There are so many rules that can make pregnancy seem like a delicate and vulnerable time. Women are all-too-often bombarded with information of what they should avoid in pregnancy, from coffee to vigorous exercise to chlorine in the swimming pool.
It’s a common myth that having bodywork like a massage, reflexology or osteopathy is dangerous. In actual fact, in the right hands, bodywork is safe and can be really effective and enjoyable.
There’s a phrase that we should “mother the mother”. When a woman receives hands-on treatment, she is nurtured so she, in turn, can nurture her baby. Many women have never learnt the art of self-care, and feel more confident in pushing and striving. However, bodywork is a great way to be taken care of and feel supported. Since the baby experiences life through its mother, this can be considered an opportunity to create an environment of love and trust.
Is it safe to get a massage while pregnant?
There have been concerns that bodywork or massages in the first trimester of pregnancy can trigger a miscarriage, however, there isn’t any research to support this claim.
A specialist or practitioner for pregnancy bodywork will use a variety of specific positions and props to ensure comfort such as side-lying, leaning on a gym ball and supported reclining. They would not work in areas that would cause any harm to you or your baby.
Most forms of bodywork have some relevance for maternity work, from aromatherapy and reflexology to Indian head massage, shiatsu and osteopathy. Of course, there are certain types of techniques that are less suitable for pregnant clients. The main objective is for the therapist to understand the main changes in the woman’s body during this time and work accordingly and personally (1).
However, it is worth mentioning that pregnant women may experience a higher chance of DVT, or deep vein thrombosis, in the calf due to the pressure on the veins with more body mass and fluid.
Gentle touching or massaging is known to be perfectly safe during pregnancy. If you would like a comforting belly rub, go softly and gently. Women often claim that gentle abdominal work can help reduce discomfort around the hips and ligaments which support the bump and help them de-stress and manage anxiety.
On another note, some people worry that bodywork can or will stimulate labour. Although there are techniques to prepare for the labour, they require specific positions, handholds and are not going to be triggered by this kind of gentle and simple bodywork and prenatal massage (2).
Benefits of pregnancy massage
• Helps the body to adapt to the changes in posture, centre of gravity and alignment
• Helps to relax the body and mind
• Reduces muscle tightness in the lower back, shoulders and legs
• Holistic care – addresses the whole person rather than just addressing medical concerns such as blood pressure
• Improves circulation for relief of constipation and swelling
• Reduces depression and anxiety
• Enhances the feeling of pleasure in the body – releases oxytocin, an important hormone in pregnancy and labour
• Boosts energy levels if feeling sluggish
• Sensory communication with the baby
• Encourages body positivity in a time of immense change
• Lowers cortisol levels which can reduce the likelihood of postnatal depression
• Empowers the woman to listen to her body
• A therapeutic space for the woman to offload (3).
Pressure points to relieve labour pain
During labour, touch can be a wonderful option for coping with contractions. It's said that you can reduce tension by massaging the jaw that comes from effort, deep pressure on the sacral bone at the base of the spine, or light touch to reduce tension in the thighs.
Not every woman will want to have close contact as she might want to be in her own ‘zone’. It’s good to be adaptable to what’s needed.
Certified prenatal massage therapist
Ask for recommendations from friends and/or people you trust. Also, local pregnancy yoga teachers, midwives or antenatal teachers will have a network of people they trust to take care of their clients. A qualified practitioner who has done specific training in pregnancy and birth will guide you to understand everything about pregnancy bodywork, like when to get a prenatal massage and the best and safest positions and techniques for you to try in yoga. Make sure to check their qualifications and experience if pregnancy work is an area of their speciality or just another add-on.
Pregnancy care tips
Don’t worry if you can’t afford or make time for appointments. A self-massage can be just as pleasant and can provide an emotional connection with your baby. Try a gentle massage on yourself while in the shower or you can even apply body lotion in the morning or evening and give yourself a little love. Use this time to pay attention to your breath, your baby and your body. It only takes a few seconds to connect deeply and many women say they feel great after this little ritual (4).
If you have a partner, use this time to have them connect with your experience. Bond together and with the baby by having them pamper you for a few minutes at the end of the day. It's a lovely way to share the experience of pregnancy. Maybe you can even offer bodywork to them too as they may be nervous or feel more stressed with the baby on its way.
Now you have some helpful tips to help guide you through your pregnancy journey of self-care. Enjoy!
Avni Trivedi has worked in the field of women’s health and pregnancy for over 13 years. Click here to download Pregnancy Personas for free, a helpful guide to learning what health habits to focus on, lessen fear and tune into the body.
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1. Positive Health Online: https://www.positivehealth.com/article/women-s-health/bodywork-for-pregnancy-childbirth-and-motherhood
2. US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2870995/
3. US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health: https://www.massagemag.com/benefits-of-prenatal-massage-3204/
4. Injoy Yoga: https://www.injoy-yoga.com/conception-to-parenthood/bonding-whilst-pregnant/communication