Massage is generally considered safe following the first trimester of pregnancy. If you’re at risk for preterm labor, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, or other possible complications, your doctor or midwife may advise against massage during pregnancy.
There are lots of aches and pains that come with being pregnant.
Whether it’s your hips that scream in pain after a long day on your feet or your back that throbs as it supports your growing bump or your swollen feet, chances are a massage sounds absolutely heavenly.
Maybe your partner has even noticed how much you hurt and offered a massage. But like most things in pregnancy, you might be wondering if it’s safe to have one. Here’s what to keep in mind.
The short answer: Yes, it’s most likely safe.
Of course, let your doctor know that you’re thinking of getting a massage, either from your partner or a professional, before you go ahead and get one.
But in general, massage is considered safe after the first trimester. You might want to avoid massage before then because it can make you dizzy or nauseous — and you probably don’t want to make your morning sickness worse inadvertently. Some massage practitioners won’t give a massage in the first trimester because they worry it could cause a miscarriage, but there is little medical evidence suggesting this is true.
So, “if your partner massages your neck and shoulders, then that should be fine,” says Miinkay Yu, a professional massage therapist who is trained in prenatal massage. (It might help relieve some of your stress, but more on that below.)
Just be sure to let your partner or a therapist know if something hurts while they’re massaging you and to let them know how much pressure feels good.
First things first: Massaging certain acupressure points is rumored to trigger miscarriage or preterm labor. No evidence supports this belief, but studies show it may decrease the length and painfulness of labor.
Additionally, your pregnant body should be positioned and supported differently than a non-pregnant person’s — for your comfort and so that your baby is safe in utero. During your massage, you should be lying on your side — not your back or stomach — or sitting upright or in a semi-reclining position.
Why is this? For starters, lying on your stomach is uncomfortable. In addition, lying on your back after 20 weeks could put pressure on blood vessels, including your aorta and inferior vena cava, which can restrict blood flow. This in turn can cause your blood pressure to drop and decrease blood flow to your uterus.
You may also want to be careful on certain parts of your body:
- Your belly. You’ll probably want to avoid having your growing belly and the area around it massaged because this could hurt you or the baby. It’s OK to gently rub some stretch mark cream into your belly, though.
- Your legs. It’s fine to rub or stroke your legs gently, but make sure that your partner doesn’t use too strong of deep tissue pressure. Because your blood volume increases when you’re pregnant, blood flow in your legs can slow down, making you prone to clots. So deep tissue massage on your legs could dislodge a clot.
- Pressure points. As we hinted at above, in reflexology, you have pressure points in some regions of your body, like your wrist, ankle, or between your fingers. Some people say that massaging these areas may cause contractions, but there’s currently no evidence to support the claims.
There is a bit of research on the safety of massage for pregnant people. Talk to your doctor about your risk. There are some conditions of pregnancy when you shouldn’t use massage.
As a result, your doctor might advise against getting a massage if you have:
There’s nothing wrong with getting a gentle massage from your partner or a friend if you keep the precautions we’ve given here in mind. But if you decide to get a professional massage, make sure you look for someone trained in prenatal massage.
“Your body will go through many changes as it goes through gestation and birth. It’s important to find a professional who understands everything that’s going on with your body so they can adjust the massage to your needs,” explains Yu. “For example, when your body is supporting a baby, the fluid you retain and create increases, so if your legs and feet are swollen, then a lighter type of massage is indicated.”
“Massage is very beneficial. As your body carries increasingly more weight, your back and hips take on stress and tension,” says Yu. “Getting regular massage to help release this tension will make moving around easier and more comfortable.”
And when the big day comes, keep in mind that massage and acupressure during labor have been found to reduce labor pain and time for many — increasing the satisfaction of delivery!
Benefits vs. risks
A systematic review of many studies about massage in pregnancy concluded that complications from massage are rare in pregnancies that don’t have complications. Massage tends to reduce stress, depression, and back pain, as well as improve general health through increased immune responses.
If you have a complicated or high-risk pregnancy, the risks may outweigh the benefits. Talk with your doctor for more info.
It’s likely safe for you to get a massage while you’re pregnant, whether it’s from your partner or a professional. Just make sure you chat with your doctor before you get one.
You should also avoid lying on your back or stomach while you receive the massage, and probably opt for a lighter (versus deep tissue) touch. And remember: If it starts to hurt, ask your partner or massage therapist to stop.