pregnancy massage therapy

Everything you need to know about pregnancy and massage

By RMT Katie Kavanagh

Congratulations, you’re going to have a baby or multiple babies! You have some big changes ahead to look forward to—along with some pregnancy-related aches and pains.

No matter how far along you are, it’s a good idea to take care of any muscle tension you may be experiencing. You may be Googling safe ways to relieve your discomfort in a safe manner, but there’s a lot of information online and beyond—good and bad—about getting a massage during pregnancy.

Moms and dads alike can benefit from a massage during this memorable time leading up to the delivery date. Whether or not you’re already a parent, expecting couples can benefit from a side-by-side massage to help seal the bond you already share with each other.

Massage therapy for birth parents is a safe and effective way to aid with muscle tension and fluid retention, create sound pelvic alignment and help with postural changes from the very first week of pregnancy and into parenthood.

You can learn more about our popular Swedish massages for regular clients in a previous blog post, but for now, we’re going to focus on the mom-to-be carrying the precious cargo.

Benefits of prenatal massage

Prenatal massage offers a number of benefits for moms-to-be, and can help:

  • Reduce swelling. Swelling during pregnancy is normal and unfortunate, especially during the second and third trimester. It usually occurs in the legs, ankles, feet and hands due to the increased pressure on major blood vessels. Massage can help reduce some of this fluid retention and pressure by increasing circulation to soft tissues.
  • Relieve discomfort naturally. Prenatal massage is an effective drug-free alternative. This is good news since the use of medication is limited during pregnancy. Massage can improve low back and sciatic nerve pain by addressing tight muscles that affect these areas.
  • Promote a good night’s rest. We can all benefit from improved sleep. Massage directly influences the body’s production of serotonin, the hormone that helps relieve pain. Serotonin, in turn, is essential to produce melatonin, a hormone that tells us when it’s time to sleep.
  • Reduce stress. The thought of labour and pain leading up the delivery day can cause a lot of stress. Prenatal massage can help you have an easier delivery by reducing overall stress. It also has the potential to aid in keeping your muscles toned and relaxed in advance of labour.

Massago | pregnancy massage therapy

Can prenatal massage cause miscarriage?

Pregnant or not, you should trust your instincts when it comes to your health. If the risks outweigh the benefits of getting a massage, we advise not to. According to the Ottawa-Carlton Physiotherapy & Sports Injury Center, if you are going through a high-risk pregnancy (due to gestational diabetes, Rh disease, HIV, hypertension, heart disease, your age, or having twins), or if you have had previous miscarriages or premature births, check in with your doctor and your massage practitioner before booking a massage.

No two women are alike. It may be important for you to take the time to put your feet up, whereas others may not find a need to alter their daily life at all during pregnancy. According to Lee Kalpin, a retired RMT who was active in the field for 36 years in Ontario, “I was carrying toddlers, along with groceries and doing heavy housework. All these activities were much harder on my body than having a massage! Pregnant women are not delicate flowers.”

I have always been an advocate for prenatal massage. If you’re hesitant, book your massage appointments with an RMT you’ve seen in the past or one who has been referred to you for this treatment. The best way to get the most out of your massage is by having the ability to relax with a trustworthy practitioner that can put you at ease.

Getting comfortable for your prenatal massage

You’ve booked your first prenatal massage, but now you’re wondering how your RMT is going to get at those achy areas.

Think about what it takes for you to get comfortable when you lay down for a nap or get some shut-eye at the end of the day. Many women rely on the right pillows to get them into that sweet spot. The same principle applies to massage.

Before your RMT shows up for your appointment, make sure to have the necessary pillows to make you comfortable in the side lying position. This usually requires two to three pillows in the following placements:

  1. Under your head. I will usually find the smallest pillow possible or create one with a towel for two reasons. If the pillow is too big, it can sometimes get in the way of the RMT trying to get at sore neck muscles. Also, the less strain on the cervical spine, the better. The higher or cushier the pillow, the more likely your client’s neck muscles will be in side flexion rather than in a neutral position. This will let you relax more effectively, reducing stress in the process.
  2. Between your knees. This will prevent your top knee from dropping down in front of your bottom knee causing extreme internal hip rotation, which may cause discomfort and pain. Figure 4 position is also suggested, with a pillow under your top knee, if needed, while pushing out your bottom knee behind you, supporting your hips.
  3. On your chest for your arms to rest on. I often call this the ‘teddy bear hug’ as this spooning position provides support for your upper arm and prevents your shoulder from rolling forward, loading your back unnaturally. What sounds more comforting than a teddy bear hug, anyway?

When in doubt, use more pillows. Your centre of gravity may be off, especially later in your pregnancy with a growing belly. Being a few feet off the ground may feel like you’re on the edge, but added pillows may provide that added support you’re looking for. Lastly, make sure to communicate any concerns about your safety and comfort level with your therapist at any time during your treatment. Even if nature calls, don’t hold it—your massage can wait.

Massaging the ‘baby bump’

As a practitioner, I have never massaged the baby bump; however, I have offered it. Understandably, some pregnant women are apprehensive when it comes to having this area touched.

However, if you’re suffering from discomfort with your bump, your RMT can treat you as they would any other area of the body, using gentle techniques to help reduce round ligament pain and abdominal stretch. If nothing else, the right touch can be healing and relaxing with an at-home RMT.

As RMT Beth Eaton-Loken says, “I’ve massaged bellies, usually in the early second trimester when they’re feeling the abdominal stretch from the uterus coming up out the pelvis and then later in the last month when everything is achy. There’s not a lot we can do manually to the abdomen that would be dangerous; the uterus is a mighty, mighty muscle! Even if the placenta is anterior, we’re not digging our elbows in there.”     

A prenatal massage is the same as a regular massage—likely with more pillows. Regardless of whether you’re pregnant or not, you must always feel comfortable during a massage, and the therapist must always be comfortable in their skills with their practice. Another option is to try prenatal yoga, stretching or stability exercises that are suitable and safe to do at home.

How to book a massage at home

If you’re interested in a prenatal massage, we make it easy to book an appointment with one of our RMTs. Simply enter your address into our booking platform and your massage will come to you! If you have questions, one of our team members is happy to help.

Enjoy your pregnancy, mama, and we’ll see you soon!