I get asked a lot of questions about pregnancy massage and there seems to be a lot of different opinions out there about the topic, particularly the regarding safety and precautions. I have compiled a list of the questions I get asked the most. If you have a friend or relative who is unsure about whether pregnancy massage is for them, feel free share these frequently asked questions with them.
WHY RECEIVE A PREGNANCY MASSAGE?
- Such a great question, and I really have to restrict myself here so that I won’t write pages and pages on this question only! Pregnancy massage can ease many physical discomforts associated with pregnancy such as low back and hip pain, swelling, pins and needles, cramping, rib ache, insomnia, depleted energy levels, stress. Or it can be enjoyed as a relaxing and invigorating form of self-care and me-time in the face of the big, life-changing event of starting/growing a family! Either way, it is a beautiful way to enhance the well-being of both mother and baby during pregnancy.
HOW DOES A PREGNANCY MASSAGE DIFFER FROM A “REGULAR” MASSAGE?
- Side-lying positioning – I massage majority of my pregnant clients in a side-lying position from the second trimester onward, sometimes even earlier. Resembling a foetal position (with a few tweaks), this is often the most comfortable, supported and safe position for a pregnant woman to lie down. I use a wedge-shaped pillow under the belly for support, comfort and to prevent my client feeling like they are going to roll off the massage table! I also place a pillow in between the legs to keep the hips nicely aligned and often a pillow or bolster under the top arm for comfort.
- Avoiding prolonged supine position – lying on the back is kept to a minimum in order to avoid supine hypertensive syndrome, which refers to a positional low blood pressure caused by the weight of the uterus on vena cava, the main artery in the torso. This could restrict flood flow to the heart and placenta, and make the mother instantly feel dizzy and unwell. Even though some women find that they are perfectly comfortable sleeping on their back late into the pregnancy, I always take the safest option and limit the supine position to a minimum or avoid it altogether.
- Considering pregnancy-related physical changes – Massage is always tailored to suit each individual client but there are many common complaints that are often addressed in the pregnancy massage, for example discomfort in the low back and hips due the weight of the growing belly, swelling in extremities as well as neck, shoulder and rib pain.
- Relaxation – Lowering stress and anxiety levels are always a priority in a pregnancy massage as they also affect the unborn baby, and this is why I take extra care to make sure my pregnant client is as comfy as possible and gets the best chance wind down, rest and rejuvenate.
WHO SHOULD I SEE FOR A PREGNANCY MASSAGE? HOW TO FIND A QUALIFIED THERAPIST?
- Most massage courses cover pregnancy massage only briefly (if at all), and it is best to seek out a therapist who has taken up an additional training course in pregnancy massage. This ensures that the techniques and positioning is always done in a safe and comfortable manner. Pregnancy trained massage therapists often display their certificates in a visible place in their treatment room / clinic and are happy to tell you where and with whom they trained with. (In case if you were wondering, my answer is Pregnancy Massage Australia in 2013 with Catherine McInerney!)
- Natural therapy pages and other online directories can be helpful when looking for a massage therapist in your area who is specialised in pregnancy massage.
IS IT SAFE TO HAVE A MASSAGE DURING THE FIRST TRIMESTER?
- As mentioned above, it is safe (and recommended!) as long as you see a therapist trained in pregnancy massage so that they can make sure the treatment follows the correct pregnancy massage guidelines. Even if it is only “early days” or you’re unsure whether you are pregnant or not, it is best to let your massage therapist know. (Remember we are bound by confidentiality!) Having said that, the human body is very resilient, and it is unlikely that massage could cause any harm to the unborn baby, but it is always best to err on the side of caution and avoid any heavy deep tissue work in the abdomen, low back and pelvic area if you suspect that you could be pregnant.
ARE THERE AREAS THAT SHOULDN’T BE MASSAGED DURING PREGNANCY?
- There are certain uterine stimulating, potentially labour inducing acupressure points that are to be avoided during pregnancy massage. Gentle massage over these areas is perfectly fine, but a sustained deep, static pressure is not, unless of course you are way over your due date, sick of hot curries, bumpy car rides and other tricks to coax the little one into the world!
- As mentioned above, deep tissue massage over abdomen is avoided in the first trimester. Deeper work around the pelvis and low back is often beneficial in the later stages of pregnancy but avoided during the first 12 weeks.
DO I HAVE TO HAVE MY BELLY MASSAGED?
- This is entirely up to you. Belly massage can be beneficial and soothing for both mother and baby but it is by no means compulsory part of the massage treatment. Some women love their belly massaged, others can’t stand the idea of it! Both scenarios are fine. I will always ask for your permission beforehand, and won’t feel offended if you say no.
SHOULD I GET A CLEARANCE FROM MY DOCTOR BEFORE COMMENCING MASSAGE TREATMENTS?
- Only if you are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy is it advisable to get a clearance from your maternity health care provider. I know I am repeating myself here, but erring on the side of caution when it comes to pregnancy massage is always the best policy. If you are in the low risk group, no need for a clearance, just book in!
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I GET A PREGNANCY MASSAGE?
- There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer here. Everybody is different. The recommended frequency for massages depend on so many factors; your physical and emotional health, level of activity, previous (maternal) health history etc. Generally the need for massage tends to increase towards the second half of the pregnancy as the belly grows and other physiological changes take place and take their toll on the mother’s body. A weekly massage in the last 2-6 weeks of the pregnancy is a great way to prepare the body and mind for the birth and parenthood.
CAN THE BABY FEEL THE MASSAGE?
- I confess, no one has actually asked me this (and it is quite impossible to answer the question with certainty)! But did you know that the first sense to develop in babies in utero is the sense of touch? It starts to develop at three weeks of gestation, before most women even know they are pregnant! I have had clients who report that their baby particularly “enjoyed” certain body parts being massaged (commonly feet, hands or belly) and responded with a little high-five or a back-flip in the womb. So I tend to take that as a YES from the baby too!
Riina Kosonen is a remedial massage therapist with a special interest in women’s health, wellbeing and incorporating selfcare into the everyday life. She has completed a Certificate in Pregnance Massage through Pregnancy Massage Australia and has since supported numerous expectant mothers in their journey from preconception to post-partum and beyond. She practices in Newcastle, NSW.
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