5 Myths of Prenatal Massage

While childcare options and securing the most life-efficient stroller weigh heavily on a mom-to-be’s mind, it’s important that she doesn’t forget about the person who kickstarted this whole adventure in the first place: herself. Taking proper care of both her body and soul can help relieve several discomforts that might otherwise prove intrusive to her enjoyment of the pregnancy. One incredibly effective way of maintaining sanity and comfort is via prenatal massage.

Unless you’ve had a positive experience with bodywork prior to getting pregnant, the idea of a prenatal massage can be a bit intimidating. You’re all of a sudden nauseous and fat. Your feet are bigger and you can no longer see your vagina. Undressing and lying on a table in front of a stranger might sound as appealing as birthing on your boss’s desk. But the benefits of a prenatal massage range from decreased stress and improved circulation to better sleep and an easier labor. It’s a no-brainer and, with the right therapist, can be an absolutely invaluable, nurturing experience during a time when you deserve extra attention and care.

When looking to book your session, make sure to keep the following popular myths in mind.

Myth# 1: Your prenatal massage therapist is qualified.

While there are an abundance of properly trained therapists who have supplemental training and certification in pre and postnatal bodywork, many practitioners do not. I briefly worked at a popular NYC gym that offered prenatal massage from all their therapists, and yet, no one but me was certified to do so.

Does your therapist know to exercise caution in exerting deep pressure on your lower extremities so as not to release a potential pregnancy-induced blood clot? Does your therapist know to prop you way up in your third trimester, almost to sitting, if you’re on your back? These are just a couple of basic facts that help a prenatal therapist ensure a safe, comfortable session.

If you have any doubts about qualification when making your appointment, ask where your practitioner received his or her additional prenatal certification. If they reference the spa or institution where they work or, Goddess help us, through a home study (yes, this is a thing), look elsewhere. If they give you a hard time about it, look elsewhere. Those practitioners who are dedicated to supporting women throughout their childbearing year take their responsibility very seriously and are proud of the extra certifications they’ve studied for.

Myth# 2: Getting a massage during your first trimester will cause a miscarriage.

Most spas and therapists advertise that massage within the first trimester is prohibited and encourage women to wait until they’ve passed their 12-week mark. This is silly. And created solely to protect therapists from unwarranted lawsuits.

Natural miscarriages during the first trimester are incredibly common, occurring upwards of 20% of the time. Many women miscarry before even becoming aware of their pregnancy. Massage therapists do not want to be the scapegoat for this unfortunate, and heartbreaking, occurrence. Fortunately, there is literally nothing a therapist could do within the scope of a regular session to cause a miscarriage aside from stomping on your abdomen.

During the first trimester, the progesterone in your body is doing its best to surge and keep your pregnancy viable.  If you want to naturally help increase progesterone, you need to work on decreasing cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” Guess what can help to decrease stress and cortisol levels? Massage.

Myth# 3: Ill-timed stimulation of acupuncture points can cause early labor or miscarriage.

 We’ve all heard the warnings of these magical spots on our feet and lower back that can trigger premature labor. You may have been instructed in your childbirthing class to “NOT TOUCH THEM UNTIL YOU’RE DUE!” but there’s really no need to get the maternity briefs all in a tangle over it.

Acupuncture is an effective, ancient modality that encourages a balancing of the body’s energetic system. The points (“tsubos”) along each energetic meridian correspond to a specific physiological element. The goal is to bring the client into energetic balance, thus manifesting optimal health. These points, in order to effect change, also require intention and sustained attention.

Your massage therapist, although they may lightly incorporate some nourishing, pregnancy-safe acupuncture points, will not cause your baby to fall out of your vagina or trigger an early pregnancy in the course of a general session. If only it was that simple, well-intentioned partners everywhere would be causing early labor through their supportive end-of-day foot massages.

Myth# 4: That special massage table with the hole in it is awesome.  

Except that it’s not. I’m just going to go right ahead and say to be wary of any place that’s trying to differentiate themselves by advertising they offer sessions with this table.

It’s anatomically awkward and exacerbates the lordotic curve a big pregnant belly brings about. As a woman’s abdomen starts to stretch and expand, it also starts to tilt her pelvis forward, giving her an arched lower back. Lying on her front with her belly suspended through a hole encourages that arch, rather than providing relief on the over-stretched lower back muscles. It also creates pull on the sacral and uterine ligaments.

Additionally, lying face-down with no belly support can put extra strain on a woman’s diastasis - a separation of abdominal muscles that commonly occurs during pregnancy – if she has one.  It’s also not a one-sized-fits-all hole to fit, you know, all of us who are not the same size as each other. I could go on and on on this one.

All specially-trained therapists will know how to give a thoroughly effective session while the client is sidelying. Using several regular pillows or a pregnancy pillow support system, the client is essentially made to feel as comfortable as if she was lying on her side in bed. If you struggle with finding your comfort zone when trying to sleep at night, your therapist can also review where to give yourself some extra cushioning so you’re well supported and able to nod off more easily. There are also facedown support systems that are better at cradling your torso. One in particular has gotten wonderful reviews from pregnant clients of my fellow therapists. I just ordered one and can't wait to try it out.

Myth#5: After giving birth, you no longer need a prenatal specialist. 

Any specialized prenatal certification training worth its fee will also instruct the therapist in proper postnatal technique. And there is a technique.

Many moms are lactating and possibly uncomfortable lying face down without any sort of chest support. Or maybe they still can’t lie face down at all and need to be positioned sidelying. Moms recovering from cesareans, and given clearance by their doctors, can be taught how to start massaging their incision scar so as to prevent excessive adhesion.

It’s also a very important time when those who have nurtured a growing person for the last 9 months need to be nurtured themselves. With her new baby and recovering body, this is often the most physically and emotionally taxing time for a new mom. Being given the time, space and permission to check out of her responsibilities for 60 minutes is an invaluable gift that trickles down its positive effects to even the tiniest person in her life.