Massage for Moms-to-Be

By Rebecca Jones
[Ten for Today]

1. Positive Results

The possible benefits of prenatal massage therapy include improved breathing, increased flow of nutrients to the placenta, postural support, reduced anxiety and depression, and relief of muscle discomfort, nausea, and edema (swollen ankles and feet). It’s good for the fetus, too, says Claire Marie Miller, one of the nation’s leading instructors in pregnancy and fertility massage. “When mother is relaxed, baby is relaxed,” she says.

2. Network with Hospitals

Because more and more health-care providers recognize the upside to prenatal massage, it’s one of the fastest-growing types of bodywork found in hospitals. “Some hospitals offer massage in antepartum and postpartum units, and the number is growing quickly,” says Carole Osborne, author of Pre- and Perinatal Massage Therapy. “It’s a specialization that has good financial potential for knowledgeable massage therapists.”

3. Know Your Customers

A 2009 survey that Osborne conducted found that the number-one reason pregnant women sought massage was for low-back and pelvic pain, followed by stress reduction, then upper-back, neck, and shoulder pain. Relief from edema was cited by only 6 percent of women. “That’s interesting information when you’re trying to fine-tune your marketing approach,” Osborne says. “Yes, pregnant woman have edema, but that’s not why most come to a massage therapist.” Make sure to have a thorough conversation with your pregnant client beforehand to determine what her needs are.

4. Try Thai

Thai yoga massage presents a nice option for pregnant clients. “It’s done in loose, comfortable clothing so you don’t have to get out of your clothes or fumble with things,” says Sukha Wong, director of the Lotus Palm Thai Yoga Massage School in Montreal and Toronto. “It’s done on a Thai mat, on the floor, which is very comfortable for pregnant women.” With its emphasis on stretching, the technique is especially good for women late in pregnancy. Just make sure new clients understand what a Thai massage session looks like, and how you can assist them, before they arrive.

5. Pregnancy-Friendly Spas

Ten years ago, Stacy Denney launched Barefoot & Pregnant, one of the nation’s first pregnancy spas to provide a variety of services—including massage, fitness classes, facials, and child care—for moms-to-be. In 2012, Denney launched Belly Friendly, an endorsement program for other spas seeking to serve this demographic. “In addition to teaching therapists how to perform prenatal massage, we’re training the staff how to interact with the expecting mom,” Denney says. “Then we help these spas with their marketing efforts to go out and find more pregnant moms.”


6. The Perfect Products

Core Products International carries the Baby Hugger and Better Binder, both developed by a physical therapist with a special interest in helping soon-to-be moms. The products help relieve backaches and hip pain, plus provide belly support, and the Baby Hugger also addresses bladder issues. 

Jojoba oil is also great for pregnant clients and newborns—it’s nonallergenic, won’t clog pores, and softens the skin. “We recommend using it for infant massage and after every diaper change,” says Bob Butler, president of The Jojoba Company, which makes Jojoba Baby, an organic jojoba baby oil. “It also eliminates cradle cap.” Remember—a client’s sensitivities can change throughout the course of her pregnancy, so get her approval before using any new product or scent during the session.

7. Don’t Stop Now

Judith Koch, director of education at the Institute of Somatic Therapy in Conway, Missouri, has developed a range of methods to make labor easier, and she trains massage doulas to assist women through all stages of pregnancy and delivery. “Studies show that women who are supported by a doula during labor have significantly shorter labors, fewer interventions for pain and from complications, and shorter hospitalizations for mother and baby,” Koch says. 

8. Help Prepare for Pregnancy

Just as massage can be a boon for the pregnant or new mother, it might also assist those trying to get pregnant. Fertility massage is believed by some to improve circulation to the reproductive organs, loosen scar tissue from fallopian tubes, and help maintain a healthy hormonal balance. “Two preliminary medical studies have shown great promise,” Koch says. “Seventy-one percent of participants in one study and 53 percent in the other study became pregnant with the help of manual therapy.” The data is, of course, preliminary and the size of the test groups is small, but proponents are excited about the possibilities.

9. Working with New Moms

Massage for the new mom can go from nice to essential in the first few weeks after the baby arrives, says Kate Jordan, founder of Kate Jordan Seminars. “I like to think about my sessions with postpartum women as being my opportunities to give them a spa massage, to cosset them, to give them the support they might not be getting from family or friends,” says Jordan, who has been teaching postpartum massage for 30 years.

10. Ancient Techniques

Finally, massage may assist women struggling with cramps, pelvic pain, or a prolapsed, fallen, or tilted uterus before and after pregnancy. The Arvigo Techniques of Abdominal Therapy are based on the ancient Maya technique of abdominal massage to reposition internal organs that have shifted. Rosita Arvigo, DN, learned these techniques from a Maya shaman in Belize. By bringing internal organs into better alignment, everything just works better, says Diane MacDonald, RN, MSN, the program administrator and advanced instructor at Arvigo. “It also allows emotional healing to happen.” 

Rebecca Jones is a tenured Massage & Bodywork freelance writer. She lives and writes in Denver, Colorado. Contact her at

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