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Is shiatsu and  massage safe in pregnancy?

Since shiatsu and massage are simply working to support the body then they can not be harmful. However you need to find a therapist who understands the changes of pregnancy as the treatment may need to be modified.

Practical tips

If you want some practical tips, then you can go to these pages

What might a pregnancy shiatsu or massage session include?

As well as the hands on work of massage or shiatsu you may also be offered:

  • Breathing and relaxation techniques can support the woman to relax and tune into her body, baby and feelings . Please read the visualisatoin on baby breathing (link)
  • Exercises can be shown which can support the physical changes of pregnancy and be useful for birth preparation ie stretches to alleviate leg cramps, forward leaning to relieve back ache and encourage fetal positioning
  • Postural awareness can be encouraged so that the physical changes can be better integrated
  • The partner and other children can be involved in learning massage techniques and other self care strategies. This will help encourage communication between the couple and family and facilitate pre natal bonding with the baby. Here is a simple exercise you can do together.

© Jules Selmes

Are there any times when I shouldn’t have shiatsu or massage during my pregnancy?

The only times that you shouldn’t have shiatsu or massage is when you need emergency medical treatment: so the times are pretty rare. The kind of situations would include: fitting (eclampsia), vaginal bleeding, severe abdominal pain or vomiting. You probably would not be considering having a massage or shiatsu in these situations, but sometimes they develop quickly. An experienced practitioner will know if you need to seek medical treatment. However, once the acute phase is over and you are receiving appropriate medical treatment, then shiatsu and massage can be part of the recovery process.

I’ve heard there are some points that therapists need to avoid because if they are worked they could make me go into premature labour. Is that true?

No: not really. This is based on a myth that the points which can support labour can cause it to happen too early. This is not possible because shiatsu can only work with supporting the body to do what it needs to do. If the woman is not ready to go into labour, then she will not. Having said that, the points which support labour are very powerful points which can have an eliminating effect, so the practitioner will be extra sensitive to how to work these points.

Are shiatsu and massage different during pregnancy?

Yes, to some extent because your body is different, so the type of bodywork which will be most effective will also be different.


Choice of positions

The main differences are that you will need to be in different positions: clearly lying on your tummy will not be suitable after the first trimester. Which positions are most comfortable for you will vary and so a good therapist will be able to offer various choices and be prepared to adapt to you if you are not comfortable.  During the last trimester, some work will usually be done in a forward leaning position as this helps relieve pressure from your lower back and help give your baby space to move.

© Jules Selmes

Movements to help with swelling and varicose veins

Since your tissue is relatively softer and you have more blood in your system then techniques will be modified. Most maternity specialists will include some element of moving and pumping your legs and arms to help support the increased bloods and fluids and reduce issues such as swelling and varicose veins.

Work on your abdomen?

The main area which changes is of course your abdomen. A maternity specialist will always offer this option but also respect your choice if you do not want to have your abdomen massaged.  They may also offer sessions where your partner can attend to be more involved with your pregnancy and your baby and prepare for birth.

I have swelling and varicose veins, can shiatsu and massage help with that?

Quite probably: because work can be done which will help support the flow of increased blood and fluids. However if the swelling is related to pre-eclampsia, then the work will be different from if it is simply related to poor circulation. An experienced therapist will gear the treatment to what is most appropriate for you.

I am experiencing nausea and some vomiting, can shiatsu and massage help with that?

Most cases of morning sickness do respond well to massage or shiatsu. However in more extreme cases, you may well need to be in hospital for a short period. Your practitioner may be able to continue to support you during your hospital stay.

I have back ache? Can shiatsu and massage help?

Quite probably, depending on the cause. If you are experiencing lower back ache in late pregnancy, it is probably due to your posture and the position of your baby. The therapist may well include some work in a forward leaning position such as leaning over a ball or sitting on the ball leaning on the table to help relieve this. You can also read tips on relieving back ache in pregnancy

Is it safe to receive massage and shiatsu during the first trimester?

People usually ask this question because they are worried that shiatsu or massage may increase the risk of miscarriage. There is no evidence to support this fear: and indeed receiving shiatsu may help you relax and feel more connected with the changes that are going on in your body at this time. Women are not told to stop working or avoid stress, so having an hour of space of physical and emotional support, can only be of benefit. However you need to feel comfortable and confident with the practitioner. And some women don’t feel like being touched.

I have PGP (Pelvic girdle pain) ? Can I have shiatsu or massage ?

If your therapist is trained in maternity work, they will be aware of the implications of PGP and will adapt their work accordingly. They will position you appropriately, work with special techniques and be able to advise on relevant life style concerns. Bodywork has been shown to be helpful. More about shiatsu and Pelvic girdle pain / Symphysis Pubis Instability

Some Research References

Field T Grizzle N Scafidi F and Schanberg S (1996) Massage and relaxation therapies”; effects on depressed adolescent mothers, Adolescence 31(124 pp 903-11 Field,

T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Hart, S., Theakston, H., Schanberg, S., Kuhn, C., Burman, I. (1999). Pregnant women benefit from massage therapy. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology,, vol 20, no 1, March 1999, pp 31-38

Hernandez-Reif, M., Field, T., Krasnegor, J., Theakston, T. (2001). Low back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience, 106, 131-145.

Brady LH. Henry K. Luth JF. Casper-Bruett KK. The effects of shiatsu on lower back pain. Journal of Holistic Nursing. 19 (1): 57-70, 2001.

Field, T., Diego, M., Dieter, J., Hernandez-Reif, M. (In Preparation). Depressed pregnant women benefit from massage therapy.

Thomas CT; Napolitano PG Use of acupuncture for managing chronic pelvic pain in pregnancy: a case report Journal of Reproductive Medicine for the Obstetrician and Gynecologist , vol 45, no 11, November 2000, pp 944-946

Hyde E Acupressure therapy for morning sickness. A controlled clinical trial Journal of Nurse-Midwifery , vol 34, no 4, July/August 1989, pp 171-178

Dundee JW|Sourial FBR|Ghaly RG P6 acupuncture reduces morning sickness Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine , vol 81, no 8, August 1988, pp 456-457

Smith C; Crowther C; Beilby J Acupuncture to treat nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial Birth , vol 29, no 1, March 2002, pp 1-9

Carlsson CPO, Axemo P, Bodin A, Carstensen H, Ehrenroth B, Madegard-Lind I Navander C. Manual acupuncture reduces hyperemesis gravidarum: A placebo-controlled, randomised, single blind, crossover study. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 2000, 20(4):273-279.

De Aloysio D|Penacchioni P Morning sickness control in early pregnancy by Neiguan point acupressure Obstetrics and Gynecology , vol 80, no 5, November 1992, pp 852-854

Diego MA Field T Hernandez-Reif M Shaw K Freidman L and Ironson G (2001) HIV adolescents show improved immune function following massage therapy” Intern J Neuroscience 106 pp 35-45

Ernst E Matrai A Magyarosy I Liebermeister R Eck M and Breu M (1987) Massages causes changes in blood fluidity Physiotherapy 73(1) pp 43-5

Field T Delage J and Hernandez-Reif M 2003 Movement and massage therapy reduce fibromyalgia pain, J of bodywork and movement therapies Jan pp49-52

Hernandez-Reif M Field T and Krasnego J Theakston H Hossain Z and Burman I 2000 High blood pressure and associated symptoms were reduced by massage therapy J of Bodywork and Movement therapies 4 (1) pp 31-8

Hovind H and Nielsen SL 1974 Effect of massage on blood flow in skeletal muscles Scand J Rehab Med 6, pp 7407

Lafreniere KD Mutus B Cameron S Tannous M Giannotti M Abu-Zahra H and Laukkanen E 1999 Effects of therapeutic touch on biochemical and mood indicators in women. J of Alternative and complementary medicine 4 (4) pp 367-70

Richards KC 1998 The effect of a back massage and relaxation therapy on sleep article J of Critical care 7 (4) 288-99

Weinberg R Jackson A and Kolodny K 1988 The relationship of massage and exercise to mood enhancement The Sport Pscyhologis 2, pp 202-11 Yamazaki Z Idezuki Y Nemoto T and Togawa T 1988 Clinical experiences using pneumatic massage therapy for edematous limbs over the last 10 years. Angiology- The J of Vascular Diseases, February pp 154-163

1 Comment

  1. Fiona Manonn on 03/12/2020 at 5:29 am

    Many people ignore varicose veins as it does not cause pain. This article is really very useful to increase awareness about varicose veins. Thanks for sharing such an informative article.

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