Prenatal Massage: Is Massage Safe for Pregnancy? (And what to look for in prenatal massage)

Pregnancy and massage myths have been floating around for decades, probably centuries. It is likely that a woman has heard a myth or two about receiving massage during her pregnancy!  Some of the most common prenatal massage myths and misconceptions you may have heard of:

  • Massage can cause miscarriages in the first trimester (Usually the number one concern for women)
  • A pressure point located around the ankle or massage in general can induce labour (No scientific evidence on this one!)
  • Pregnant women cannot receive massage because they cannot lay on their belly. (Yes you can!)
  • Massage therapists can help with a baby in breech. (Out of their scope of practice!)

It is completely understandable to question the safety and efficacy of massage therapy during pregnancy, especially if you are pregnant for the first time, or have previously experienced loss.  However, there is no sufficient scientific evidence supporting these myths, and prenatal massage is considered safe.

In fact research shows that prenatal massage can be quite beneficial by reducing prenatal depression, reducing pain and anxiety during childbirth as well as decreased labour complications. Other benefits of prenatal massage include: improving circulation, decreasing swelling, and reducing low back, hip, joint and nerve pain.

Maintaining Safety during Prenatal Massage

Safety during prenatal massage will come from good communication from both client and therapist, as well as modifying or omitting techniques throughout each trimester as necessary. The first trimester (0-13 weeks) for women can also be the highest risk of experiencing a miscarriage and this is probably one of main concerns women may be hesitant to receiving massage therapy. Your body has amazing protective measures against physical disturbances including many layers of muscles, fascia, the uterus, and the amniotic sac.

It is still important to let your RMT know you are pregnant in the early stages (or if you think you might be). You can start to discuss modifications of your treatment to make you feel comfortable. 

 Some of these modifications can include:

  • Avoiding deep abdominal massages, avoiding stimulating the uterus (visceral techniques)
  • Gentle joint mobilizations around the lumbar-pelvic region
  • Decreased pressure over the low back,
  • Treatments within your pain tolerance.
  • Avoiding extreme heat with heat pads

As you progress into your second and third trimester that typically means a risk in a miscarriage decreases. Your RMT may begin to offer you more treatment options like abdominal massage (a great way to access and treat rib pain during pregnancy). If you are considered a high risk pregnancy, make sure to talk with your doctor first before receiving massage

How do I choose the right prenatal RMT for me?

All Registered Massage Therapists (RMTs) are trained in school for prenatal massage, but you may benefit from a therapist with more advanced certifications. Here are some key things to consider when you are looking for an RMT for prenatal massage:

  • Part of your healthcare team: Your RMT can become an integral part of your healthcare team – you can depend on them to keep updated on your health during your pregnancy. When you come in for your initial appointment you should expect your RMT to ask health and lifestyle questions (including any prenatal health questions, checking your blood pressure, sleeping positions, changes in physical activities, pregnancy related health complications, medications, history of pregnancy, who is your support system, and physical challenges). We can keep in touch with your healthcare team, and recommend you to check in with your doctor if something pops up. Your RMT might be the most consistent health care practitioner you end up seeing throughout your pregnancy!
  • Good communication: Voice any concerns you have about massage. This could be areas you do not want to be massaged, previous loss that has you hesitant about massage, or mental health concerns. Recommendations and referrals can be made for you for physiological needs.
  • Positioning: Before starting your massage, your RMT should discuss with you the positioning options for you. If a pregnancy cushion is available, you do have the option of lying face down on your stomach! (Most pregnant women LOVE this option, as they cannot do this anywhere else). You should be explained how the cushion works, how to adjust it to fit your belly and that your RMT will do a final check in to make sure you feel comfortable before beginning treatment. If you are uncomfortable with laying face down, you can also lay on your back, in a semi-fowler’s position (head, and torso are raised 15-45 degrees) or on your side. These options are always available to you at any time, no matter what trimester you are in. Expect positioning to always be changing as your body changes!
  • Keeping you active: You should continue your physical activity during pregnancy as long as you feel safe and comfortable. Ask your RMT if they can recommend any modifications to the exercises you may not start to feel comfortable with. They may also give you rehab exercises for the issues you might be noticing throughout your pregnancy.
  • Knowledge is power: Education throughout both pre and post natal is extremely important – your RMT can provide you resources if you need. Self Massage or partner massage can also be recommended by your RMT.
  • Able to refer on: It is OK to change RMTs if either you or the RMT does not feel comfortable about prenatal massage. If your current RMT or one you are seeking are uncomfortable with treating pregnancy they should refer you onto someone who can offer prenatal massage. Word of mouth can be gold! Ask friends and family who may know an RMT they loved seeing during their pregnancy. An RMT may also refer you to a pelvic floor physiotherapist which is a wonderful compliment to prenatal massage.
  • Supporting you postnatal: We are always here for you before and after your pregnancy! Please let us know how your birth went, and send some cute baby photos! Come back for postnatal massage – there may be new physical challenges (breast feeding, picking up the baby, exhaustion)
  • Babies welcome: Childcare can be hard to come by sometimes, your baby is always welcome to your appointment if you need. We can also show you some infant massage techniques!

It is important to feel empowered, safe and comfortable during your pregnancy. These tips enable you to ask questions regarding your treatments, to know what to expect during your visit with an RMT, and to always communicate any possible concerns about your pregnancy and safety. Your massage therapist should be empowering and educating you in order to create a safe treatment plan. We want to be an important part of your health care team!