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The journey of pregnancy has its share of physical and emotional challenges. Expectant mothers are navigating not only the changes to their bodies as the months pass, but also the mental stresses that often accompany them — think worries about their baby’s health and well-being, concerns about the unknowns of labor and delivery, or body dysmorphia. Prenatal massage can be a beneficial tool for managing both physical and mental well-being.

“Prenatal massage, a modality specifically designed for those who are pregnant, offers a range of advantages that include — but also go beyond — mere relaxation,” says Laura Sanchez, a certified massage therapist at LifeSpa in Edina, Minn. “Massage helps ease muscle tension and reduce stress, which in turn promotes better sleep and enhances overall well-being. It can also help increase circulation and bring fresh, oxygenated blood to the tissues. This can reduce swelling and alleviate joint pain that an expectant mother might be experiencing.”

We connected with Sanchez to discuss the multifactorial benefits of prenatal massage and to get a clearer idea about what someone can expect from the experience.

Life Time | What are some of the key benefits — physical, mental, and otherwise — that an expectant mother can experience from a prenatal massage?

Laura Sanchez | As your body changes during pregnancy, it can cause muscle tension or discomfort as well as joint pain and swelling. Massage therapy can provide relief for these common complaints with targeted techniques, including those that increase circulation and bring fresh, oxygenated blood to the tissues. By keeping the muscles relaxed throughout pregnancy, you may also see an improvement in labor pains during delivery.

Prenatal massage can also help reduce mental stress for a mother-to-be. Massage has been shown to help reduce anxiety and depression and aid in mood regulation.

Prenatal massage can also stimulate the production of “feel-good” hormones in the body, including endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. Massage increases blood flow throughout the body, encouraging the autonomic nervous system to release these hormones. Increased serotonin and endorphins can support mood regulation throughout pregnancy.

Oxytocin — a hormone that manages important aspects of the reproductive systems, including those involved in labor and lactation — can increase labor contractions and support mother and baby bonding after delivery.

LT | What types of massage techniques are used during a prenatal massage?

LS | While there are many techniques that can be used for prenatal massages, a Swedish massage is most common — it is also the technique I recommend. I like Swedish massage because the light-to-medium effleurage (long, gliding strokes) is calming to the client. It is also great for alleviating pain and increasing circulation.

Other modalities include myofascial release, craniosacral, and acupressure massage. These focus on certain areas of the body where the mother may be experiencing pain.

Communication between the therapist and client is key to ensuring the client gets the best type of massage for their body and situation. Prenatal massage does not need to be limited to a single modality during a session; it can be customized to incorporate multiple modalities that benefit them.

LT | Do I need to consult my doctor before booking a prenatal massage?

LS | Yes. I always advise expecting clients to check with their healthcare provider before getting a massage. For those with high-risk pregnancies, preeclampsia, high blood pressure, or blood clot disorders, prenatal massage is not recommended. Your doctor will be able to confirm what is best for you.

Many massage therapists and healthcare providers agree that the second and third trimesters are the best times to schedule a prenatal massage — and to avoid booking one in your first trimester when the general risk for miscarriage is higher.

LT | How long does a prenatal massage last?

LS | Massage time varies depending on your comfort level and preferences. The most common length of time we see at the LifeSpa is 60 minutes.

A mother-to-be may choose to receive a massage once a month for overall wellness — and also let it serve as a check-in with their body, as it is constantly changing throughout pregnancy. Toward the end of pregnancy when the mother often feels more uncomfortable, I recommend coming in for massage as often as once a week. If the expectant mother and baby are in good health, they can recieve massage until the baby’s due date.

LT | Can any licensed massage therapist practice prenatal massage?

Not necessarily. It’s crucial to receive a prenatal massage from a licensed practitioner who has prenatal massage experience and education.

Ask the therapist about their experience. It’s good to work with someone who has completed specialized training in prenatal massage. They will have a better understanding of how to customize the massage, adapt their techniques, and spot any potential issues.

An experienced practitioner will also know to avoid applying a heavy touch to certain acupressure points that have the ability to induce labor or trigger uterine contractions. Though light touch is OK, you want someone who is aware of and cautious around them. A therapist should also never put deep, invasive pressure around the mother’s belly.

Another good question to ask is if the therapist has the proper equipment for a prenatal massage. The therapist should have pregnancy pads, pillows, or bolsters that allow a client to safely lie face down, on their side, or on their back at an incline. (Clients should not lie directly on their back for extended periods due to the possibility of the uterus compressing the inferior vena cava and aorta; this can limit blood flow to the placenta and be dangerous for both the baby and mother.)

LT | How does one lie on a massage table when pregnant?

LS | Positioning in prenatal massages often varies based on the provider’s recommendation, but the goal is to always ensure that the client is safe and comfortable.

I like to have the mother lie face down with the use of pregnancy pillows if they are comfortable in that position. This can provide relief as it takes the excess anterior weight off their spine. Many professionals will put the mother in a side-lying position on the table to safely massage the mother’s posterior chain.

There are also massage pillows that allow a mother to lie face down on the table while their belly is gently cradled; however, some professionals caution staying in this position for too long (over 30 minutes), as it can strain the uterine muscles.

Again, clients should avoid lying directly on their backs for extended periods due to the risk of potentially limiting blood flow from the inferior vena cava.

LT | How is the safety of the mother and baby prioritized during the massage?

LS | The safety of both the mother and the baby is always the No. 1 priority. This is why it’s critical to only receive a prenatal massage from a licensed practitioner who has the proper education and experience.

I always err on the side of the client’s healthcare provider and ask that their doctor’s judgments and recommendations be communicated to me. Checking in with the mother before every massage is a nonnegotiable in case something new has come up since their last massage and doctor’s visit. For example, if the mother is experiencing extreme fatigue, dizziness, dehydration, or low blood pressure, those symptoms would all merit a doctor’s approval before continuing with a massage.

Outside of the use of proper techniques, tools such as pregnancy pillows, pads, and bolsters can all be strategically placed during the massage to help ensure the mother and baby are safe.

LT | How can I find out if there’s a licensed prenatal massage therapist at my local LifeSpa?

LS | Call your local LifeSpa location and ask if they have a massage therapist who does prenatal massage. You will be able to receive information from them about the therapist’s background and qualifications. You can also set up a call with a therapist prior to scheduling a session for further consultation.

Jolene Turner
Jolene Turner

Jolene Turner is a beauty writer and social media strategist focusing on the salon, spa, and professional hair care industries. She currently works with the Life Time LifeSpa team on social media marketing and content development. Turner’s background includes working as the senior editor for American Salon, as a head writer for beauty blogs, and as a communications and consumer engagement professional for a global beauty brand. She’s worked with leading beauty brands including Aveda, Hotheads Hair Extensions, HiBar, Wella, and more.

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