Pregnant woman massaging her swollen foot

Benefits and Risks of a Foot Massage While Pregnant

- Cloud Massage Brand Team

Pregnant woman massaging her swollen foot

When you're pregnant, your body is working overtime to grow a healthy baby. Even though it's wonderful to have that little one growing in your tummy, it's also pretty exhausting. Did you ever think so many things could ache all at once? And once you're through the first trimester and can start to relax a bit, you realize that your feet and legs hurt. All the time.

Blame the hormones for your achy feet and legs

Your body is really a magic machine when it comes to pregnancy. Over the term of your gestation, your entire lower body changes. During that first trimester the hormone relaxin does just that—relaxes your hips and pelvic muscles so that your baby has an easy entrance into the world. The relaxin levels drop as your pregnancy continues, but leaves your muscles, tendons, and ligaments more sensitive to bearing weight—and you're bearing more every day. That's why your feet and legs swell and hurt, and why a foot massage sounds like such a great idea.

Are foot massages really risky for pregnant women?

Here's the truth. There is a lot of concern that foot massage during pregnancy can have some serious side effects. Although it would seem like a massage would be okay early on, some doctors and midwives advise against it. Others say that the risk for miscarriage is always greatest in the first trimester, and the vast majority of those are caused by genetic anomalies. The reality is that no one have ever actually diagnosed a massage as the cause of miscarriage, but the overall consensus. 

As your pregnancy gets further along, there are risks in a foot massage—but the massage technique itself appears to be the culprit. There are pressure points on your feet and ankles that medicine says are connected to your kidneys, ovaries, and uterus, and stimulating these areas can bring on cervical ripening and uterine contractions. 

Where are the pressure points?

The reflexology points that are connected to your uterus and ovaries are on the inside and outside of both ankles, in that little hollow just below the bone.  The corners of your pinkie toes are ground zero for avoiding; massaging those toes is thought to stimulate contractions and get the baby to flip upside down in preparation for landing. If you're a week overdue, rub those toes away, but in the meantime try to leave those piggies alone. 

These pressure points are the reason that spa pedis are discouraged for moms-to-be. Nail technicians are not trained in the anatomy of the foot and how it changes during pregnancy, so they don't know the techniques for a soothing massage while avoiding pressure points. Skip the foot and leg massage and just get a great pedicure. 

Does a foot massager stimulate the pressure points?

A quality foot massager, like the Cloud Massage Shiatsu Foot Massager, has several settings so that you can get the benefits of a foot and leg massage without stimulating the pressure points in your feet and ankles. The machine has three intensity settings, so you can set the cycle for a calming and soothing massage of your legs above the ankles. There is also a compression therapy setting, which can help with increasing the blood flow in your legs and decreases swelling. 

What about a massage gun? Are those safe?

Some women want to know if they can use a percussion gun on their legs when they're pregnantAlways check with your doctor before you use a percussion gun, but if  you get the go-ahead, they are better for the muscle pain in your pelvic area and lower back. Just to be safe, use the lowest setting until you know how your body responds, and be aware that your response could change from week to week. 

With either machine, immediately stop use and consult with your doctor or midwife if you have ANY pain. 

What are the benefits of foot massage during pregnancy?

Aside from soothing your aching feet and legs, does massage therapy have any other advantages? Every pregnancy is different and carries its own risks, but these may be the benefits of foot and leg massage. 

Lower stress, reduced depression and anxiety

Massage helps lower the stress-producing hormone cortisol, so that's an easy one. Just 20 minutes per week of massage therapy can relieve some anxiety and depression, as well as alleviate pain and numbness. Mothers-to-be who are diagnosed with anxiety or depression and on medication, found that regular massage lifted their mood. More comfortable legs may also help with lower back pain.

Shorter Labor

Who doesn't want that? Massage may shorten the time in active labor by up to three hours. Shorter labor may result in less anesthesia. The biggest bonus of a shorter labor? You  meet your baby a couple of hours earlier!

Less Fluid Retention

Pregnant women retain a lot of fluid. The heavy uterus also puts more pressure on leg veins. which in turn makes your feet and legs swell. A foot and leg massage may also help with circulation, reducing both swelling and possibly the need for compression socks. 

What are the dangers of foot massage during pregnancy?

With all the benefits of foot massage, there are some real risks. The increased blood flow in your body puts you at a higher risk for varicose veins and blood clots. If you have any history of clots, be sure to get your doctor's permission before you start any massage therapy.  Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a clot that forms deep in the inner veins in your legs. If you have intense pain with swelling, there's a chance a DVT has formed. The vibration of a foot or leg massage can cause the clot to embolize, or detach from its original location. Your circulatory system naturally carries the clot to your heart and/or lungs, putting you at a high risk for stroke. If you are at any risk for DVT, avoid massage while you're pregnant. 

Signs of clots are reddened, swollen or warm to the touch spots on your lower legs. If you have any of these symptoms, stop the massage machine and call your doctor immediately. 

Final Thoughts

You shouldn't sign on to nine months of misery and discomfort just because you are pregnant. You deserve a pregnancy as pain free and relaxing as possible, and appropriate foot and leg massage may be the way towards finding that comfort. Consult with your doctor before you start massage, and follow their instructions on how intense, how often, and the type of massage motion.