Is massage safe in your first trimester of pregnancy

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I recently had a Mama contact me and ask me if I could massage her at just 6 weeks pregnant. After a quick chat to determine her health, her pregnancy right now and any pregnancy history I felt comfortable in my reply. "Yes you can have a massage" I told her. "Massage can be so beneficial for you in pregnancy, and the sooner, the better" I told her. Her husband had attempted to ring around and book her a day spa treatment including massage and was told by many places: "NO. We do not massage until the 2nd trimester." And of course this may be a good idea too for some clinics. But NOT because massage is unsafe or anyway a risk to you or your baby. Simply because they may not have therapists trained in pregnancy massage and confident in asking the right questions, considering your unique story, and making and educated decision as to your treatment.

Let me clarify a few things here for you:

Massage in the first trimester by a trained pregnancy massage practitioner is perfectly safe (almost always)

It is not only safe. It is is beneficial to calm the nervous system when mum may be feeling a little anxious which is common in early pregnancy. The key words here to note- "by a trained pregnancy massage practitioner". Understanding the pregnant body and the physiological changes that occur in each trimester, including potential risk factors and the signs and symptoms that may indicate a risk all ensure that your therapist can treat you safely and with benefit to you and your baby. Most Mama's have no risk factors, but you certainly want to know that the therapist you see can recognise these if present. This allows us to know when it is best to check in with your health care provider first. And that goes for the duration of your pregnancy,  Again, not because massage is 'dangerous'. Simply that we spend a lot of time studying the safety of massage in all stages of pregnancy including the first trimester, so that we will recognise and be confident to make a call in your best interest It may be a simple case of "I would just like you to check in with your health care provider first please", and almost always, a mum is given the green light for massage.

In all the years I have been massaging pregnant Mama's, do you know how many pregnant clients I have had to say "please check first" with? FOUR. On four separate occasions I have had a client contact their Dr or midwife to ask the all clear first as they raised just enough alarm for me to make the decision to check in. (Because of course the health of mum and bub is at the top of my list ALWAYS) On each occasion this happened after a prelim chat, or after I have read through their client notes (that I send in advance to allow time to get to know a Mamas history). Each time, before they even came into clinic, and one right there on the spot as she checked in with her Dr. Do you know how many of them were told "NO. Massage is not a good idea?" Just one. And she never made it to clinic. Our conversation on the phone indicated enough to me to suggest she call her midwife for a check up. My worries/suspicions were confirmed a little later. That afternoon she was in hospital, her and her baby being cared for. She was well into her 3rd trimester. Both mum and bub were snuggling soon after under this care, but that is another story.

Every other Mama was told to go right ahead. …“massage will be great for you”. The primary health carer (Dr, OB or midwife agreed that massage was both safe and beneficial. And four Mamas  (only 1 told no) out of the hundreds I have treated is pretty good odds. I do not tell you this to scare you. But to reassure you...the odds are very, very small that something in your pregnancy will not go to plan, but isn't it important to know that your massage practitioner will recognise alarm bells if you present with them? Not to diagnose you. We are not doctors. Just to refer you to check in with your doctor or midwife. We are there as part of your care team. To care for you. First and foremost.

How does pregnancy massage differ from other massages?

Your practitioner will be trained not only in general massage, but how to relate remedial treatments to your pregnancy and it's specific physical needs. How to help release muscle aches, or improve your comfort in movement, or ease uncomfortable symptoms. How to manage many pregnancy related pain points and help your journey be a little more comfortable. Your therapists knowledge on the pelvis is in depth, and all those muscles we never knew we had before that work together and help your body grow and support your growing baby (and also often cause you discomfort when imbalanced), Blending this knowledge and remedial care with a full body treatment aimed at calming the nervous system and helping you completely switch off and rest is what gives you the best possible treatment tailored to your unique body needs.

*All of this said, this does not mean that your loving partner or friend cannot give you a beautiful relaxing foot rub, neck, shoulder or back massage. Loving touch is it's own kind of medicine as it boosts your oxytocin and connects you at a closer level to that person. Oh so important when they are part of the plan to help you birth, and to raise your baby. I value this so much I even run workshops teaching partners massage techniques that they can use to support you further in pregnancy and birth. To stay connected with you emotionally, and to know real techniques to help you find balance in your body leading up to birth, and manage your pain in labour. Relaxing massage from those we love is always fabulous. It is when you seek massage for full body relaxation AND remedial treatment to support you and ease your aches that I would strongly refer you to therapists trained in pregnancy massage. To ensure they can care for you as you deserve.

Massage can help calm you, ease stress and improve your pregnancy AND birth

That's right, in the early weeks, right up to your day of birth, through your postpartum period and beyond massage can be a fabulous compliment to almost every persons personal choice in how they wish to experience their pregnancy and postpartum year. At any stage, with big changes in your life and hormone overload being your 'norm', studies show that regular massage is beneficial for stress relief, managing anxiety, and can also be beneficial easing depression symptoms. Giving yourself permission to fully relax, being treated by a trained therapist, we are able to help you relax nervous tension which can lead to a happier, healthier pregnancy and lead you into a birth experience streets ahead of a mind and body filled with anxiety and stress.


Beginning your pregnancy with focus on self-care and mindful presence for your baby is a valuable step toward how you want to parent

Practising self care from the very beginning is so valuable to begin the mindset most beneficial in supporting your journey toward Motherhood, the foundation of you being the best mother that you can be. This sacred time allows you to rest, recharge and focus on your own self worth as well as mindfully focus on the tiny human growing within you. Connecting together without the outside chatter of life and work interfering your thoughts. It is also teaching your baby right from the very beginning the importance of relaxation. Stillness.

Your baby will pick up on what is going on with you - the relaxed you and the stressed one. Where you can, choose ‘relaxed you’.

Massage can help you ease aches and mobility problems common in pregnancy

Most of us carry stresses in our body well before we fall pregnant. Depending on our job and lifestyle, common complaints might be neck, shoulders or lower back. Massage can often be very beneficial in helping repair these problems, or at least manage them with pain relief and prevent further progression of problem. If you have not been treating these problem before, finding out you are pregnant may be a perfect time to consider doing so. As your baby grows and your body changes you will often find increase strain on these problem areas, plus added new strains as the growth of baby, displacement of organs, increased tilt in pelvis and weight in abdomen all begin to take effect. The sooner we can begin managing old problems, and bringing balance into your body by releasing problem areas and lengthening short muscles that are creating tension, the less likely you will be to fall down the rabbit hole of excessive discomfort later in pregnancy. Of course this will all depend on your own unique body, but early care can prevent a lot of later stresses. In that first trimester, you just might be okay to still be treated lying on your tummy. Shortly after, side-lying for your massage is important for a number of reasons, no matter how tempting a belly hole is. But we will discuss that another time.

Massage can help to balance your body in preparation for a positive birth ahead

A progressive labour is dependant on many things:

  • Mama needs to be relaxed. Studies show that regular massage not only relaxes a person on the table, but improves their general mental health and ability to find calm, and can improves anxiety and even depression some.

  • Oxytocin must be high - a progressive labour is dependant on increased oxytocin. Often we hear how labours 'stall' once mum arrives to hospital, often because she feels more stressed. Increasing her oxytocin is important in progressing labour. Oxytocin is our 'feel good' hormone, and nurturing touch makes us feel good. Regular boosts throughout pregnancy are important. Massage is a fabulous oxytocin boost and can regularly support pregnancy - right up to your day of birth with a 'labour preparation' massage. But for now, begin as you intend to progress - feeling good!

  • Mama's body needs to be physically balanced and in the best possible position so that her baby can settle in the best position to birth. What does this mean? Every part of your body is connected, and if you are holding tension, particularly in your hips, pelvis or glutes, that tension can make real impact on how your uterus sits. To put it very simply, your baby will grow and then settle comfortably into the space available in the uterus. If your body is not balanced, then that may not necessarily leave bub sitting in the best position for you to manage a progressive birth. In saying that, it is important to remember that there are a lot of contributing factors to birth. A good position is optimal, but with the right support and mindset you can still have a beautiful birth even with bub in a more challenging position. Don't panic if the day comes and this is your story. Put trust in your birth team and what they can do to encourage bub on the day. But wouldn't it be nice if we do everything we can to support your body now to bring best possible balance for you, so your bub CAN find best possible position?

"I was told that massage in the first trimester could risk me having a miscarriage"?

Let me bust that myth right now for you. There is no evidence to show that massage may harm you or your baby at any stage of your pregnancy. The recent finding in a study of pregnant women showed no harm to mum or baby, this study involved all highly trained pregnancy therapists treating pregnant woman from as early as 5 weeks to 42 weeks.

Why is this myth floating around about massage and the first trimester? It hurts me to even write this, and I fear some Mama might worry a little excessively, where they were not before. I truly hope not and this is not my intention. Miscarriages do happen, and they are more common in the first trimester. When they happen, they are devastating to the parents. Massage itself though could not cause a miscarriage, not unless your therapist was doing something very very wrong. Your body is way too smart and protective to allow that to happen. Your baby is protected by the most amazing shield to keep him/her safe, particularly when so tiny in this first trimester, and all the way through.

* A little story about me... at around 7 months pregnant I tripped down the back stairs of our house. Putting my arms out to break my fall, I still impacted heavily and felt my swollen tummy INDENT A LOT! It knocked the wind out of me and it hurt. I would highly recommend against this kind of activity when pregnant, but we all get clumsier and accidents happen. Of course the first and most important thing I did was phone my midwife and tell him what happened. We talked and checked things off and I monitored myself closely over the next few days. I did not have a single cramp, spotting of blood, or any concern at all. I was very lucky and very grateful that my body worked exactly as my midwife assured me - "Try not to panic. Your body is designed to insulate your baby from impact or injury. Be aware of changes or warning signs that we discussed, but do not stress or panic at this point. That adrenal hormone rush can cause you concern too. Lets be smart and attentive, but not stress unless reason to stress develops". Wise words from an experienced midwife.

What to consider when booking your first trimester (or any pregnancy) massage?

  1. Is your therapist trained in pregnancy massage, and therefore confident in taking clear history and being aware of contraindications (reasons why they may not be able to massage) and how they can and cannot treat you?

  2. Do you have a history of miscarriage or high risk pregnancy? Even so, massage may still be beneficial to you. But please be open with your therapist and communicate clearly with your pregnancy health care provider (Dr, OB and/or midwife). Communicating together, you will make a formidable team in supporting you and your baby and there is a good chance massage may be recommended for you to help manage the added stress you may be feeling around your pregnancy.

  3. You can determine if your therapist is trained in pregnancy massage either by asking who they trained with, or hopefully they will display a badge with whom they are associated with. Personally, I chose to invest my time and knowledge training as a NurtureLife® Practitioner with "Pregnancy Massage Australia" who offer the top training in the industry in our country. I have gone on to extend my training in holistic care of the pregnant and postpartum body with Lynn Schulte and the Institute for Birth Healing. I feel confident in my care of Mamas from conception through to birth, and beyond in their postpartum rest and repair. In fact I would also say all my knowledge in the care and treatment of pregnant Mamas has made me a better therapist for ALL of my clients. pregnant of not, both female and male. My knowledge and understanding of ALL bodies and their care has heightened in my journey to learn to care for pregnant Mamas.

A last thought: Mama you deserve the best of care from the very beginning as you grow new life. Your massage therapist is an important part of your healthcare team in keeping your body balanced and preparing you physically and mentally for birth. I encourage you to consider seeking a therapist close to you who understands how to care your growing body and baby.



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