Is massage safe in pregnancy?

Expert guidance on whether it is safe to have a massage during pregnancy, plus mums' experiences

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In a nutshell

Yes, most massage is safe but make sure you know which types aren’t.

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The expert view

Massage can be really beneficial to alleviate stress, tension and all those pregnancy aches and pains, whether with a partner at home, or in a spa.

The General Council for Massage Therapies advises against any abdominal massage for the first three months, but assures that light massage on your bump is ok after that.

Make sure you choose a massage therapist who is trained in pregnancy massage, as while most massage is safe during pregnancy, there are certain changes required to the usual menu of treatments.

  • You can use a pregnancy massage table if available, or support your bump with pillows
  • Or lie on your side
  • Avoid deep pressure on the legs as this could potentially dislodge a blood clot
  • Never use deep massage on your belly
  • Stay hydrated with water

What is a pregnancy or prenatal massage table?

Some massage therapists or clinics have special massage tables for pregnant women, which look just like a regular table – but have sections cut out for your breasts and bump.

The American Pregnancy Association warns that these could cause “uncomfortable stretching of the uterine ligaments” if your bump is not supported underneath the hole, but most therapists use some kind of support as well – just check first if you are unsure.

It is worth thinking about whether you will feel comfortable lying face down before booking a massage on one of these tables, as therapists may also be able to offer the option of a special pregnancy massage bean bag, a wedge, or cushions to support you lying on your side.

“It’s important that you are lying on something safe, that gives support to your bump,” advises pregnancy massage therapist Tanja Drayton, of The Bodywork Studio.

“The main areas that get tight are the hips, mid back and shoulders, so a position that allows the therapist to be able to access them easily without having to ask you to keep moving around is best.”

What about vibrating massage chairs?

Vibrating massage chairs – like the type you might find in an airport or motorway service station – generally state they should not be used by pregnant women. There is no specific research into their safety – or risks – during pregnancy, and Tanja adds that if you do want to use them, it is best to stick to the second trimester onwards.

Are there any massage oils that are not safe during pregnancy?

Certain oils that should not be used in aromatherapy at all include sassafras, wormwood, cassia, pennyroyal, mustard, elecampane, but they are not usually available from any therapeutic supplier.

There are other oils that the may irritate your skin, but there is a long list of oils which have been recommended by the International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists as perfectly safe for pregnancy.

Safe pregnancy massage oils include:

  • Bergamot
  • Chamomile
  • Clary
  • Cypress
  • Eucalyptus
  • Frankincense
  • Geranium
  • Ginger
  • Grapefruit
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Mandarin
  • Marjoram Sweet
  • Neroli
  • Petitgrain
  • Rose Otto
  • Sandalwood
  • Sweet Orange
  • Tea Tree
  • Ylang Ylang

Massage in labour

Midwife Anne Richley points out massage can be especially helpful during labour: “There are many types of massage, from gentle strokes to deep pressure with kneading. Think about how you touch or ‘rub’ a pain, but probably don’t consider it to be a form of massage. For most people, touching and being touched is comforting, which is why massage is so soothing when you’re in labour.”

Mums writing on our sister site Babyexpert say

“I went for a full massage at 36wks, at a local clinic and it was well worth it. They were really careful and used safe oils.” Gemmac

“I had a couple of massages last pregnancy and just sat up instead of laying on my front.” Golden_girl

Read more about pregnancy safety:

What are the rules on hot tubs, saunas and Jacuzzis during pregnancy?

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Can I use fake tan during pregnancy?

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