“You can’t massage a pregnant woman’s ankles or feet and you can’t get a massage until you are 20 weeks along”.
These two statements often get thrown around a lot in the massage community and they are both completely false! Prenatal massage has acquired a bad rap and created some skepticism on whether or not this should be incorporated into their prenatal care. This blog is here to help create a bit of ease for all expectant mothers and set the story straight!
The March of Dimes states that, unfortunately, 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Most are before a woman’s missed period or before she even knows she’s pregnant. About 15% of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. More than 80% of miscarriages occur within the first three months. These are not only sad statistics, but scary high percentages. Most miscarriages result from a healthy response to the early abnormal development of an embryo. Other common causes can be (but certainly not limited to) congenital heart disease, hormonal problems, incompetent cervix, and infection. Although, (and webMD thought this was important enough to mention) there has been no scientific proof that stress or physical or sexual activity can cause miscarriages.
So what does this have to do with massage? Nothing. In fact, massage has been shown to be beneficial for pregnant woman. Massage helps relieve anxiety by decreasing cortisol levels and it has also been proven that massage increases dopamine and serotonin. A study done with prenatal massage showed that changes in these hormone levels lead to fewer complications during birth and fewer instances of newborn complications such as low birth weight. Plus if physical activity isn’t enough to cause problems, how can massage be worse? So then why is it that most massage clinics say no massage before 20 weeks? Sadly, and most likely, legal reasons. No one wants massage associated with miscarriages, so massage therapists tend to play it on the safe side, or they just go along with what they learned in school that they shouldn’t massage someone before 20 weeks. Not really questioning why they shouldn’t. Plus, during the first 20 weeks most woman tend to have nausea, and who wants to get a massage when you’re nauseous?
Then why can’t women have their feet and ankles massaged? This statement stemmed from reflexology, acupressure, and acupuncture points. In reflexology, there are points in the ankle that correspond with the uterus and the ovaries. The idea behind reflexology is that certain points in the foot, hand, or ear correspond with certain organs or parts of the body. Working these points are meant to enhance the organ or body part function. I don’t see a miscarriage being an enhanced function of the uterus. Not to mention, there is no scientific evidence backing this at all. For acupuncture or acupressure (which yes, are totally different things but for the sake of this blog I’m lumping them together) there is a point in the ankle that corresponds with the meridian line called bladder 60. This has a bit of validity to it, but the scientific backing for this is very anecdotal. During this process there is specific timing involved, specific points of pressure, specific pressure to be used AND other specific points that are used at the same time! That’s a lot of specifics to be “accidentally” triggered in a relaxation massage. Regular massage to the ankles will have no effect, except maybe to help reduce edema. As for the feet? Well I guess they are just dangerously close to the ankles.
Now this is not to say that there are no contraindications for prenatal massage. Contraindications basically means whether or not massage can be performed safely. There is general and local. General means no massage should be done, local means just a specific area. Some examples of contraindications would be if you’re experiencing vomiting, nausea, or morning sickness, if there is any indications of preeclampsia or eclampsia. Eclampsia is a very severe condition and requires immediate medical attention. If there is any chance of having a high risk pregnancy you should always check with your doctor first, but more than likely, massage should be safe.
So over all massage is not only safe for most pregnancies, it is also beneficial. While most massage schools incorporate a general overview on prenatal massage, it is best to find someone who has a little bit of extra training. This way they will have a much higher knowledge of what is safe and what to watch out for. But rest easy all you mama’s-to-be and know that massage isn’t one of the many things you have to avoid due to being pregnant.