- Karen Stoner, LMT
Will a Prenatal Massage Send Me Into Labor?
Massage therapy has many incredible benefits, especially during pregnancy. However I have had pregnant women tell me is that they are in pain, their backs and muscles ache, but they won't get a massage because they don't want to go into labor. There are a lot of myths and old wives tales about how massage can affect the body. Some are based in fact, some are nothing more than urban legends.
So where does this come from? Several places, actually. One of the most common thoughts is based on the concept of acupressure - a generalized term for types of massage that utilize pressure on certain points in the body and that pressure makes things happen in other parts of the body. The fear comes from the thought if any of these points are touched on a pregnant woman during a massage, the body will immediately try to "eject" the baby. This simply is not true. First of all, the points used in acupressure are not that sensitive. In order to do any type of pressure or point work, pressure must be put on the point and held for 3-5 seconds. A simple massage will not make that happen.
This does not mean that acupressure has absolutely no effect on the body. There are a few points that, when pressed at the proper times, may be able to help labor progress and help strengthen contractions, but it can't initiate anything. (I am speaking on this not just from research, but from personal experience: my oldest daughter was 2 weeks late and I was looking at an induction so I spent the whole weekend before that rubbing and putting so much pressure on every point that was supposed to "send me into labor" that I had black and blue marks. Did it work? Not in the slightest.)
Now you may know someone who has had the experience of "she got a massage and that night she went into labor." Well, that may be partly true, but mostly a coincidence. The answer behind this phenomenon is a little less tangible. What happens in this case is that the massage is most likely not what "started" the labor. Instead what the massage did was relax the body and take away some of the physical and mental stresses that the body was under. The human body doesn't like to do anything, especially anything new or big, when it is under a lot of stress, so when the body relaxes and the stress goes away, it allows the hormones and nerves to act like a signal to the body that says "Ok, everything is good - go ahead with starting that big thing you need to do." So it wasn't the massage that started the labor, the massage relaxed the body enough that labor was able to start.
Having said all of that, I have in my studies met people who claimed that were certified in something called “Induction Massage”. I have tried to look up information on this, but personally I have yet to find anything about this as a technique or a modality taught in a school. I also asked an advanced prenatal massage instructor about it and she had not heard of it either. So I’m not saying that it is completely impossible for there to be a type of massage that can send someone into labor, but as a disclaimer, I have not been able to find any specific information about this particular certification.
There is never anything wrong with a pregnant mother wanting to be super careful about what happens to her body, and going into labor early is way up there in the top “pregnancy fears” for every mom. But the benefits of a nice, relaxing prenatal massage can far outweigh the fear that it will trigger labor. The best way for a mom-to-be to protect herself is to make sure that any prenatal issues or conditions that may have discussed with her doctor are disclosed to the therapist before the massage, and to make sure she is seeing a therapist who is a Certified Prenatal Massage Therapist, not just one who “can do prenatal massage”. When in doubt - ask the doctor both if massage is safe for this particular pregnancy, and if he/she can give a referral to a properly trained therapist.