There is a very persistent myth in the massage community that pregnant women can’t receive any massages, especially during their first trimester. Fact is that during a normal pregnancy, where there are no other health concerns, a pregnant woman can without risk receive a normal massage.
The discussion has been going on in the online massage community lately and I discussed the matter privately with Canadian Massage Therapist, Lee Kalpin, who has over 27 years of massage and teaching experience.
In Canada the requirements for becoming a Massage Therapist (in some provinces) is 2-3 years full time study. Massage Therapy is treated and regulated as a health-profession, on the same level as a physiotherapist.
There’s no suspicion of any connection between massage and miscarriage by doctors and massage therapists, which is the reason there’s no specific research in the field. They haven’t found it necessary to conduct the research.
To quote Lee from our latest e-mail exchange about pregnancy and massage:
“I have massaged a great many women, all through their pregnancies. Often they have lower back pain, and the massage really helps them. The only pregnant woman I ever turned down was one who phoned me and said ‘I have an appointment today and I don’t want to cancel at the last minute, but my water just broke and I’m not sure if I should have a massage’!!!!! I told her – ‘don’t come for a massage – go to the hospital’.”
Pregnancy isn’t a hindrance for receiving massage, unless your doctor has specifically told you not to.
In fact, if your doctor has told you that you can carry on with your normal activities during your pregnancy, then you can have a massage. As long as you don’t suffer any complications, go ahead and receive a massage. In particular during the first trimester when you’re still comfortable lying in all positions. Should you be in doubt always check with your doctor.
As Lee told me when I asked about massage and pregnancy:
“What I said was a Myth, was the idea that you CANNOT massage a woman in the first trimester. You can. There are actually fewer precautions in the first trimester, and positioning is not usually a concern. Many women don’t even know they are pregnant until they are two months pregnant, so they have probably been having massage all along.”
I asked if anyone could give a massage and if there wasn’t anything special to do or to avoid. Her answer is simple:
“There are no specific things to do, or not to do if performing a general relaxation massage. It’s just about client comfort. Some therapists use special “pregnancy tables” that have a cut-out for the abdomen. Others position the client in side-lying instead of prone.”
So what should we be aware of?
“I would say the only precautions are –some women (a small number) start to feel light-headed if they lie on their back for too long because the foetus may be lying against the inferior vena cava artery (in the 3rd trimester). In that case the women should be sat up, or rolled on her side. Also, in the final trimester we would not do any major mobilization, particularly of the hip area because the ligaments may become very relaxed due to the secretion of “relaxin”, a hormone that causes the ligaments to be easily stretched.”
She added that the only belly massage she would recommend, is a very light massage during the third trimester with vitamin E oil to prevent stretch-marks. Also, anything which will increase blood pressure above what normal daily activities do, is to be avoided. As heat increases the blood pressure, the therapist need to be very aware of the use of temperature during for instance a stone massage.
It is good to know that there are only a few things to be mindful of and that it is mostly about the comfort level of the client. In short, common sense and making sure the client speaks up as soon as they feel the slightest uncomfortable.
“But really, there is nothing so different about massaging pregnant women – they are just people after all. The main concerns are around comfortable positioning in the different stages of pregnancy, and comfortable and appropriate draping (important in Canada). The massage is not necessarily “pregnancy massage”. Women may have the usual conditions that require massage – neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain etc, and it doesn’t quit while they are pregnant. Therapists just have to know how to position them comfortably, and to keep a robe handy for when they have to get off the table to pee!”
About training in pregnancy massage Lee said:
“Obviously, it would help to have training on safe positioning and looking out for contraindications and precautions.”
The conclusion is that anyone can give a gentle relaxing massage to a pregnant woman without risk, as long as the pregnancy is uncomplicated. And if in doubt if something might be harmful, don’t do it.
Of course, the more training a Massage Therapist has, the more specific work and treatment they can provide. The ideal is a fully trained massage therapist who has specialized in prenatal massage. But less can do it.