Is it okay to get a massage from a massage chair while pregnant or expecting?
This is a question oft-asked by women and by the end of this article you’ll be able to make an informed decision.
Trawling through different websites and forums, we’ve seen women advise each other that massage chairs are safe to use during one’s pregnancy. They talk about working in salon X or spa Y and seeing pregnant women using the massage chairs all the time. Disturbingly, a lot of the answers to be found in the internet are dangerously and simplistically anecdotal.
So what’s the real deal?
Is It Okay To Use A Massage Chair During Pregnancy?
Yes, it is safe to use a massage chair during pregnancy if 1) you have been regularly using one before, 2) are in the peak of health, and 3) do not have any pre-existing conditions that are contraindicated for massage therapy (MT).
Because our bodies are all different and unique, what might have worked very well for one pregnant woman might be detrimental to another. The best course of action is to talk to your ob-gyne and/or your family physician who knows your medical history well.
If your physician knows that you are high-risk due to a disease or illness, your doctor will straight up prohibit you from getting on a massage chair. If you are in the pink of health and your babe is growing well, you will most likely get a go signal as MT has proved very beneficial in alleviating the agony and discomfort associated with pregnancy.
When Pregnant Women Should Avoid Massage Chair Use
Avoid a massage chair at all costs in the presence of:
- first term pregnancy
- high risk pregnancy
- a history of pre-term labor
- swelling or inflammation
- severe headaches
- severe or shooting lower back pain
The above are contraindicated because they might cause early labor, or at worst, termination of the pregnancy.
Lower back and pelvic pain are common symptoms of premature labor or miscarriage.
Health care professionals themselves don’t agree on whether it’s okay for expecting women to use robotic chairs. Those who are against their use are specifically concerned about the following:
A massage chair’s heating element
Most have lumbar heat or a heating wand. When used it will elevate the mother’s temperature followed by the baby’s temperature too. And while the expecting mother may feel pleasure or even slight discomfort, the baby in the womb is in danger. The smaller the baby’s body, the more vulnerable to temperature elevations that cause heart rate spikes.
The ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists) caution that a pregnant woman should not let her body temperature go above 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit. This means steering clear of hot tubs, saunas, and fevers to avoid heat stress and the risk of neural tube defects.
Pressure points are stimulated
Some medical professionals argue that the roller massage and vibrating massage from robotic chairs stimulate pressure points that may induce early labor and other complications. Traditional Chinese medicine, in particular, identifies acupoints in the body that specifically induce labor when strong pressure is applied.
Using a Massage Chair in the First Trimester
While some spas will refuse to give a massage in the first trimester for liability reasons, some trained massage therapists will give a massage because the benefits are high and the risks are low. They will avoid deep tissue massage, and the biggest no-no is working directly over the lower pelvic area in the region near the uterus. Remember that a massage chair is essentially a robot and will not be able to make the necessary adjustments.
The first trimester is the most risky time to lose a child. Your body could do without the increased stimuli especially if you have never used a massage chair before. If you do decide to get one, avoid using it during the early months of your pregnancy.
Benefits of Massage Therapy (MT)
Imagine growing a whole new human being inside your body. This is indeed a miracle of the human body. As wonderful as it is, it definitely comes with a host of physical, emotional, and mental challenges — from crippling morning sickness to debilitating anxiety and depression.
Approximately 20% of women suffer from a form of depression or anxiety during pregnancy. This results in more doctor visits and pregnancy complications.
Thankfully, studies show that MT is one modality that has positive effects in easing the difficulties stemming from a pregnancy. Pregnant massage has the following benefits:
- decreased depression and anxiety
- lessened leg and back pain
- less pain during labor
- labor duration is cut by 3 hours
- lessened need for medication during labor
- decreased risk for premature births
In a study of 84 depressed women, it was found that women who underwent MT sessions had significantly lower levels of anxiety, depression, and even leg and back pain. They had higher serotonin and dopamine levels. This same massage group later reported better neonatal outcome such as less premature births and better infant birth weight.
Another interesting study we want to touch on is a study of partner-delivered chair massage. This refers to the spouse doing regular chair massages on their wives. The results were positive and showed a significant improvement on the latter’s perinatal mood and anxiety.
MT has proven so beneficial that it is now the most common alternative therapy recommended for expecting women.
Make no mistake though. These studies involved manual therapies and NOT massage chairs. This means the massages were given by certified professions and not by a mechanical machine. Also, they are specialized pregnancy and labor massages.
And while no studies exist validating the safety of massage chair use by somebody with child, there are guidelines for their use.
Alternatives to Massage Chair Sessions
Here are some options you can explore in case you are temporarily prohibited from using a massage chair.
- Traditional massage
- Yoga for pregnant women
- Acupuncture sessions
- Chiropractic therapies
It is important to take note that the above should all be done with the assistance of a licensed and certified professional trained to work with pregnant women. Admittedly, these are costly and may not fit your budget.
In such cases, how about the following tips that can help you relax at home?
- Listening to relaxing music
- A special pampering day by the hubby
For the latter, remember that study about partner chair massaging? All you need for that is a portable massage chair and a willing hubby.
Good luck with the pregnancy, stay safe, and get back to us when the little one is out. Trust us. You’ll need a massage chair for relaxation and ease later on! (That’s when you should read our epic guide to buying a massage chair with recommendations for every budget.)
Thomas R. B. (2019). A Pilot Study of Partner Chair Massage Effects on Perinatal Mood, Anxiety, and Pain. International journal of therapeutic massage & bodywork, 12(2), 3–11.
Field, T., Diego, M. A., Hernandez-Reif, M., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (2004). MT effects on depressed pregnant women. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 25(2), 115-122.
Milunsky, A., Ulcickas, M., Rothman, K. J., Willett, W., Jick, S. S., & Jick, H. (1992). Maternal heat exposure and neural tube defects. Jama, 268(7), 882-885.
Li, F., He, T., Xu, Q., Lin, L. T., Li, H., Liu, Y., … & Liu, C. Z. (2015). What is the Acupoint? A preliminary review of Acupoints. Pain Medicine, 16(10), 1905-1915.
Cook, A., & Wilcox, G. (1997). PRESSURING PAIN alternative therap for labor pain management. AWHONN lifelines, 1(2), 36-41.
Biaggi, A., Conroy, S., Pawlby, S., & Pariante, C. M. (2016). Identifying the women at risk of antenatal anxiety and depression: A systematic review. Journal of affective disorders, 191, 62–77. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2015.11.014
Chuntharapat, S., Petpichetchian, W., & Hatthakit, U. (2008). Yoga during pregnancy: effects on maternal comfort, labor pain and birth outcomes. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 14(2), 105-115.