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Is first trimester massage safe?

Yes. Yes. Yes. You can get massage during your first trimester of pregnancy.

One of the most phone calls I get from new clients is, "I am 8 weeks pregnant and nobody will massage me. Please tell me you can help me! My back is killing me."

There are lots of rumors out there that massage is to be avoided during the first trimester. And the policies of some therapists and day spas actually restrict massage to second and third trimester, some stating that it is unsafe, others unwilling to work with the uncertainty of first trimester when their therapists have minimal pregnancy training and limited experience working with pregnant women.

What is important here is that these are “policies” not “facts.” These therapists and establishments have restricted massage to second and third trimester women based on potential liability issues in an extremely litigious society, not on the safety of massage.

Massage by a properly trained therapist is safe for you and your developing baby throughout your entire pregnancy; a trained therapist is going to talk to you about your pregnancy, make any necessary modifications and refer you back to your midwife or OB if anything is uncertain. For a woman who is at particular high risk for miscarrying and/or has experienced previous miscarriages, she may want to be careful about adding lots of new activities during that first trimester, including massage. Others may want to add the relaxation and stress relieving benefits of massage to their routines. If you are considering massage during first trimester and are concerned about its safety during your specific situation, please consult your doctor.

The case for first trimester massage.

In my practice, I actually encourage women to get bodywork done during their first trimester.

While few first trimester women have the classic low back and pelvic pain characteristic of later pregnancy (once that belly really starts to show), many do experience a range of discomforts for which massage can be helpful. One of the earlier signs that indicates to a woman that she is indeed pregnant is enlarged, tender breasts. The increased weight in her chest puts a greater strain on her thoracic spine, shoulders and neck, yielding upper back and neck pain, as well as headaches.  A trained therapist can help relieve that strain and educate women on how to integrate that change into her posture so as to minimize additional strain.

First trimester can also be an extremely emotional time as women contemplate major life changes (which can be joyous, scary and stressful all at the same time, or even unwanted) all while riding major hormone surges. Massage (and yoga, and any mindful body practice) support women as they integrate these changes into their lives, and help minimize the physical impact of stress on the body. For moms who already have kids at home, their massage may be the only substantive “me time” they regularly have during this pregnancy.

Modifying massage for first trimester women.

As a massage therapist, I need to make fewer accommodations for a first trimester pregnancy than later in pregnancy. I do, however, take several things into account. Is she showing yet? If not, can she still go face down on the table? Is she physically and emotionally comfortable doing that? How tender are her breasts? Does she need support to prevent pressure on her breasts? Is she dealing with severe nausea? I would take all of these things (plus many other details) into consideration when setting up a massage for a first trimester woman.

In general, if you are nervous about getting a massage, always ask your midwife or doctor about any concerns they might have and talk to a trained specialist. And, whether you are nervous or not, if you are experiencing a high risk pregnancy or experiencing complications, always get clearance from your provider and find a trained specialist who knows how to modify your massage for your body and your pregnancy!

Not all women want massage in first trimester.

More important than universally banning massage during those first few months, is actually checking in with yourself. In our experience, a lot of pregnant women don't want to come in for bodywork during that first trimester. Between fatigue and nausea, they are just not feeling up to it.

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