What Happens During a Prenatal Massage?

Published on August 23, 2020 by arothstein

Woman who appears in pain and would benefit from a prenatal massage

Are you interested in learning about what happens during a prenatal massage? Want to become a massage therapist yourself? Those who want to earn a certificate to practice in under a year and work in a career helping people with an excellent job outlook, may want to look into massage therapy. Massage therapy is invaluable to clients suffering from stress, experiencing pain, or recovering from an injury.

Massage therapy is becoming accepted as an alternative form of healing. The field is expected to grow 22 percent in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can complete a degree or certificate program in less than a year and have hundreds of hours practicing various techniques. One of the many massage techniques you will learn is prenatal massage.

What is Prenatal Massage?

All pregnancies are different and expectant mothers may experience some unusual sensations or pain during their pregnancy. Prenatal massage is designed to relieve some of the discomfort that a mother-to-be experiences. When an expectant mother experiences fewer aches and pains, it’s easier to stay healthy. Prenatal massages can help to relieve anxiety, depression, and tension.

What Makes Prenatal Massage Different?

Prenatal massage shouldn’t be confused with other massage therapy techniques. Many people choose massage treatment as a way to relax, relieve tension, and alleviate pain. Pregnant women have issues that differ from non-pregnant women. Many of the problems mothers-to-be face can be reduced with massage.

Prenatal massage is an excellent way to rest, relax, and rejuvenate. This form of massage is similar to traditional massage treatment with a few changes.

After the woman has passed the first trimester, you will no longer work with the client in the face down or prone position. This avoids putting unnecessary pressure on the ligaments in the uterus and the abdomen. During the pregnancy and depending on what week the mother’s pregnancy is in, you may work with the client lying on her back shifted slightly to the left. Later in the pregnancy, you may position the client in a semi-reclined position for prenatal massage treatment.

When the client is semi-reclined, it avoids compressing the vena cava, that can decrease circulation to the mother and baby, and cause low blood pressure in the mother. You will factor in any special instructions or concerns of the OBGYN, so the prenatal massage treatment is most effective.

A significant portion of the massage treatments for expectant mothers is done with the client on her side and propped up with many pillows. This position allows for the maximum amount of comfort and safety for the mother and baby. Some women continue to sleep in this position after the baby is born because it’s so comfortable and relaxing.

Avoiding Areas of Pressure During Prenatal Massage

There are areas of the body which you should avoid putting pointed or deep pressure on, during prenatal massage. These areas include the shiatsu points used to induce contractions of the uterus, the inside portion of the legs, and the abdomen.

A client has the right to choose or deny any type of massage therapy treatment. Although some women choose not to include the abdomen in a prenatal massage, most agree that it’s very soothing. The abdomen may be massaged in a very gentle way that produces relaxation and reduces stress.

Why Prenatal Massage?

Prenatal massage helps reduce swelling, caused by muscle and joint pain. The gentle touch of massage can also reduce anxiety and stress. Prenatal massage treatment can improve digestion and strengthen the mother’s immune system.

Prenatal massage has more significant benefits in addition to offering the mother relief from pain, stress, and anxiety. Mothers-to-be that undergo prenatal massage experience fewer sleep problems and reduced pain, have fewer complications during delivery, and newborn babies have fewer post-natal complications.

How Does A Massage Therapist Perform Prenatal Massage?

A prenatal massage usually lasts about an hour. You will position the client on a massage table, specially designed for pregnant women. In some cases, you may have the client positioned slightly to one side supported by pillows. The pillow method is especially useful during the later stages of pregnancy.

Swedish massage is a technique commonly used in prenatal massage. This type of massage is the treatment most recommended for pregnant women. Swedish massage addresses many of the common problems pregnant women experience in the circulatory and skeletal systems. These changes are brought about by changes in hormone levels. The treatment is designed to decrease tension in the muscles, improve blood flow, and aid the lymphatic system.

What Are the Discomforts of Pregnancy?

Mothers-to-be have some discomforts that prenatal massage can alleviate. They include anemia, backaches, edema, constipation, headaches, leg cramps, and nausea.


Anemia in pregnancy occurs when a woman lacks healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissue throughout the body. This typically is a concern because it can affect a mothers’ mortality rates, cause premature births, and low birth weights.


Backaches are common in pregnant women due to the baby’s additional weight pressing on the lower back. The pain may be a general feeling of achiness, sharp pain, or a dull ache. After the first trimester, prenatal massage can alleviate the discomfort and help a client relax and sleep.


Edema is one of the most common problems that pregnant women experience. Almost all pregnant women experience some form of edema at one time or another during pregnancy. The swelling is most common in the legs, ankles, and feet. You can advise your clients to eat high potassium foods, avoid standing for long periods, and minimize time spent outdoors when the weather is hot, to help alleviate swelling.


The most common reason that many pregnant women experience constipation is an increase in the hormone known as progesterone that relaxes the smooth muscles throughout the body, including the digestive tract. The relaxation of the muscles allows food to pass through the intestinal tract at a slower rate.


Most headaches during pregnancy are known as primary headaches, meaning a secondary problem doesn’t cause them. The types of headaches that are common during pregnancy are cluster, tension, and migraines. Women who commonly suffer from migraines seem to have fewer incidences during pregnancy. Common symptoms of pregnancy headaches include sharp pain behind one or both eyes, a pulsating or throbbing pain, or a dull ache.

Leg Cramps

Leg cramps can be painful, especially during pregnancy. Changes in circulation usually cause cramps in the legs during pregnancy. The baby’s position may also cause pressure on the nerves and blood vessels that lead to the legs. Stretching exercises, sitting with the feet elevated, warm compresses, and massage can alleviate the discomfort. You should be careful with leg massage as some pregnant women suffer from blood clots in the legs. These blood clots can get dislodged during massage and travel to vital organs in the body, causing complications.


This is a common symptom, especially during the first trimester.Nausea and vomiting during the first trimester may be linked to the hormone HCG or suggest viable placenta tissue. Even though it isn’t necessarily indicative of a problem, nausea can be very unpleasant. Prenatal massage can help alleviate nausea during pregnancy.

What Are the Other Benefits of Prenatal Massage?

Prenatal massage offers many benefits for the mother and the baby. Some of the benefits of prenatal massage include stress relief, hormone level regulation, decrease in morning sickness, improved blood circulation, reduced swelling, and less nerve pain.

Benefit #1: Stress Relief

Prenatal massage can help relieve stress, a common problem during pregnancy. It can also help to alleviate pain, especially in the lower back.

Benefit #2: Regulate Hormone Levels

Prenatal massage helps stimulate blood flow and regulate hormone levels. The hormones associated with stress levels and relaxation are altered when prenatal massages are part of the health regimen. Cortisol and norepinephrine, the hormones commonly related to stress, can be reduced after five weeks of bi-weekly prenatal massages.

Low levels of dopamine and serotonin can cause depression. Pregnant women who include prenatal massages as part of their routine can see increased dopamine and serotonin levels, offering less depression. When prenatal massages are a regular part of prenatal care, there may be fewer complications with the birth, resulting in healthier babies.

Benefit #3: Decrease in Morning Sickness

Morning sickness may seem like an inconvenience, but it can cause serious side effects, including dehydration. After the first trimester, if a woman is still experiencing morning sickness, prenatal massage can reduce the incidence of nausea and vomiting. Prenatal massage also improves the circulation of blood flow and relaxes the muscles. When the muscles begin to relax, hormones release into the body to alleviate nausea.

Benefit #4: Improved Blood Circulation

Prenatal massage can aid the circulatory system and improve the blood flow to the organs, tissues, and muscles. Since massage reduces stress, the release of the chemicals that reduce tension can help keep blood pressure at a healthy level.

Benefit #5: Reduced Swelling

Decreased circulation and increased pressure on the blood vessels can cause swelling. Prenatal massage stimulates soft tissue and reduces the amount of fluid that can build up in swollen joints. Prenatal massage can also help to remove waste tissue from the lymphatic system. A reduction of swelling from prenatal massage can reduce pain and discomfort.

Benefit #6: Reduced Nerve Pain

Improvement in nerve pain is another benefit of prenatal massage. During the late stages of pregnancy, many women experience sciatic nerve pain because the uterus is resting on the pelvic and lower back muscles. The pressure of the uterus causes tension in the upper and lower leg muscles, causing swelling. Prenatal massage helps release the tension in the muscles.

What are the Skills Needed to Offer Prenatal Massage?

In addition to the technical abilities that you must possess as a massage therapist, soft skills are also essential. These soft skills include communication, active listening, body language interpretation, and continued education.

Skill #1: Communication

Excellent communication is vital to creating a relaxing environment during prenatal massage. You must have the ability to listen to your client, ask questions, and alleviate any concerns the client may have. The client also must know what is involved in the treatment before the prenatal massage begins.

Skill #2: Active Listening

It’s essential for you to focus entirely on the client, Listen and offer viable solutions when they are describing any issues regarding pain, stress, or anxiety. The client’s well-being should always come first.

Skill #3: Body Language Interpretation

It’s vital to “read” your clients body language. Different factors may include cultural differences and drawing out clients who find it difficult to discuss what’s troubling them. The more conscious you are of the client’s body language, the more you’ll be able to help your clients.

Skill #4: Continued Education

The techniques used in massage are as different as the clients you’ll treat. The more you learn about the various massage techniques, the more effective the treatment will be. You will have more positive outcomes by using the most appropriate methods learned during continued education.

Final Thoughts

You can help your clients with prenatal massage, with the right training and understanding of the kind of practical, safe, and appropriate treatments for the mother and baby. You should be knowledgeable about pregnancy and the anatomy of a pregnant woman’s body. These will be learned during a massage therapy program at your local vocational school.

If you desire a career helping people, want to earn a certificate in under a year, and work in a field with an excellent job outlook, then becoming a massage therapist may be the right career path for you.

Are you interested in learning more about prenatal massage? Ready to start a program to become a massage therapist? Broadview University developed the Massage Therapy certificate program with your future in mind. The certificate program is designed to emphasize skills and knowledge for entry-level employment as a massage therapist. The Massage Therapy program at Broadview University prepares students to take the MBLEx licensing exam offered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Board (FSMTB). Upon completion of the program, students will be eligible for professional membership in such associations as the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and the Association of Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP).

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a massage therapist.

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