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Foot Massage & Pregnancy

by
author image Jean Jenkins
Jean Jenkins has been writing professionally since 1994. She has written medical research materials for the American Parkinson's Association, the Colorado Neurological Institute and the Autism Society of America. Jenkins has specialized in neurology, labor and delivery, high-risk obstetrics and autism spectrum disorders. She holds a Bachelor of Science in nursing from the University of Colorado.
Foot Massage & Pregnancy
Foot massage in pregancy is controversial. Photo Credit byryo/iStock/Getty Images

Proponents of foot massage for pregnant women claim it has undeniable powers over the pregnant body, while opponents range from cautious and skeptical to adamantly opposed to the validity of these claims. Others remain ambivalent and look at the controversy as unimpressive. Before making that next appointment at the spa or turning your feet over to a well-meaning loved one, you can investigate the pros and cons and weigh in for yourself.

About Foot Massage

Claims of foot massage having a powerful influence over the body go back thousands of years, originating in Egypt. Acupressure and reflexology, the method of applying pressure to areas of hands or feet to relieve pain in other areas of the body are ancient Asian arts of healing. Exploding into the American culture over the last 50 years, these methodologies are often labeled as holistic or alternative medicine. Acupressure and massage therapy point to the feet and hands as primary parts of the body that link to pathways throughout the nervous system. Those who practice these methods teach that the feet are rich in these links and that they have a direct effect on the uterus itself.

Pregnancy Massage Proponents

You may have heard that you should not get foot massages during pregnancy because it can cause the uterus to contract. According to Rebecca Leary, who is certified in pregnancy massage therapy, “There are acupressure points in the legs, ankles and feet that correspond to the reproductive system.” This statement reflects the current beliefs of many, that massaging and applying pressure on particular parts of the feet can have a profound affect on pregnancy. Ms. Leary also states that therapists are “trained to recognize and avoid these points” on the feet of pregnant women, as they could send them into early, naturally induced labor. A 2010 Turkish study published in the International Journal of Nursing Practice found that foot massage actually decreased the circumference of pregnant women's legs by reducing edema.

Pro-foot massage websites for pregnant women abound on the Internet. If you are nearly full-term or overdue and wish to self-induce, one such site claims your labor partner can learn the techniques of foot massage easily on his own, with the purchase of a step-by-step manual and CD package, at a significant monetary cost. This methodology has now become big business.

Opponents Arguments

Many professionals in the medical field disagree, not with foot massage in pregnancy per se, but with claims that massage and reflexology can be powerful enough to induce labor. The largest professional, obstetrical association established in the United States is the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). This highly respected association of over 52,000 members represents 90 percent of board-certified, practicing obstetricians. Despite pressures from holistic and alternative medicine part-owners, ACOG does not recognize foot massage or acupressure in its vast library of journals, articles, archives or on its website.

According to Stephen Barrett M.D., in an article entitled “Reflexology: A Close Look,” published in 2004 on Quackwatch.com, he concedes that most massage can relieve stress, “however many reflexologists describe stress in terms that do not correspond to scientific knowledge.” Though many in the fields of massage and reflexology claim they can affect a vast array of conditions—from inducing labor to reversing the damaging affects of degenerative neurological disorders—Dr. Barrett cautions the public. Through extensive research and experience with this therapy, he points out that there is “no scientific support for these assertions.”

Biochemical Reactions

Medical practitioners are currently studying the effect of brain chemistry changes on pregnant women, activated by foot massage. Perhaps through relaxation, soothing relief from pain or swelling in the feet or just the effect of massage on the pleasure centers of the brain, pregnant women can benefit from foot massage. As with “runner’s high,” massage and acupressure can stimulate the release of endorphins, which can lower pain and produce a sense of euphoria and well-being. According to Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, a small amount of oxytocin—a natural chemical involved in contracting the uterus—is produced by foot message. A preliminary study, led by R. Turner Ph.D. of the University of California San Francisco, has shown that oxytocin also has the ability to “mediate emotional experiences and increase positive attachments.” If foot massage can make pregnancy and eventually labor, more positive, most moms-to-be would be happy to get on board that train.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety

There is no doubt that foot massage in pregnancy feels glorious and relieves stress. Anything that will help Mom to relax, in turn, benefits the baby. High levels of stress in the maternal body can cause distress in the fetus. Most obstetrician/gynecologists agree that foot massages, done gently, help to decompress agitation and anxiety and therefore, can make the experience of pregnancy more comfortable and enjoyable, for both mom and baby.

Consult With Your Doctor

Consult with your obstetrician before engaging in foot massage. This could be contraindicated in some patients. Consult with your doctor regarding any conditions that reflexology or massage therapists may diagnose or treat. This could lead to a delay of necessary medical care.

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