When you’re pregnant, it’s a no-brainer that you want to go through the whole of the 9 months as comfortable as possible, as it is one of the most strenuous and physically demanding times for the body. But other than maternity wear, pillows and other household products that can help make day-to-day life a little easier and ease physical issues like back pain, are certain self-care remedies like pregnancy massage the key to total zen? It sure sounds like heaven seeing as it would help women who are expecting a baby to feel greater comfort and less tension overall, right?
Well, the trouble is, there’s a lot of fear that it’s potentially harmful to mum and baby – but is that founded in evidence? Let’s find out if prenatal massage is safe and suitable for expectant mothers.
What is pregnancy massage?
A pregnancy massage can be done pre and/or post-natal and is usually done on a pregnancy massage table which is designed to accommodate a woman’s growing belly in prone position.
Practitioners may also offer bolsters or other pregnancy pillows to make sure the mother-to-be is comfortable, usually laying on her side.
Although no specific benefits to pregnancy massage have been verified beyond the benefits for everyone else, a few studies suggest that pregnancy massage can help expectant mothers with improved sleep, less anxiety and back pain (1).
Are massages safe during pregnancy?
With so many questions on whether it’s safe to do massages while you’re pregnant, let’s focus on debunking some of the top myths:
• Myth: A massage increases the rate of a miscarriage.
• Truth: Miscarriages are most common within the first trimester.
Many reasons and risk factors for miscarriage exist and many clinics and even medical professionals will advise against massage during the first trimester – and one of the reasons is because there is a lack of certification standards for practitioners.
Some pregnancy massage practitioners argue that pre-natal massage doesn't, in itself, cause miscarriage, but no research has been done to show a link between a massage and a miscarriage. Because many miscarriages happen in the first trimester, some massage therapists and Doctors advise not to get any form of massage therapy done in the first-trimester simply to avoid any potential liability issues should a miscarriage occur.
Always consult with your Doctor before trying any new form of body therapy when you’re pregnant.
• Myth: Getting a massage in prone position is always dangerous.
• Truth: The position needs to be modified as the pregnancy progresses.
Prone is a body position in which one lies flat with the chest down and the back up. When it comes to getting a massage on a pregnancy table, the position of the expectant mother should always be based on her comfort. Many women feel comfortable in prone position up to about the beginning of the second trimester, and others will want/need to change their position sooner.
If you’re going to try a pregnancy massage, always be open and honest with your practitioner or therapist and let them know as soon as possible if and when you’re uncomfortable. Basically, the main concern with being prone is the restriction of blood flow to the baby – however, you will feel a build of blood pressure if this is happening and it will be reasonably uncomfortable so you would understand straight away that this isn’t a good idea for you (2).
Always discuss things openly with your therapist and Doctor if you have any questions or concerns regarding your pregnancy.
• Myth: Massaging the abdomen can cause damage to the baby and dislodge the placenta.
• Truth: The placenta is firmly attached to the uterine wall, and appropriate pressure cannot harm the baby or mother.
Appropriate pressure doesn’t have to mean ‘light’ either. It simply means appropriate pressure for the task at hand. There is no clinical evidence to support the use of deep or digging pressure in the abdomen in any context, and it would be outside of the scope of massage practice for it to be provided.
Most myths out there about pregnancy massage stem from the incorrect belief that pregnancy is a delicate situation and that one wrong move could cause damage. However during pregnancy, the body is undergoing some of the most substantial forces of change that it could ever experience – it’s more resilient than you think.
Other myths around pregnancy massage centre on the induction of premature labour. Depending on who you talk to, there are points all over the body that are either good or bad for pregnancy, but none of them have any reproducible effects (meaning that there’s no actual evidence to support such claims). I mean, if there were a magical ‘eject' button, I’m pretty sure all mothers that go beyond a full term would be pushing that button as frequently as possible!
When to avoid getting a pregnancy massage
Because there aren’t many studies around the pros and cons of prenatal massage, many Doctors prefer a more conservative approach to caring for pregnant patients. Some Doctors do not, in fact, go as far as to recommend a massage, however others will give clearance only if you are NOT:
• Experiencing nausea or morning sickness
• At risk of miscarriage
• A case of high-risk pregnancy
Essentially, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that a massage will in any way harm the mother or the unborn child when performed correctly and with care. And just to be crystal clear, this obviously relates to massage being done by a trained professional after you’ve consulted with your Doctor.
There are certainly adaptations to treatment that are necessary, such as reduced pressure on the legs, the time spent in any one position, and the use of supports and props. This is largely dictated by comfort levels – so if you are the one getting a massage, just make sure you’re letting your practitioner know when something is uncomfortable, and they’ll make the necessary adjustments. As well, your practitioner might need to make some environmental changes in order for your comfort to increase; for example scents can often be overpowering during pregnancy and should therefore be reduced or eliminated.
If you’ve been contemplating getting a massage during pregnancy and have felt apprehensive about it, remember that there is no evidence to support it being harmful to you or your child. Just make sure you see professionals who have been trained in prenatal massage and have a sound understanding of how the body changes during the process of growing a human, and can therefore adjust accordingly.
Always consult with your Doctor before trying any new body therapy while pregnant and to discuss any questions or concerns you may have. Hope this gives you some zen!