When my sister was pregnant for her second child (the first one unfortunately died), I remember her complaining about body aches.
The sores on her back, neck, legs and feet kept her awake at night. And thinking that these are normal things all expectant moms experience, massage was not in our options. If only I knew better.
There’s a prevailing myth that foot massage during pregnancy is dangerous and should be avoided at all cost. But nothing can be further from the truth. Let’s list down 5 frequently asked questions about foot massage during pregnancy, and get the answers straight from reliable books, expert opinions and scientific studies.
1. Foot Massage When Pregnant: Is It Safe Or Not?
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as pregnancy massage. However, limited scientific studies and lack of certification standards in the US keep this special kind of massage from being widely accepted.
For instance, a lot of spas refuse to offer any type of massage on pregnant women to avoid liabilities. The same goes for doctors who normally refer their patients to massage therapists. There’s also a misconception that massage–especially when done during the first trimester–may cause complications including miscarriage.
Also Read: Best Foot Massager Reviews
However, massage is completely safe during pregnancy as long as it’s done by an experienced professional specializing in pregnancy massage. Some spas offer in-house training for their massage therapists, while others get pregnancy massage certifications from an accredited school or organization.
Pregnancy massage focuses on the mother’s safety above all else. Massage therapists who are trained to do it know everything from reflexology (i.e. which part of the feet shouldn’t be massaged) to different techniques such as bolstering to ensure the mother’s safety and comfort.
2. When To Avoid Pregnancy Foot Massage?
No matter how relaxing a foot massage is for expectant mothers, there are some cases when it can bring more harm than good. Here are some contraindications for pregnancy foot massage that require immediate medical attention:
a. Pitting edema.
Swelling in legs, ankles and feet during pregnancy are completely normal. Also known as edema, it is caused by both hormones and the growing uterus, which puts pressure on the veins and therefore impedes blood circulation towards the heart. A lymphatic drainage massage is usually recommended to relieve the swelling during and after pregnancy.
A pitting edema, on the other hand, is characterized by an indentation that slowly disappears after applying pressure to the skin. Careful assessment should be provided by the physician to ensure it’s not caused by an underlying life-threatening condition such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and preeclampsia.
b. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
DVT happens when a blood clot forms in one or more of your deep veins in the legs. Swelling of the legs accompanied by pain–especially if it’s only in one leg–is a symptom of DVT.
Foot massage is contraindicated to prevent the blood clot from dislodging. If not prevented, this blood clot may travel all the way up to the lungs, block the blood flow and cause pulmonary embolism.
Also Read: Contraindications for Massage Therapy
When your limb shows a sudden increase in swelling, your blood pressure might be going through the roof. This is one of the telltale signs of preeclampsia, a serious condition that usually occurs during the late stages of pregnancy and characterized by excessive weight gain, severe headache, a sudden rise in blood pressure, generalized edema and visual disturbances.
If not attended by physician, it may lead to convulsions, coma and even death.
Massage should also be avoided if you’re experiencing nausea or vomiting, and if you have a high-risk pregnancy such as when your placenta slightly detaches from the uterus (placental abruption). Again, consult with your doctor first to weigh your options and to know whether or not massage is safe for your pregnancy.
3. Can Women Have Reflexology Foot Massage While Pregnant?
Yes, but there are important reminders to keep in mind.
Reflexology is a type of massage that focuses on the feet. Although it has roots in ancient healing techniques, its modern applications are based on the “zone therapy” theory by Dr. William H. Fitzgerald.
Developed in the early 1900s, the theory believes that the human body is divided into different zones. The body parts within these zones can be manipulated by applying pressure on an area (such as the feet) distant but connected to each zone.
Although there are no scientific data to substantiate their claims, modern reflexologists only apply light pressure on the feet to avoid pregnancy complications.
They also avoid specific areas or acupressure points in the ankle corresponding to the ovaries, uterus and the Fallopian tubes. Massaging these points may trigger contractions which then lead to premature delivery and other complications.
However, there are different theories as to how safe reflexology is for pregnant women. Some reflexologists (see video below) even suggest that it’s ok to massage the “danger zones” along the ankle area as long as you only use light touch or finger-walking.
To ensure safety, please consult with your doctor before considering a reflexology foot massage and only work with people with extensive experience and in-depth knowledge of reflexology.
4. What Are The Benefits of Foot Massage During Pregnancy?
If done correctly, foot massage during pregnancy can bring psychological and physiological benefits to the mother.
For instance, foot massage can provide relief to leg swelling caused by increased fluid retention and compression of the veins by the growing uterus.
In a 2007 study conducted in Manisa, Western Turkey, 80 pregnant women were divided into two groups. The control group didn’t receive any other intervention aside from the standard pre-natal care, while the other group received a 20-minute daily foot massage for 5 days. After the experiment, the women who received foot massage had smaller lower leg circumference than those in the control group.
Massage is good for your mental health, too. A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology in 1999 shows that pregnant women who were massaged had lower stress hormones and lesser incidence of postnatal complications.
Depressed mothers who received massage also showed better pregnancy outcomes such as normal birth weight, low incidence of prematurity, and better performance on the Brazelton Neonatal Behavior Assessment.
Surprisingly, the benefits extend even to the baby and the co-parent. Foot massage, or any other massage, is a good way to strengthen the bond between the expectant mother and her partner. According to a 2002 study published in Developmental Psychobiology scientific journal, fetuses of mothers who received at least a 3-minute massage showed greater movement inside the womb.
5. How To Safely Give Foot Massage During Pregnancy?
If you’ve already talked to a doctor and weighed the benefits and potential risks of foot massage during pregnancy, it’s time to look for a qualified massage therapist.
Ideally, you should look for someone who is certified and has years of experience providing pregnancy foot massage. Otherwise, you can look for YouTube instructional videos created by a certified massage therapist, such as this one:
Capellini, S. (2012). The Complete Spa Book for Massage Therapists (1st ed., pp. 279-281). Cengage Learning.
Effect of foot massage to decrease physiological lower leg oedema in late pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial in Turkey. (2010). International Journal Of Nursing Practice, 16(5), 454-60. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1440-172X.2010.01869.x
Harms, R. (2014). What causes ankle swelling during pregnancy — and what can I do about it?. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 28 January 2017, from https://goo.gl/kMCVTI
Pregnancy Massage. WebMD. Retrieved 26 January 2017, from https://goo.gl/EDKJ8k
Salvo, S. (2013). Mosby’s Pathology for Massage Therapists (1st ed., p. 394). Elsevier Health Sciences.