- Karen Stoner, LMT
Massage Tips and Trivia: Massaging a pregnant woman's feet will not send her into premature labor
"Massaging a pregnant woman's feet will not send her into premature labor."
One of the times of life when massage is most needed is during pregnancy, however there are also so many myths surrounding massage during this time. Myths ranging everywhere from 'laying on the wrong side will cause blood clots in the umbilical cord', to 'massage in the first trimester will cause a miscarriage'. Some myths originated due to an overabundance of "caution" (in other words: unwanted liability) or to cover for inadequately trained therapists, but some myths have mild possibility of truth under certain conditions, and other evolve just in wacky ways. This myth is one of the wacky ones.
I have heard this myth not only from clients themselves who "read everything on the internet", but also seen it on tv dramas - one of which was a medical doctor show where the main character openly announces, "never touch a pregnant woman's feet or ankles because it can induce labor". This myth has several starting points. the first thing that triggers this myth is a massage modality called Reflexology. In reflexology, certain areas on the feet correspond with the different organs and glands in the body. By pressing on certain areas of the feet, can cause changes to happen in those parts of the body. The reproductive system, including the uterus and ovaries, does in fact have "reflex points" on the feet, and the fear is that working over these points will cause the uterus to spasm and start contractions and labor. There are also a few points not only in the feet, but also in the ankles that can affect the uterus as well, which is why "ankles" is included in the statements. The issue with the statement that working on these points can induce labor is very misleading. In a reflexology, or any acupressure-type modality, in order for change to happen, or an organ to be "stimulated", the spot must be pressed on with sustained pressure for a minimum of 3-5 seconds. In a regular, relaxing foot/ankle massage, those points may be worked over or touched, however sustained pressure directly on those spots is nothing that happens by accident - it is something intentional, and can easily be avoided while still providing a relaxing massage.
The second area that this myth comes from is like an old-fashioned game of "telephone". Remember the game where someone at the end of the line whispers something to the next person, and they continue whispering it down the line, and in the process it gets mis-heard and mis-translated so that the phrase rarely is the same at the other end? This is how this one evolved. With the rise of spas and salons that catered to women's beauty needs, and before health agencies regulated such places, a warning was put out that pregnant women should avoid visiting low-cost or "cheap" places to get manicures because the concern of unclean or improperly sterilized tools and equipment could potentially cause infections, which at the time, were not exactly easy to treat, especially in pregnant women. This sound piece of advice evolved to not only manicures, but also pedicures...and in many places, pedicures also were associated with getting foot massages...and when some people hear foot massages, they think of reflexology (see how the above paragraph got jumbled up in this), and the warning about 'not getting a manicure with unclean tools', evolved into 'never massage a pregnant woman's feet because all hell will basically break loose'.
So while there is a small grain of something behind this myth, the grain that generated the warnings, have absolutely nothing to do with the actual result. A pregnant woman can absolutely get a massage on her feet and ankles - through all stages of her pregnancy (unless there is an underlying high-risk condition such as blood clots or pitting edema, which are whole other topics). If there is still concern, make sure the therapist has thorough experience, training, and certifications in working with pregnant women, and there should be nothing to worry about.