Prenatal Massage Therapy


What is prenatal massage therapy?

Prenatal massage therapy is the implementation of Registered Massage Therapy treatment for pregnant women, to support the physical, postural, and emotional well-being of the expectant mother and fetus. There are a wide variety of techniques that a Registered Massage Therapist can utilize during prenatal treatment, and they can include the incorporation of modalities such as Swedish massage, kneading, deep tissue to compensating structures, neuromuscular facilitation, and so forth. Prenatal massage therapy can help support a woman’s changing body, lifestyle, and posture throughout all stages of pregnancy, as well as during labor and postpartum.


Historically, there are many studies and archaeological findings that support the use of prenatal massage therapy, and they exist in numerous cultures. Indian Ayurvedic medical manuals depict not only massage therapy but particular treatment for pregnant women by the use of rubbing specifically formulated oils on the abdomen. Prenatal massage therapy is also depicted in traditional Eskimo sculptures where they show massage therapy being done to women in labor. The terms “doula” and “midwife” have echoed for generations for their notably important roles to women during pregnancy, and as a result, they have been able to use their hands-on skills to ease the stress of childbirth. Massage therapy allows a more direct, hands-on approach to prenatal patients.


A woman will go through four stages during her pregnancy- three trimesters and one postpartum stage. They are called the first trimester, second trimester, third trimester, and postpartum, respectively. Symptoms will vary depending on each woman’s medical history, past trauma/injuries, pregnancy journey, nourishment, predisposing conditions, and more. It is always a good idea for a pregnant woman to ensure consistent checkups with a medical doctor and to always check in with them beforehand on whether or not prenatal massage therapy is advisable.

First Trimester

The first trimester will last the first three months and this is also when the highest chance of miscarriage exists. This stage may present with some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Frequent urination
  • Constipation
  • Blood pressure changes (usually lower)
  • Breast changes (tender & fuller)
  • Musculoskeletal changes (hormone-related)
  • Taste and smell aversions
  • Mood swings

Second Trimester

The second trimester will last months four to six and is also known to be the quiet months. The risk of miscarriage is greatly reduced and the woman will feel more movement during this time, as well as hear the heartbeat and be able to view the fetus in an ultrasound. This stage may present with some symptoms from the first trimester – which more than likely would have been reduced by now – and the second trimester may present with the following additional symptoms:

  • Edema (swelling of the legs due to fluid retention)
  • Hypertension (Pre-Eclampsia & Eclampsia)
  • Supine hypotension (faint feeling while lying on back)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Backache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diastasis symphysis pubis (pubic pain through bone separation)
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Varicose veins
  • Skin pigmentation
  • Stretch marks
  • Other changes (nosebleeds, gum bleeding, nasal congestion, migraine, etc)
  • Emotionally (hormonal, postural & lifestyle changes)

Third Trimester

The third trimester will last the seventh to ninth month (until birth) and the physical discomfort will increase due to the pregnancy advancing towards birth. Many of the symptoms from the second trimester may continue into this stage, as well as some of the following:

  • Gestational diabetes
  • Ketoacidosis
  • Edema (legs, hands, fingers & face)
  • Compression syndromes (thoracic outlet, carpal tunnel, etc)
  • Increased backache
  • Sacroiliac sprain
  • Leg cramps (charley horse)
  • Pelvic discomfort (hip pain)
  • Costal margin pain (pain in the lower ribs)
  • Frequent urination and incontinence
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia and restlessness
  • Emotionally (more adjusted)

“Fourth Trimester”

The fourth trimester is known as the postpartum stage after a woman gives birth to her baby. There are many considerations to take into account during this stage, including:

  • Physical changes (due to pregnancy & flexibility due to hormones)
  • Post-surgical recovery (episiotomy or cesarean section)
  • Breast tenderness (breastfeeding)
  • Emotionally (postpartum blues or postpartum depression)

Benefits of prenatal massage therapy

The fundamental goal of prenatal massage therapy is to incorporate relaxation-based techniques, as well as to ensure a safe and supportive treatment space to help promote a healthy pregnancy. Massage therapy for prenatal patients can help with a wide variety of complaints, starting with general muscle soreness from the hormonal and postural changes, to aiding in the soothing of any pregnancy-related symptoms and promoting relaxation, all the way up to assist with home care and everyday activity adjustments to cater to the expectant mothers changing body and lifestyle. 

Before arriving at a prenatal massage therapy appointment, each patient should take it upon themselves to check in with their medical doctor and/or obtain a referral for Registered Massage Therapy. Although this may not always be necessary, especially with patients who are experiencing little to no pregnancy symptoms or women who have experienced multiple low-risk pregnancies, it is always highly recommended. 

Once medical consent has been obtained, the Registered Massage Therapist can continue with the treatment, including providing the option to the patient on whether or not they would like to use a pregnancy/prenatal massage therapy support cushion. This cushion allows the patient to be positioned face-down on the massage table during any stage of their pregnancy for part of the treatment. Additional pillowing techniques and electric table features may be used to adequately support the patient in the face-up position. Alternatively, if the patient is not able to – or prefers not to – be positioned face-down on the pregnancy support cushion, then the Massage Therapist can use additional pillows to accommodate a side-lying or seated position.

Every woman’s pregnancy journey is different, so the choice to seek prenatal treatment can produce several different massage therapy goals. The therapist can discuss in detail at the initial appointment what these goals may be, as well as how the patient and therapist can work together to achieve the desired outcome. 

Overall, Registered Massage Therapy for prenatal patients can serve to be very beneficial. As Registered Massage therapy continues to secure its place in Western healthcare, prenatal massage therapy is quickly transitioning into one of the fastest expanding medical healthcare applications.

Christina Sharma, RMT

(Massage Therapy Vancouver)