You banked on a bigger tummy, but you were probably hoping to avoid the thicker ankles and plump toes that signal you’re in your third trimester.

There’s no denying it, those swollen limbs throb and ache, especially at the end of a long day on your feet. But keep smiling because a foot massage might just give you the relief you’re craving — and more.

While a foot massage sounds tempting, you might wonder if it’s safe during pregnancy.

There are concerns about pregnant women who’ve developed blood clots in their legs. Changes to your blood flow put you more at risk of them during pregnancy.

If you have reddened, swollen, or warmer spots on your lower legs, don’t get a massage and call your doctor immediately. And if you have a history of blood clots, be sure to consult your doctor before getting any lower extremity massaged.

If your doctor has cleared you for massage, you’ve got several options to choose from, with varying levels of safety.

Pedicure foot massage

While you might be tempted to kill two birds with one stone by getting a foot massage and having the toenails that you can no longer reach painted, getting a foot massage at the nail salon isn’t the option you want to choose.

This is because nail technicians aren’t usually trained in pregnancy massage. To err on the side of caution, it’s better to skip the full leg and foot massage when you get your toes done during pregnancy.

Massage therapist

Your best option is a registered massage therapist or registered reflexologist who has training in prenatal massage. They’ll be familiar with what’s safe, as well as what will feel best for your tired feet and legs.

Home massage

If you want a foot massage, ask your partner to spoil you.

In short: Avoid any areas that may cause pain. Also, find a comfortable position to recline in during the massage, but avoid lying flat on your back.

If at any point you start feeling discomfort, cramping, or other issues during a massage, go ahead and stop.

If you’re looking for facts to justify that nightly foot massage, below are some potential benefits.

  • Reduced depression and anxiety. A small 2020 research review with 8 studies involving pregnant women who received massage therapy showed that participants across groups reported decreased depression and anxiety.
  • Lower cortisol levels. Massage lowers the levels of cortisol (your body’s stress hormone). The result? An overall feeling of relaxation and warmth.
  • Shortened labor. The benefits of massage therapy in labor aren’t something to sneeze at. The same study above noted that massaged women labored 3 fewer hours and needed less medication, on average.
  • Benefits for baby. The study also showed that newborns of massaged mothers were less likely to be born prematurely and have a low birth weight. They likewise showed lower cortisol levels than newborns of mothers in the control group, potentially translating to a calmer baby.
  • Postpartum benefits. While it might seem too good to be true, the benefits of massage therapy extend to after birth too. Postpartum depression and cortisol levels were lower in the massaged women.

Now you’re on board and want to know exactly how massage works to bring about all these benefits, right? Researchers think that they can put it down to increased vagal activity.

The vagus nerve is the longest of your cranial nerves and controls your inner nerve center. It seems that massage puts this nerve into high gear, increasing blood flow in the areas of the brain that manage depression, stress, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Put it all together: a more relaxed mommy, shorter labor, and calmer and more-developed baby. You’re off to a good start!

Massage responsibly. Massage is not for you if you have a history of blood clots in your legs or the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), such as a hot, swollen area on your leg. Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you suspect DVT.

Now that you’re raring to reap the benefits of massage, keep in mind the three acupressure points that you may want to avoid touching. Acupressure is a traditional Chinese medical practice. While it’s controversial, some research supports its effectiveness in reducing labor pain and anxiety. Practitioners also believe certain acupressure points can induce labor, although the scientific evidence for this effect is lacking.

Spleen 6 (SP6) acupressure point

Where is it? This is the area on the inner ankle, about a three-fingers-width above the inner ankle bone.

Why avoid it? This area is believed to stimulate the lower abdomen, but there’s no evidence that it induces labor.

Urinary bladder 60

Where is it? This area is behind the ankle bone on the outside of the leg, between the Achilles tendon and main ankle bone.

Why avoid it? Some people believe massaging this area promotes labor. It’s also used during labor to provide pain relief.

Urinary bladder 67

Where is it? This area is on the corner of the pinky toe, right near the toenail.

Why avoid it? Massage here is said to bring on contractions and get your baby in position for delivery.

That said, several studies involving pregnant women paint a different picture. One 2015 study involving 132 women past their delivery dates showed that acupressure did not induce labor. Other studies have given similar results. While it’s always advisable to err on the side of safety, acupressure on the feet is unlikely to induce labor.

Ready to go? Share these easy tips with your partner, friend, or another helper for a super-relaxing massage at home.

  • Apply a generous amount of massage oil or lotion to reduce friction and get that silky feeling.
  • Start by loosening the ankle with a gentle shaking motion from side to side.
  • Hold the foot with both hands and then rub the top of the foot with firm upward strokes. Always stroke upward toward the heart, as that enhances circulation. Come back with a lighter stroke.
  • Massage the toes too, giving them a gentle tug. Rub between the toes.
  • Squeeze the heels.
  • Move on to rubbing the bottom of the foot.

You can alternate the amount of pressure applied by using your fingers to apply lighter pressure and your thumbs, knuckles, and palms to apply deeper pressure.

Ready for more? Don’t stop at a foot massage… use the same techniques to massage the calves and thighs.

Foot massage therapy is the most common alternative therapy recommended for pregnant women — and for good reason. So, put up your feet and relax… because you’re doing a great job carrying that baby and you deserve it.