Pregnancy and massage therapy: When is massage safe?

By: Cailey Schaffler, RMT

Cailey has extensive training in pre- and post-natal massage as well as with issues such as breastfeeding techniques, mastitis, and many post-partum concerns


You can start prenatal massage at any point in a healthy pregnancy!

Prenatal massage often evokes a mistaken response of, ‘it’s not safe to have during the first trimester because it can cause a miscarriage.’ Miscarriages most commonly occur in the first trimester, but research does not show that massage therapy has ever caused a miscarriage. As long as you seek out a massage therapist with proper Pregnancy massage - ottawa massage blogtraining and experience, as well as consult with your physician, obstetrician, or midwife, prenatal massage can be initiated at any point throughout your pregnancy (0–40+ weeks)! Below you will find lists of both the benefits and risks of massage during pregnancy.

Benefits of Prenatal Massage

  • Reduces stress/anxiety/depression
  • Increases relaxation
  • Improves circulation
  • Reduces swelling
  • Improves sleep
  • Reduces fatigue
  • Improves hormone regulation
  • Decreases joint and muscle pain
  • Decreases muscle tension
  • Decreases nerve pain (e.g. sciatica)
  • Acupressure points can help induce labour when over-due

How it Works

The two most common methods of prenatal massage are the following:

Side-lying: this position is safe throughout the entire duration of pregnancy. It uses multiple pillows on the massage table for support and comfort. A variation of this position can be done using the pregnancy cushion and bolsters (shown below) as well. Also, this massage position is often used in Thai massage, which many clients love.

Face-Down (Prone) with Adjustable Pregnancy Cushion: this position is safe for both mom and baby throughout the entire pregnancy, as long as mom can get comfortable. Some exceptions, such as multiple-baby pregnancies or large amounts of amniotic fluid in the amniotic sack, may apply. In these scenarios, side-lying position is usually a better option.

Note: When it comes to prenatal massage, no two massage treatments will feel the same. As you get further along in your pregnancy and your body goes through rapid changes, it will almost always require more adjustments in order to get you comfortable… but we will always find a way!

Things to consider before and after your massage

  • Especially if you are experiencing nausea, avoid eating right before your massage
  • As for all clients, drink water after massage to avoid dehydration and soreness
  • Invest in a good quality heating pad or microwaveable beanbag to relieve your aches in between massages!

Most Common Pregnancy Impairments

Low back pain: This is usually caused by the increased size and weight of the belly pulling on the spine, resulting in an increased lordotic curve (commonly known as the arch) of the low back. This postural change places a lot more pressure on the postural muscles and joints of the low back. Massage therapy can help alleviate these muscle and joint pains.

Sciatic-like pain: True sciatica is pain from an irritation of the sciatic nerve, which starts in the low back and runs down the back of the thigh. Sciatic nerve irritation is caused by a bulging or herniated disc in the low back; spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal); or degenerative disc disease. In these cases the sciatic nerve gets compressed, causing a sharp, shooting pain from the low back to the back of the knee, possibly into the foot.

True sciatica during pregnancy is actually uncommon.

Often, and especially in pregnancy, there are many other causes of sciatic-like pain that are overlooked:

  • muscle tension in the low back or buttocks
  • piriformis syndrome – the piriformis muscle, located in the buttocks, becomes very taut and compresses or irritates the sciatic nerve, causing sharp pain, numbness, or tingling that starts in the buttocks and refers down the back of the leg, even into the foot
  • instability of the sacroiliac (SI) joint at the low back due to a pregnancy hormone called relaxin
  • uterine pressure on the pelvis, hip joints, and sciatic nerve from a large baby or increased amniotic fluid

Massage therapy can help alleviate both sciatica and sciatic-like pain by reducing muscle tension in the low back and buttocks, thereby releasing pressure on the sciatic nerve, increasing blood circulation, and decreasing local swelling. Your massage therapist can also provide you with some great home-care exercises and stretches to help prevent your sciatic-like pain from coming back!

Swollen limbs, hands, and feet: This is usually caused by increased fluid retention (up to 50% increased blood volume), decreased circulation, and increased pressure on major blood vessels by the heavier pregnant uterus. Massage therapy can help reduce swelling by increasing circulation, helping to alleviate any “achy” swollen feeling.

Upper back and neck pain: This is usually caused by the increased size and weight of breast tissue, which pulls the shoulders and head forward, resulting in an increased kyphotic curve (curves in an opposite direction to the lordotic arch of the low back) of the thoracic spine. Massage therapy can help maintain proper posture and reduce these muscular pains. Tension in the neck muscles can also result in headaches, and treatment of these muscles can help relieve headache symptoms.

Cautions & Risks of Prenatal Massage

  • Nausea or vomiting may occur if you are susceptible to these
  • Dizziness may occur because of changes in blood pressure or, later in pregnancy, from lying on your back – have a small cushion under your right side
  • It is fine to massage low back, calves, and inner thighs, but avoid very specific, deep work because of the significant veins located there
  • Abdominal massage and treatment of the surrounding area is often quite useful to balance the positon of the belly, but deep abdominal massage is contraindicated

If you are currently experiencing or have ever experienced one of the following in your pregnancy, please consult your primary healthcare practitioner prior to receiving massage therapy: 

  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH)
  • Previous pre-term labour
  • High-risk pregnancy (e.g. placental abnormalities or dysfunctions)
  • Preeclampsia

Many of these cautions and risks can be avoided as long as your massage therapist is experienced and knows how to make minor adjustments to the treatment. Prenatal massage is incredibly effective for relieving the aches and pains that can accompany the changes your body goes through during pregnancy, as well as the usual muscle complaints brought on by computer work, driving, overuse, or stress. There’s no need to deprive yourself of this useful therapy during your pregnancy!

Image credits: Hover over images for credits.



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About Body Poets Massage Therapy

Three-time nominee and 2016 winner of Top Massage Clinic in Ottawa! At Body Poets Massage Therapy, we are committed to excellence in client care. We provide therapeutic, sports, pre- and post-natal, wellness, cupping, hot stone, ART, Thai massage, and more in a convenient, peaceful, downtown Ottawa location with free client parking. We are FSCO-registered and can bill your auto insurance company directly for treatment after a motor vehicle accident. We also bill directly to Great West Life and Green Shield. Our flagship office at 504 Kent Street in Ottawa is close to the Queensway and easy to reach by car, foot, bike or bus. Our satellite clinic in Almonte, Ontario is cozy and charming. Our online booking system makes it simple for you to reserve your appointment at any time. And our network of like-minded health professionals means we can refer you to practitioners in other fields who meet your needs for quality care. Step into the circle of care, at Body Poets.,,

3 thoughts on “Pregnancy and massage therapy: When is massage safe?

  1. What great timing of reading your post. My wife and i is expecting our 2nd child in 3 months. I showed her your post and we agreed that she definitely needs some back massage. I on the other hand have no experience doing so, so I’d like to ask if we could use a back massage seat cushion (I Have 2 since I’m an affiliate of this)? Would it be okay for her and the baby?

    • Great question!

      Some massage seat cushions and chairs have advisories against their use during pregnancy because it could lead to premature labour, more specifically by stimulating certain pressure points in the back. There are no actual studies that prove this to be true. 

      Many pregnant women also believe that the vibration of some massage seat cushions or chairs may cause a jarring motion that could be harmful to one’s unborn child. In fact, the vibration emitted by these devices is no different than the action of simply walking. Your unborn child is surrounded by significant amounts of muscle tissue and amniotic fluid which provide protective barriers against any day-to-day motions. 

      When deciding which massaging seat cushion you want, just be cautious when it comes to additional features such as a built-in heating pad. Use of external heating devices should be limited as this can increase your overall body temperature which can be bad if maintained for extended periods. 

      I hope this answers your question and if I do not get the chance to meet either of you, I’d like to with you both the very best for the remainder of your pregnancy!

      Cailey Schaffler, RMT, Body Poets Massage Therapy

  2. To determine internal swelling is difficult enough, therefore, consequently, they influence the body for a long time, which threatens the normal fetus. Fluids are dangerous because they break blood circulation. Such picture leads to worsening feeding and the breath baby, created hypoxia.
    Fighting such a pathology should be done with the help of correction feeding and special procedures so that fluid does not stay tissues. If expectant mother is resting, then under the feet preferably put a cushion or pillow to improve the blood circulation of tired legs. Do not long time to sit or stand, as this leads to stagnation in the body. It is recommended that the knee-elbow position several times a day in order to increase blood flow.

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