It’s no secret that being pregnant can be uncomfortable at times — and not just on the day of baby’s birth. All of the months leading up to delivery can bring aches, pains, twinges, and jabs.
If you’re thinking about indulging in some well-deserved R&R with a pedicure or a massage, you may be wondering if an electric massage chair (the kind you sit in to get a pedicure) is safe to use while pregnant.
Just like with so many other things during pregnancy, there’s no one definitive answer — but many experts will tell you that these massage chairs are safe as long as you’re using them appropriately.
Here’s what you need to know about why using massage chairs while pregnant is sometimes controversial, what to keep in mind if you decide to go for it, and what else you can do to get relief during pregnancy.
An electric massage chair is just a chair, and you sit in those all the time while pregnant, so you might be wondering what the big deal is. Well, there are three main concerns surrounding using an electric massage chair during pregnancy:
- The vibration could harm your baby.
- The acupressure pressure points could trigger early labor.
- If the chair has a heating feature, you could become overheated, which could hurt your baby.
Is there any validity to these concerns? In short, not really.
“While there have been claims that a massage chair can lead to miscarriage or premature labor, there is no evidence that that is true,” says Dr. Romy Ghosh, OB-GYN with Austin Regional Clinic. “Massage chairs used as intended are generally safe when pregnant.”
Let’s take a closer look at each potential concern:
- Vibration. The vibration you receive from a massage chair is generally not vigorous enough to cause any harm. And even if you used the highest setting, there’s no risk to your belly because you’re in a sitting position.
- Acupressure. Likewise, the pressure applied in these chairs isn’t intense enough to trigger labor. In fact, acupressure labor points require steady pressure, not the kind you would get from a massage chair.
- Heat. Although the heat from a massage chair is probably going to be pretty mild, it’s always a good idea to be mindful of overheating during pregnancy. It is dangerous to raise your body temperature too much when you’re pregnant. That’s why things like hot tubs, saunas, and hot yoga aren’t recommended.
Overall, using a massage chair appropriately doesn’t pose much risk for a pregnant person.
Stick to low massage settings and mild heat, especially around your lower back. For instance, pregnant people are allowed to use heating pads in isolated areas. If you feel yourself getting too warm or you feel faint, you should stop using the chair and hydrate.
If you’re worried about using an electric massage chair during your pregnancy, you can skip it at any time. Some people may find it particularly uncomfortable in the first trimester and during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy.
Additionally, you may just want to avoid the massage chair during pregnancy for other reasons, such as:
- Morning sickness. if you have severe morning sickness, all that jostling around could make you nauseated.
- Sciatica. If you have sciatica, you might think that getting a massage is a good idea. But it could actually trigger more pain by irritating already sensitive or overworked nerves and muscles.
- Back pain. The same principle applies for lower back pain. With pregnancy, back pain can be tricky and you may irritate the area even more.
If you’re having a lot of pain, it’s a good idea to talk with a healthcare professional or midwife about why you want to use a massage chair.
“It would be best if you spoke to your provider about any aches and pains you’re feeling,” adds Ghosh. “Low back pain, for instance, can be a sign of preterm labor.”
Look, we get it: Everything hurts. Your sciatica makes it hard to walk, your pubic dysplasia is giving you lightning crotch, and it feels like your back is locked into a permanent vice.
Of course you want a massage — anyone would!
But while a massage chair might be a solution for you, there are also other pregnancy-safe ways to find relief. And again, be sure to discuss any specific aches and pains you have with a healthcare professional, just to be on the safe side.
Ghosh says regular physical activity such as walking or swimming can help relieve back pain and strengthen your back, preventing other aches and pains.
Rest and ice
Ice packs and resting strained muscles can provide short- and long-term relief.
Putting your feet up isn’t just an expression. Elevating your feet can reduce the swelling and discomfort in your lower extremities.
You might feel uncomfortable moving a lot, but gentle stretches, slow walks, and even simply getting up from your desk or couch once an hour to move around can help relieve pregnancy discomfort.
“Try also adding prenatal stretching, such as cat pose, to stretch the back or a foam roller to stretch the hips and glutes, which may be contributing to your back pain,” suggests Ghosh.
Pregnancy can bring new aches and pains into your life or highlight preexisting problems.
Many physical therapists are trained in working with pregnant people and some even specialize in it, so you might be able to safely realign, readjust, and recuperate with the help of a professional.
Ghosh says a referral to a physical therapist can help when at-home measures haven’t improved your symptoms.
Beyond that, you can also talk to your healthcare professional about the appropriate use of over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers during pregnancy for those days when at-home therapies just aren’t cutting it. Acetaminophen is generally considered safe to use, while ibuprofen should be avoided.
You could also incorporate acupuncture or chiropractic care into your routine, but talk with your doctor or birthing professional first. Some OB-GYNs recommend these practices, while others would prefer you avoid them.
If you aren’t comfortable trying out a massage chair or don’t have access to one, you might be wondering if you can get a traditional massage instead.
Again, the answer is basically the same: It’s probably safe, but you should check with your doctor or birthing professional.
“Massage can help reduce stress and tension, improve circulation, and improve sleep, which is good for Mom and baby,” says Ghosh. “Prenatal massages are generally safe after the first trimester, but be sure to speak to your physician first and let your massage therapist know that you’re pregnant.”
If you do get a massage, make sure it’s with a licensed massage therapist familiar with treating pregnant people.
You might also need a medical clearance letter from a healthcare professional that says you can get a massage. The therapist will also most likely have you lay on your side for the massage instead of your belly, even if you’re in your first trimester.
You might also want to think about enlisting your partner for a massage as well. According to Ghosh, a side-lying massage can:
- relieve back pain
- reduce stress
- improve sleep
And the research backs it up. For instance, a small
In this case, the massage chair being used is the kind that you sit in to receive a massage (you may have seen these at the mall), so they don’t pose any of the concerns that an electric massage chair does. If you have a massage chair like this at home or have access to one, talk with your doctor to see if using it may be a good way to relax and help with your discomfort.
No one knows for certain that electric massage chairs are safe during pregnancy, but there’s also no evidence that they’re not.
You can keep any heat and massage settings on low, just to be safe — but overall, a massage chair is unlikely to be a concern unless you have a high-risk or complicated pregnancy.
If you need the kind of relief that comes from a massage chair but can’t get to one, talk with a healthcare professional about a regular massage with a licensed therapist.
You can also discuss other ways to treat your pregnancy pains, such as soaking in a tub, using physical therapy, at-home remedies, and pregnancy-safe OTC pain relievers.