork that is used during a pregnancy massage. These needs—which can be hormonal, emotional, and physical—will change throughout the pregnancy.

In general, there are many types of massage therapy. Examples include shiatsu massage, deep tissue massage, and Swedish massage.

A pregnancy massage primarily makes use of Swedish massage techniques, which provide muscle relaxation to the entire body. Parts of the technique are the various types of strokes that are used, which include:

  • Friction (small circular movements)
  • Effleurage (light stroking movements)
  • Tapotement (percussion)
  • Vibration (shaking and rocking movements)

A pregnancy massage will also cater to the unique needs of a person who is pregnant. Special care is taken to position the person's body using bolstering to accommodate the physical changes that occur during pregnancy (such as the pregnant person’s growing belly).

This can include certain body positions, depending on how far along the pregnancy is. For example, side-lying positions are normally used during the second and third trimesters.

A prenatal massage usually lasts around 50 to 60 minutes.

Benefits of Pregnancy Massage

A pregnancy massage can help improve a person's general body tone, increase blood and lymph circulation, improve the function of the joints and muscles, and alleviate physical and mental fatigue.

Other benefits of prenatal massage include:

  • Providing an overall sense of well being
  • Improving sleep
  • Increasing oxygenation of muscles and tissues
  • Hormone regulation (which is linked with lower stress levels)
  • Pain relief
  • Reduction of swelling (edema)
  • Relieving anxiety and stress

Research

Studies have shown that pregnant people with depression have a higher incidence of giving birth to premature and low birth weight babies.

In a 2010 study, a group of pregnant women were assigned to receive once- or twice-weekly 20-minute sessions of pregnancy massage therapy for five, 12, or 16 weeks.

The women who received pregnancy massage had lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety; lower premature birth rates; and fewer complications before birth (prenatal) compared to the control group who did not participate in pregnancy massage.

Other benefits of pregnancy massage that were reported in the study include:

  • Lower incidence of depression (which might have been the result of an increase in dopamine and serotonin levels)
  • Lower levels of anxiety
  • Less back and leg pain
  • Decreased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone)
  • Lower rate of postpartum depression

The study also noted several benefits for the fetus. Prenatal massage was linked to higher fetal performance in the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment habituation, orientation, and motor scales (a measurement of a newborn baby’s responses to the extrauterine environment, including an evaluation of activity levels and reflexes). Newborns also had lower cortisol levels.

Risk Factors

When considering the benefits of pregnancy massage, it’s important to understand there are also some risks involved.

There are also circumstances in which pregnancy massage is not recommended, as well as some controversial issues (such as areas of the body that should not be massaged).

Contraindications

Contraindications are circumstances in which harm could be caused by a specific treatment, medication, or other intervention.

Massage is contraindicated when a person has certain conditions or under specific scenarios during pregnancy, including:

  • Bleeding disorders
  • Taking blood thinners
  • Thrombocytopenia (low platelet level)
  • Healing skin (from burns, wounds, or other types of skin breakdown)
  • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clots)
  • Fractures (broken bones)
  • Infections
  • Osteoporosis (a condition that involves progressive bone thinning)
  • Taking certain medications
  • Uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Recent surgery or organ transplant

Pregnancy-Specific Contraindications

There are also several conditions that are specific to pregnancy that could make it unsafe for a person to have a prenatal massage.

You should not get a pregnancy massage if you have:

  • A high-risk pregnancy: Certain risk factors make a pregnancy considered high-risk, such bleeding, pre-term contractions, and preeclampsia.
  • Pre-eclampsia: A serious complication of pregnancy is a condition called preeclampsia. It usually develops around 20 weeks and involves a dangerous rise in blood pressure and protein in the urine which could cause a stroke or even death.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): If a person has. a DVT, they may have swelling in the leg where there is a blood clot (thrombus). If the DVT is treated and resolves, a person might be able to have a prenatal massage.
  • Placenta previa, accrete, or abruption: Conditions that involve the placenta can lead to bleeding.
  • Gestational diabetes mellitus: High blood sugar levels during pregnancy are not strictly a contraindication to prenatal massage; however, a person will need to get the approval of their doctor and be prepared to check their sugars before taking part.

Controversial Safety Factors

There are several factors related to prenatal massage safety that experts do not necessarily agree upon. Here are a few of the key issues to keep in mind.

The First Trimester

Some experts warn that getting a massage during the first trimester of pregnancy carries the risk of miscarriage. Many massage therapists have raised concerns that the dramatic increase in blood flow that occurs during a massage could increase the risk of miscarriage.

There have not been enough research studies to back up the safety of massage therapy during the first trimester. Therefore, you need to talk to your OB/GYN before getting a pregnancy massage in the early stages of your pregnancy.

Massaging Certain Pressure Points

Some experts warn that massaging certain pressure points in the body could initiate labor contractions. For this reason, a person's doctor must approve the techniques that will be used during a pregnancy massage (particularly during the first trimester).

Modifications for Pregnancy

While prenatal massage is designed for people who are pregnant, the pregnancy experience is not the same for everyone. Each person will have their own set of symptoms that need to be taken into consideration, and modifications can be made to ensure the massage is safe and enjoyable for the person.

Morning sickness

According to the American Massage Therapy Association, studies have shown that massage may help reduce nausea from morning sickness. Adjustments in technique to accommodate nausea include elevating the person's upper body and avoiding massage strokes that cause rocking or shaking.

Heartburn

Keeping the body in an inclined position may help prevent reflux (a common condition during pregnancy). When the pregnant person is side-lying, propping up the area under the abdomen can reduce tension from the gastric sphincter (the area in the stomach where reflux occurs).

Varicose veins

Massage should not be performed on top of varicose veins because they could be a sign of a blood clot. If there is swelling in the legs or signs of varicose veins, massaging the legs should be avoided.

Blood clots

During pregnancy, a person’s blood volume increases dramatically and blood flow is slower than usual. Anticoagulant levels—factors that prevent bleeding—naturally increase in preparation for preventing hemorrhage during and after labor.

The circulatory changes make a pregnant person at higher risk for blood clots. Using very strong pressure and deep tissue massage could dislodge a blood clot, resulting in dangerous pregnancy complications.

Therefore, a prenatal massage should not include deep tissue massage, acupressure, shiatsu, or percussive tapping on the lower extremities.

The abdomen is not typically massaged during a therapeutic prenatal massage.

Edema (swelling)

Swelling commonly occurs during pregnancy—usually around the halfway mark or later. While it can be a typical part of pregnancy, it can also be a sign of a problem. For example, swelling of the face or hands can be a sign of preeclampsia (a condition that is a contraindication for a pregnancy massage).

When swelling involves the lower legs and feet, it may respond well to massage techniques, but the person's doctor must approve the massage techniques when edema is present.

How to Choose a Prenatal Massage Therapist

After you get your doctor's approval, you can begin researching massage therapists that are qualified to do prenatal massage.

To ensure you have a safe and helpful experience, make sure that a potential therapist:

  • Is certified in prenatal massage (you can look up the therapist online to ensure the person is licensed in massage and certified to provide massage during pregnancy)
  • Provides a clean environment
  • Does not use essential oils that should be avoided during pregnancy (such as basil and clary sage)
  • Uses proper positioning and approved massage techniques for pregnancy

Tips for Pregnancy Massage

When you've gotten your doctor's OK and you've found a qualified therapist, there are some steps you can take to ensure you have a positive prenatal massage experience.

  • Try to leave your self-consciousness at the door. If you are feeling uneasy about your pregnancy body, try to go into your massage reassured that therapists are unbiased and are there to help you feel your best.
  • Speak up. If you are uncomfortable exposing certain parts of your body, let your therapist know. A professional massage therapist will create a safe environment for the massage and will not force you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable.
  • Drink plenty of water before and after your massage. Staying hydrated is always important, but the fluids may also help to flush away toxins.
  • Avoid scheduling your appointments more often than weekly. The general recommendation is that you don't have more than one prenatal massage per week, but you will want to ask your doctor how often is right for you.

Summary

A prenatal massage is a technique that can be used by massage therapists who are specially trained to perform massage on people who are pregnant.

While there are many types of massage, pregnancy massage most often uses Swedish massage techniques to provide muscle relaxation to the entire body.

A Word From Verywell

A prenatal massage can be a way to soothe your body and mind throughout your pregnancy, but you need to check with your doctor before scheduling a session. There are some conditions and situations that would make it unsafe to have a massage while you're pregnant.

Once you get your doctor's approval, look for a massage therapist who is trained and certified in prenatal massage. Before making an appointment, call your insurance company to find out what it might cover.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can my partner give me a pregnancy massage?

While it’s OK to give your partner a back or foot rub to help reduce stress and lower tension, a layperson should not give a pregnancy massage. They should only be given by a trained, certified prenatal massage therapist.

Where can I get a pregnancy massage?

If you want to try a pregnancy massage, you need to find a certified prenatal massage therapist.

These certified professionals have additional training beyond the standard education for a licensed massage therapist. They are trained to look for signs of pregnancy complications (such as deep vein thrombosis or varicose veins), how to position a pregnant person to prevent injuries (such as strain to the uterine ligaments, and how to address other specific needs during pregnancy.

Who should not get a pregnancy massage?

There are many scenarios in which a person should not get a pregnancy massage. Some of the most common include:

  • Any type of high-risk pregnancy
  • Preeclampsia
  • Previous pregnancy complications (such as pre-term labor)
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH)
  • Severe swelling, high blood pressure, or severe headaches (which can be signs of pre-eclampsia)
  • Recently post-partum (after birth)

How much does a pregnancy massage cost?

The cost of a pregnancy massage varies depending on different factors, such as your geographical location and the type of facility offering massages.

The average cost for a 30- to 60-minute massage is $60 to $100 but can be more.

Insurance usually will not cover a pregnancy massage. Some may offer discounts or cover part of the cost. Some plans may cover massage under chiropractic care.

Check with your insurance provider before scheduling your massage.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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