Pregnancy Massage

How Women Can Ease the Aches and Pains of Their 9-Month Journey

By Lisa Bakewell

A woman’s body goes through an insane list of changes during pregnancy, not the least of which is shifting pubic bones, hip and back issues, sharp stabs of round ligament pain, and even pregnancy-caused carpal tunnel syndrome. Pregnancy puts a lot on the table for moms-to-be, but massage can play an important role in keeping them as comfortable as possible.
Pregnancy massage, also called prenatal massage, has been used for centuries to improve the overall health and well-being of expectant women. Since ancient times, prenatal massage has been practiced by midwives who were extremely skilled at abdominal massage, massage of the back and legs, and massage to correct the birthing position of the unborn child.1 Today, research indicates that prenatal massage techniques have many benefits—all of which were known to traditional midwives long ago.2

The Benefits of Pregnancy Massage

According to a study done by the University of Miami School of Medicine,3 pregnancy massage has been proven to decrease levels of stress hormones; lower anxiety; relieve muscle tension; reduce swelling; alleviate back, neck, and leg pain; increase serotonin and dopamine levels; and improve sleep.
Prenatal massage also keeps your lymphatic system working at peak efficiency, can help alleviate headaches and sinus congestion (common pregnancy problems), and may also help alleviate depression without medication.4
Best of all, prenatal massage reconnects your body and mind, which is especially important during pregnancy. There are so many drastic (and dramatic) physical and emotional changes occurring that it’s hard to remember to practice self-care. Getting regular pregnancy massages is a huge step in that direction.

Is Pregnancy Massage Safe?

While healthy women with normal, low-risk pregnancies can benefit greatly from massage by a trained pregnancy massage therapist, experts recommend that women with high-risk pregnancies or underlying health conditions talk with their doctor or midwife before starting a massage therapy program.
One major factor of concern for doctors is the variation of training and lack of certification standards for therapists who practice prenatal massage. Lindsay MacInnis, CMT and owner of The Mommy Spa in Los Gatos, California, agrees. “Without proper training and certification,” she says, “the result is often what I call expensive lotion application, and the lack of prenatal certification can be dangerous.”
According to MacInnis, working with a trained prenatal massage therapist is important for several reasons. First, she says, “Many spas offer pregnancy massage, but the therapists have not been trained in how to safely address the aches and pains associated with pregnancy. Secondly, “[The therapists] rarely work with a client in a side-lying position.” And, third, “They may not have sufficient supports or techniques to safely address the pregnant client’s needs.” Most importantly, though, MacInnis says prenatal therapists are specifically trained to recognize any warning signs that might suggest a massage technique should not be used.

What To Expect

A proper prenatal massage appointment should include a detailed intake and health history form that alerts the therapist to any risk factors presenting with the pregnancy, or any issues that might call for special positioning on the massage table.
In her own practice, MacInnis uses a clinical approach to pregnancy massage. “I feel communication with the client is very important,” she says. “I ask the client about what they do with their body. Do they sit in front of a computer all day? Are they on their feet all day? Do they have a toddler at home that they are still carrying around?” Stress and fear can also manifest as discomfort in our physical body, and MacInnis says all of this information helps her know whether she needs to refer clients to other practitioners—as well as how to design a massage session that will best address their needs.
During the massage, MacInnis asks her clients to let her know if they experience any discomfort or pain. “As a therapist,” she says, “I can feel a tight muscle or connective tissue, but I cannot know what it feels like to the client. Pain does not always originate at the site, and this communication helps guide me to the cause and address it through massage or stretching—or even a change in behavior/posture.”
MacInnis says with pregnancy massage, clients get a full-body massage—just one side at a time. “Most prenatal massage is performed with the pregnant woman in the side-lying position and semi-reclined.” Bolsters and pillows are often used to help clients find their most comfortable positioning. In MacInnis’s practice, if the positioning of the baby does not allow the client to lie comfortably in a side-lying position, the client is then moved to a semi-reclined position (35– to 70–degree angle) with support under the knees.
The frequency of pregnancy massage is determined on a case-by-case basis. Some women are miserable throughout the entire pregnancy, so they might want more frequent massages. Others might get a massage every 4–6 weeks at the beginning of pregnancy, and increase the frequency to once-a-week appointments toward the end. Athletes and women who work on their feet may set up weekly or biweekly appointments throughout the pregnancy.

Finding Prenatal Massage Therapists

There are several ways to find a certified prenatal massage therapist. Start with your massage therapist to see if they have this kind of training or know someone who does. Ask your obstetrician, midwife, doula, or prenatal yoga instructor for a referral. You can also go to to find therapists trained in this specialty.


Massage Benefits by Trimester

First Trimester
• Relieve headaches
• Help alleviate
morning sickness
• Reduce fatigue
Second Trimester
• Alleviate backaches
• Relieve leg cramps

Third Trimester
• Reduce swelling/edema
• Relieve pain
from varicosities
• Enhance sleep
• Prepare pelvic muscles
for birth process
During the entire term of the pregnancy, massage can stimulate blood flow, which may assist in the prevention of anemia. It also helps alleviate leg cramps and muscle spasms.

Lisa Bakewell is a full-time freelance writer, editor, perpetual learner, and lover of life in Chicagoland. Her areas of writing expertise span a multitude of topics that include health and wellness, travel, parenting, personal/company profiles, technology, and a plethora of “how-to” articles (her favorite!). She can be reached at


1. Elaine Stillerman, Prenatal Massage: A Textbook of Pregnancy, Labor and Postpartum Bodywork (New York: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2007): 3–4.
2. Leslie, Stager, “Proceed with Caution: Foot/Ankle Massage for Pregnant Clients,” Massage & Bodywork (September/October 2009), accessed June 2019,
3. WebMD, “Pregnancy Massage,” accessed June 2019,
4. American Pregnancy Association, “Massage and Pregnancy—Prenatal Massage,” accessed June 2019,