There are many changes that happen to a woman's body during pregnancy. She produces more blood, has an increased tendency for edema, her sense of smell is heightened, spider veins can develop and, as the baby grows and her weight increases, she is easily fatigued and begins to experience a wide range of aches and pains. While it seems obvious that pregnancy would be the perfect time for a soothing massage, there are a number of contraindications that should be considered first.
Acupressure and Reflexology
Acupressure and reflexology are two types of massage that focus on pressure points on the body and the hands and feet, respectively. Historically, acupressure and reflexology have been contraindicated on the pressure points associated with the ovaries and uterus.
Pregnancy disrupts normal blood circulation. Because of the risk of dislodging a blood clot during massage, only gentle pressure is indicated during a pregnancy massage.
In women with a risk of pre-term labor, massaging the breasts should be avoided, as stimulation can induce uterine contraction.
Cramping or Bleeding
Massage is contraindicated for pregnant woman who are experiencing cramping, bleeding or abdominal or pelvic pain.
Essential Oils Used in Massage
Most essential oils are contraindicated during the first trimester of pregnancy simply because pregnant woman are prone to nausea. In her book "Nurturing Massage for Pregnancy," perinatal massage instructor Leslie Stager lists rose, geranium, rosemary, chamomile and lavender as contraindicated during the entire pregnancy. Earthy Family includes frankincense and melissa as essential oils to avoid during the first trimester, and 22 other essential oils to avoid during the entire pregnancy.
Certain pregnancies are considered to be high risk. Massage and/or stimulation of the abdomen, legs or other parts of the body may increase the risk to either the mother or the baby. Therefore, massage is contraindicated for high-risk pregnancies unless specified by the woman's medical practitioner.
Leslie Stager notes that improper positioning during pregnancy can cause complications for both the baby and the mother and cautions against improper positioning on the massage table. Complications include ligament strain, leg cramps and fainting.
Miscarriage During the First Trimester
The majority of miscarriages occur during the first trimester of pregnancy. Leslie Stager reports that massage during the first trimester of pregnancy is historically contraindicated.
Leg massage of a pregnant woman suffering from thrombophlebitis or deep vein thrombosis should never be performed due to the risk of releasing a blood clot. Massage is further contraindicated for women with a history of embolism, or on a varicose vein.
Yoga and Range of Motion
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes that certain yoga poses are contraindicated during pregnancy. A massage that incorporates those poses or range of motion exercises should be avoided.
Contraindicated Massage Modalities
While massage can lessen the aches and pains associated with pregnancy, there are a number of techniques and modalities that should be avoided so as not to put the mother or baby at risk. These include:
Acupressure of points related to the cervix, uterus, abdomen, intestine, spleen and bladder
Swedish massage (vigorous)
- American Massage Therapy Association: AMTA's Find a Massage Therapist
- Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals: School Operations Resources
- Earthy Family: Aromatherapy Cautions
- Well Mother
- "Nurturing Massage for Pregnancy: A Practical Guide to Bodywork for the PerinatalCycle"; Leslie Stager; 2008