Pregnancy: Prenatal Massage

How prenatal massage can help deal with and even get rid of stress and anxiety.

For many people, nothing relaxes the body and mind like a massage. A rubdown of tense muscles evaporates stress and pain. For expecting women, pregnancy often is a roller coaster of physical and emotional difficulties. As a result, prenatal massage is a concept that makes complete sense for many pregnant women.

It does for Teresa Kirkendall of Statesville, who is 32 weeks into her first pregnancy and benefiting greatly from regular sessions with her prenatal massage therapist. "I was seeing my therapist before I got pregnant, so it was natural for me to continue massage therapy during my pregnancy," Kirkendall says. "It’s helped me with stress relief, as well as muscular pain and anxiety. I think it’s just as important as diet and exercise."

Women often feel limited in their ability to relieve discomforts experienced during pregnancy. Doctors recommend avoiding over-the-counter medications, and prescribed medicines often are reduced or eliminated. For these reasons, medicine-free alternatives, like prenatal massage, can help expectant moms find relief.

Why prenatal massage?
Amy Trotter has been a prenatal massage therapist since 2004. "The changes that a woman’s body goes through during pregnancy can be very profound," she says. "Massage helps release many of the aches and pains associated with these changes by facilitating overall relaxation." Trotter says the benefits of prenatal massage include:
• Reduced muscle, joint and back pain
• Increased circulation
• Relief from headaches and abdominal soreness
• Reduced stress and anxiety
• Improved sleep

Another advantage of prenatal massage? Trotter says it gives women increased knowledge of their bodies. "Massage helps people become more aware of their bodies, which helps them to recognize building tension and gives them the ability to consciously release it."

How does prenatal massage differ from regular massage?
The two biggest differences between regular and prenatal massage are the therapist’s training and the client’s massage experience itself.
Not all massage therapists are prenatal massage therapists, so it’s important to do your research. Obstetricians can recommend therapists, or prospective clients can contact a spa and inquire if a certified prenatal massage therapist is on staff. Another resource is the American Massage Therapy Association Web site ( that provides a searchable database of therapists within a client’s geographic region. Women can specify prenatal massage in their search criteria.

The requirements for becoming a regular massage therapist include completing more than 600 education hours from an accredited massage school, being approved for a state license and passing the National Certification Exam for massage. In addition to this training, prenatal massage therapists must complete a 16-hour pregnancy massage course.

Amy Fontaine is a certified prenatal massage therapist who works for Massage Envy, a spa with facilities located throughout the Charlotte region. Fontaine has been a therapist for four years, but received her prenatal certification last year. "You need to learn techniques on a client in a side-lying position because she cannot lie on her stomach, and lying on the back isn’t very comfortable," she says.

Some pregnant women use a prop called the Prego Pillow, a large cushion with a hole in the center that makes room for their belly while lying on their stomach; but, most prefer lying on their side. Fontaine’s sequence usually massages the scalp, face, neck, arms, back and hips. Unlike regular massages, the ankles and web between the thumbs and pointer fingers are avoided. "These are reflex energy points in Chinese Meridians (invisible lines throughout the body that carry energy) that are thought to bring about contractions," Fontaine explains, but emphasizes it is extremely rare for contractions to happen.

When’s the best time for prenatal massage?
Women can begin getting massages at any point during their pregnancy. However, therapists may refuse to offer massage to a woman still in her first trimester because of the increased chance of miscarriage during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Fontaine offers that "massage doesn’t hurt the mother during the first trimester, but professionals want to be certain the pregnancy is off to a good start before getting involved." Once a woman begins receiving massages, she can do so up until labor … and beyond, if she chooses. Some therapists or doulas offer massage during labor, which helps the woman relax during contractions.

Who should avoid prenatal massage?
While there are no documented risks of receiving massage during pregnancy, therapists recommend women talk with their obstetricians before pursuing prenatal massage therapy. Anyone experiencing mild to severe complications — such as early labor, high blood pressure, or a history of multiple miscarriages — should probably not have prenatal massage.

The No. 1 holiday for spas and massage facilities is Mother’s Day, when kids of all ages (and dads!)) thank the mom in their lives by giving the gift of relaxation. Prenatal massage therapy gives moms-to-be a jumpstart on the experience.

Kelli Robinson is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives in Mooresville.