It’s no secret that sometimes being pregnant can be uncomfortable – and not just on the day your baby is born. All of the months leading up to labor can be accompanied by aching, pain, cramping and tingling.
If you’re thinking about getting some well-deserved rest with a pedicure or massage, you may be wondering if it’s safe to use an electric massage chair (the kind you sit in to get a pedicure) during pregnancy.
As with many things during pregnancy, there is no definite answer, but many experts will tell you that these massage chairs are safe if you use them properly.
Here’s what you need to know about why using massage chairs during pregnancy is sometimes controversial, what to keep in mind if you decide to go for it, and what else you can do to get relief during pregnancy.
Is it safe to use a massage chair during pregnancy?
An electric massage chair is just a chair, and you sit in it all the time during pregnancy, so you may be wondering what the big deal is. Well, there are three main concerns about using an electric massage chair during pregnancy:
- Vibration can harm your baby.
- Acupressure points can trigger early labor.
- If the chair has a heating feature, you could overheat, which could harm your baby.
Is there any basis for these concerns? In short, not really.
“Despite claims that a massage chair can lead to miscarriage or premature birth, there is no evidence that this is true,” says Dr. Romy Ghosh, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Austin Regional Hospital. “Massage chairs used as intended are generally safe for pregnant women.”
Let’s take a closer look at each potential problem:
- Vibration. The vibration you get from a massage chair is usually not strong enough to cause any harm. And even if you used the highest setting, there is no risk to your stomach because you are in a seated position.
- Spot massage. Similarly, the pressure exerted in these chairs is not strong enough to induce labor. In fact, acupressure working points require constant pressure, not the kind you can get from a massage chair.
- High temperature. Although the heat from a massage chair is likely to be quite moderate, it is always a good idea to be mindful of overheating during pregnancy. It’s dangerous to raise your body temperature too much during pregnancy. This is why things like hot tubs, saunas, and hot yoga are not recommended.
In general, proper use of a massage chair poses little risk to a pregnant woman.
Ready for a massage.
Using a massage chair at a low level should be safe during pregnancy. However, always consult your doctor or labor and delivery specialist (such as a midwife) if you are unsure.
Stick to low massage settings and gentle heat, especially in the lumbar area. For example, pregnant women are allowed to use heating pads in isolated areas. If you feel that you are getting too hot or you feel weak, you should stop using the chair and drink water.
When you should not use a massage chair during pregnancy
If you are worried about using an electric massage chair during pregnancy, you can give it up at any time. Some people may find it particularly uncomfortable in the first trimester and during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy.
Alternatively, you may simply avoid the massage chair during pregnancy for other reasons, such as:
- Morning sickness. if you have severe morning sickness, all that shoving can make you nauseous.
- Radiculitis. If you have sciatica, you may think a massage is a good idea. But it can actually cause even more pain by irritating already sensitive or congested nerves and muscles.
- Back pain. The same principle applies to lower back pain. During pregnancy, back pain can be difficult, and you may irritate the area even more.
If you are in a lot of pain, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor or midwife about why you want to use a massage chair.
“It would be better if you talk to your doctor about any pain you are feeling,” Ghosh adds. “For example, lower back pain could be a sign of preterm labor.”
Talk to your doctor about the pain
If you experience severe pain during pregnancy, especially if it affects your daily life, be sure to consult with your doctor or labor and delivery specialist.
How to deal with pain during pregnancy
Look, we get it: everything hurts. Sciatica makes it hard for you to walk, pubic dysplasia makes your perineum flare up, and it feels like your back is locked in a vise.
Of course, you want a massage – any one would!
But while a massage chair may be the solution for you, there are other safe ways for pregnant women to get relief. Again, be sure to discuss any specific pains you have with your health care provider, just in case.
Ghosh says that regular physical activity, such as walking or swimming, can help relieve back pain and strengthen it, preventing other pain.
You can also try prenatal yoga or Pilates (just make sure you get approval from your doctor first).
Rest and Ice.
Ice packs and resting tense muscles can provide short- and long-term relief.
Raising your feet is not just an expression. Raising your legs can reduce swelling and discomfort in your lower extremities.
You may not feel comfortable moving much, but light stretching, taking slow walks and even just getting up from behind a desk or couch once an hour to move around can help reduce discomfort during pregnancy.
“Try also adding prenatal stretching, such as a cat pose to stretch your back, or a foam roller to stretch your hips and buttocks, which can contribute to back pain,” Ghosh suggests.
Move to the buttocks.
Lower back pain during pregnancy can actually be the result of overstretching the gluteal muscles. Try gently rolling them or practicing hip stretches.
Pregnancy can bring new aches and pains into your life or reveal pre-existing problems.
Many physical therapists are trained to work with pregnant women, and some even specialize in it, so you can safely readjust, rebuild and recover with the help of a professional.
Ghosh says a referral to a physical therapist can help when home measures haven’t improved your symptoms.
In addition, you can also talk to your doctor about the proper use of over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers during pregnancy on those days when home treatments just don’t work. Acetaminophen is generally considered safe to use, while ibuprofen should be avoided.
You can also incorporate acupuncture or chiropractic care into your routine, but talk to your doctor or childbirth specialist first. Some obstetricians and gynecologists recommend these methods, while others would prefer that you avoid them.
What about massage for pregnant women?
If you’re not comfortable using a massage chair or don’t have access to one, you may be wondering if you can get a traditional massage instead.
Again, the answer is basically the same: it’s probably safe, but you should consult your doctor or obstetrician.
“Massage can help reduce stress and tension, improve circulation and improve sleep, which is good for mom and baby,” Ghosh says. “Prenatal massage is usually safe after the first trimester, but be sure to talk to your doctor first and let your massage therapist know you’re pregnant.”
If you get a massage, make sure it’s by a licensed massage therapist familiar with treating pregnant women.
You may also need a medical certificate from a health care provider that says you can get a massage. The therapist will also likely ask you to lie on your side for a massage, not on your stomach, even if you are in your first trimester.
Pregnancy Massage Tip
Before you schedule a prenatal massage, make sure you have a signed and dated letter from a health care provider stating that it is safe for you to get a massage.
You might also consider inviting your partner for a massage. According to Gosh, a massage lying on your side can:
- relieve back pain
- reduce stress
- improve sleep.
And studies back that up. For example, a small 2019 study published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork found that a 10-minute massage on a chair twice a week between partners helps reduce anxiety, moodiness and pain in pregnant women.
This uses a massage chair that you sit in to get a massage (you may have seen them at the mall), so they don’t cause any of the problems that an electric massage chair causes. If you have such a massage chair at home or have access to one, talk to your doctor to see if using one might be a good way to relax and reduce discomfort.
No one knows for sure if electric massage chairs are safe during pregnancy, but there is also no evidence that they are not.
You can keep any heat and massage settings low just to be safe, but in general a massage chair is unlikely to be a problem unless you have a high-risk or complicated pregnancy.
If you need the relief that a massage chair provides but can’t get to it, talk to a health care professional about regular massage with a licensed therapist.
You can also discuss other ways to treat pregnancy pain, such as bathing in a tub, using physical therapy, home remedies, and over-the-counter pain relievers that are safe for pregnant women.