Is massage safe in your first trimester of pregnancy?
Updated: Feb 25
I recently had a Mama contacting me asking me if I could massage her at just 6 weeks pregnant. "Of course" I told her. "Massage can be so beneficial for you in pregnancy, and the sooner, the better" I told her. Of course I knew this mother and her medical history well, so I was aware enough to confidently answer her. On ringing around to book her a day spa treatment including massage for Christmas, her husband 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.
Let me clarify a few things here for you:
Massage in the first trimester by a trained pregnancy massage practitioner is perfectly safe
*Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
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 if one may be present. This allows us to know when it is best to check in with your health care provider first. We spend a lot of time studying the safety of massage in all stages, including the first trimester so we will recognise and be confident to make a call -"I would just like you to check in with your health care provider first please".
In the years I have been massaging pregnant Mama's, do you know how many times or clients I have had to say "please check first"? THREE. On three 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 the list ALWAYS) On each occasion this happened after a prelim chat, 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 a risk to you or your baby?" ZERO. Every single time they were told to go right ahead. "In fact, massage will be great to help you relax and sleep a little better". Every time, their medical provider completely agreed, massage was both safe and beneficial.
Your practitioner will also be trained not only in general massage, but how to relate remedial treatment to your pregnancy and it's specific physical needs. How we can help release some of these muscle concerns or ease uncomfortable symptoms.
*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 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 trained therapists.
Massage can help calm you, ease stress and improve your pregnancy AND birth
*Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash
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 pretty much 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
*Photo by MARK ADRIANE on Unsplash
Practising self care from the very beginning is so valuable to begin the important mindset around your self care, filling your cup being 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 get go the importance of relaxation. Stillness. Because your baby will pick up on what is going on with you - the relaxed you and the stressed one.
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. And in that first trimester, you just might be okay to still be treated lying on your tummy.
Massage can help to balance your body in preparation for a positive birth ahead
*Photo by Alex Hockett on Unsplash
A progressive labour is dependant on many things:
- Mama needs to be relaxed. Studies show that regular massage does not only relax a person on the table, but improves their general mental health and ability to find calm, and can improves anxiety and even depression.
- 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 - the more we do something, the easier it is to do, and learning to relax and find your happy place is no exception. 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 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 into the space available in the uterus, and if it 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, so 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"?
*Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
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 breaks my heart 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. But miscarriages do happen, and are more common in the first trimester. And when they happen, they are devastating to the parents. Massage itself though could not cause a miscarriage. Your body is way too smart and protective to allow that. 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 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). Together and communicating you will make a formidable team in supporting you and your baby.
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. They have a lot of fabulous information on their website and are affiliated with current studies on the safety of massage during pregnancy. Their ongoing communication, support and information provided to their therapists keeps us up to date with latest information, and connected and supported by all their NurtureLife® therapists across country so we can be stronger as a team to support all pregnant Mamas. Wherever you are in the country you can search for your closest NurtureLife® Practitioner on their website to ensure you are in safe hands. If you are here in the Sunshine Coast or North Brisbane, you are close to me.
Mama you deserve the best of care from the very beginning as you grow new life. Your massage therapist can be an important part of your healthcare team in keeping your body balanced and preparing you physically and mentally for birth.