Foot Massage In Pregnancy: Is It Safe, Benefits And Risks

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Receiving a foot massage in pregnancy may be relaxing and is believed to be beneficial for mothers experiencing swollen feet, a common side effect of pregnancy. In addition, massages may help reduce anxiety, alleviate the symptoms of depression, reduce the aches and pains of pregnancy, and improve delivery and neonataliXThe first 28 days or the first month of a newborn’s life health outcomes (1).

A gentle foot massage may help comfort a woman experiencing physical, physiological, and emotional changes during pregnancy. Read on to learn more about the benefits and safety measures to be taken while indulging in a foot massage during pregnancy.

In This Article

Can You Get A Foot Massage When Pregnant?

Getting a foot massage helps reduce the physiological edema in the lower leg (foot swelling), which is one of the common pregnancy discomforts, especially in the third trimester. A foot massage is also helpful in relieving anxiety and depression, other pregnancy-related pains, and overall maternal health. Another type of foot massage is reflexology, which involves applying pressure to specific parts of the feet and can reduce low back or pelvic pain during pregnancy (2) (4).

Although foot massage is safe during pregnancy, make sure your therapist is cautious about the pressure points near your ankles as they can cause uterus contractions (3)Any massage should be avoided during the first trimester (4).

Foot massages should also be avoided if there are reddish, puffy, or warmer spots on the lower extremities. Pregnant women who have developed blood clots, hold a history of blood clots, or are toxemiciXWomen with the condition that is caused by bacteria and their toxic by-products in the blood. should also avoid a foot massage and check with their doctor before planning one (5).

What Are The Benefits Of Foot Massage During Pregnancy?

Some possible foot massage benefits that can also help maintain overall pregnancy wellness include:

  1. Reduces depression and anxiety: During pregnancy, massage therapy, including foot massage, has been shown to reduce depression-related hormones, including cortisol and  norepinephrineiXA chemical produced by sympathetic nerves, responsible for the increase in the pace of cardiac and skeletal muscle contraction. , which help in muscle tension and stress relief and increase the release of feel-good hormones, including dopamine and serotonin. Therefore, this will show a decrease in depression, anxiety, and mood swings in pregnant women (6).
  1. Alleviates edema: A study found that giving pregnant women a 20-minute foot massage every day (10-minute foot massage for each foot) for five days reduced normal physiological edema of the lower leg in late pregnancy (2).
  1. Reduces back and pelvic pain: Foot massages in addition to reflexology can decrease low back pain and pelvic pain during pregnancy (7).
  1. Improves sleep quality: A foot massage and reflexology have been observed to improve sleep quality (7).
  1. Improves labor outcomes: In a study, mild massage followed by foot reflexology is likely to reduce the pain intensity and duration of first, second, and third stages of labor (8).

The pain levels among patients in labor who received foot reflexology decreased significantly after 20 minutes of intervention. It remained constant even after 40 minutes post-intervention, in contrast to the control group.

Labor pain score before and after foot reflexology therapy

Source: Effect of Foot Reflexology on Reduction of Labour Pain Among Primigravida Mothers; International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork
protip_icon Research finds
A randomized controlled study found that “a classic foot massage for 20 minutes on each foot at three different times, for a total of 60 minutes, could help manage labor pain effectively (20).”
  1. Benefits for baby: Studies have also shown the association of fewer premature births and low-birth-weight newborns to women who received massage therapy during pregnancy and labor pain (9). However, pressure on certain points of feet can cause uterus contraction, thus, inducing preterm labor; therefore, extra caution is necessary (3).
  1. Postpartum benefits: Foot massage has also been useful in reducing pain and anxiety, improving comfort, and reducing the use of medicine during the postpartum period (10).

protip_icon Did you know?
Foot massage can stimulate lymphatic drainageiXFlow of lymphatic fluid from tissues into a particular lymph node. and help prevent varicose veinsiXTwisted, swollen, dilated, and overfilled blood vessels that form beneath the skin, mainly in the legs. (17).

How To Give A Foot Massage During Pregnancy?

In a low-risk pregnancy, your partner, friend, or companion can give you a relaxing foot massage; however, it is better to consult your gynecologist beforehand in high-risk pregnancy. Also, referring to a qualified professional or a podiatrist is beneficial and safe in high-risk pregnancies.

Each massage intervention consists of 15-minute to 45-minute therapeutic foot massage sessions daily. Some effective foot massage techniques that helps make a foot massage safe, smooth, and relaxing are (11)(12):

  • Lower leg strokes: Start by relaxing the ankle by placing one hand on top of the foot and the other beneath the heel. Then, softly glide the top hand up and other down the lower leg.
  • Bottom-of-foot thumb stroke: Flex and stroke the foot with your thumbs or fingers in a gentle stretching motion from the toes to the back of the foot.
  • Top-of-foot thumb stroke: Using your thumbs, stroke the top of the foot in a gently “stretching” motion.
  • Toe stretch: Gently grasp each toe between the thumb and first finger, gently tugging and rubbing between the toes.

Hold the toes with one hand while supporting the foot with the other, and slowly bend the toes backward and forward for optimum relaxation.

What Are The Risks Of Foot Massage During Pregnancy?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, massaging can begin at any trimester during pregnancy. However, there are certain risks of foot massage that can have detrimental effects on maternal health (13):

  • First trimester: There is a higher risk of miscarriage during the first trimester, and increased blood flow from a massage can be detrimental. Many prenatal massage therapists suggest not to go for a massage until the second trimester.
  • Induction of labor: Certain pressure points in the foot can cause uterus contraction and induce labor, leading to premature birth. Therefore, it is suggested to consult a gynecologist before initiating massage therapy.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): The estimations put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that each year about 900,000 individuals may potentially be affected by deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the United States. Pregnant women have a higher risk of thromboembolismiXThe blockage of an artery by a blood clot fragment that got dislodged from some other site in the circulatory system due to their physiologic hypercoagulabilityiXAn increased tendency to develop blood clots. . If a pregnant woman has an undiscovered or subtle DVT, a foot or leg massage can release thrombi, resulting in pulmonary embolismiXA condition where a blood clot blocks one or more pulmonary arteries. , which could be fatal (14).
  • Certain medical conditions: Pregnant women with high blood pressure, high-risk pregnancy complications (such as preeclampsiaiXA condition characterized by the onset of high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and water retention during pregnancy. ), recent surgery or injury, etc., should consult their doctors before getting a foot massage. This is because massage stimulates the circulatory system, which can change blood flow in the body, affecting these conditions.

What Areas Should You Avoid During Foot Massage In Pregnancy?

While performing a foot massage during pregnancy, certain acupressure points on foot can induce labor and should be avoided. These areas include (15):

  • Spleen 6 (SP-6) acupressure point: Also known as the “Sanyinjiao” point, the SP-6 acupressure point is located three fingers above the inner ankle (medial malleolus) and can induce uterine contraction. (16). 
Avoid spleen 6 acupressure point during foot massage in pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

  • Urinary bladder 60: Also known as “BL60 Kunlun”, this area is located in a depression between the tip of the lateral malleolus and the Achilles tendon. It is contraindicated during pregnancy since it can cause labor.
Avoid urinary bladder 60 during foot massage in pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

  • Urinary bladder 67: Also known as “BL67 Zhiyin”, this area is located on the lateral side of the small toe, 0.1 cm posterior to the corner of the nail. It can cause contraction during the prenatal massage, but it is useful to position the fetus for delivery during labor massage.
Avoid urinary bladder 67 during foot massage in pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

What Are The Tips For A Safe Foot Massage During Pregnancy?

Here are some tips for an effective foot massage during pregnancy:

  • Make sure you are in a relaxed sitting position.
  • Use lotions or some warm massage oil for a frictionless glide over the feet (12).
  • Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water or fluids before and after the massage (13).
  • In addition to the foot massage, try to keep your feet elevated as much as possible, get enough rest, wear comfortable shoes, and eat healthily (17).

Some other relaxation techniques you could try to alleviate foot pain and promote self-care include warm water soak, foot exercise, and aromatherapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I get a pedicure massage while pregnant?

Yes. Getting a pedicure in the first trimester by an expert and taking all necessary safety precautions is essential to ensure safe foot care during pregnancy (18).

2. Why do my feet hurt so much when I’m pregnant?

You may experience swollen feet and throbbing foot pain during pregnancy due to edema (excess fluid buildup) caused by the weight and position of the baby. Some natural remedies and easy foot care tips you can follow during this period include putting your feet up, frequently stretching your legs, sporting wide comfortable shoes, and sitting straight-legged, which can help reduce the pain (19). However, if the pain is unbearable or constant, contact your OB-GYN immediately.

3. Should I massage my swollen feet during pregnancy?

Sally Hayes, a massage therapist from Beverly Hills, California, says, “There are studies to prove that massage is great for decreasing swelling in the lower leg and feet. Swelling indicates that there is a lack of proper circulation. This puts pressure on all the structures and causes pain and discomfort.”

Foot massage in pregnancy can benefit mothers and their unborn babies in several ways. However, getting a foot massage from an experienced therapist is essential to ensure that the foot massage doesn’t raise any health risks. Generally, expectant mothers can get a foot massage anytime during the pregnancy. However, it is contraindicated in the first trimester and in high-risk pregnancies. Sitting in a relaxed position and staying hydrated during and after the massage are a few tips to safely comfort achy feet during pregnancy.

Infographic: Methods That Work As Good As A Massage To Cope With Swollen Feet

Massage may not always be suitable for relaxing your feet or coping with swollen feet during pregnancy. In such cases, alternative methods that do not require another person’s help yet provide comfort may come in handy. Go through the infographic below to have an idea about such procedures.

ways to relax your feet when pregnant (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

Download Infographic in PDF version Download Infographic
Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Getting a foot massage during pregnancy can alleviate swelling in the lower leg and reduce lower back pain.
  • However, the therapist should be cautious of the pressure points near the ankle that could trigger uterine contractions.
  • A pregnant woman should avoid foot massage if they have reddish, puffy, warm spots in the lower extremities or have a history of blood clots.
  • Keeping your feet elevated and sitting in a relaxed position are the prerequisites for enjoying a safe foot massage.

Relax and enjoy the benefits of a relaxing foot massage while pregnant. Learn everything you need to know to truly embrace and enjoy this unique era.

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
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  11. FACT SHEET FOR PATIENTS AND FAMILIES- Hand and Foot Massage.
    https://intermountainhealthcare.org/ckr-ext/Dcmnt?ncid=528257324
  12. Navaee M Rakhshkhorshid M. Comparing the Effect of Foot Massage with Grape Seed Oil and Sweet Almond Oil on Physiological Leg Edema in Primigravidae: A Randomized Clinical Trial.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7201824/
  13. Is massage safe during pregnancy?
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  14. Sutham K Na-Nan S et al. Leg massage during pregnancy with unrecognized deep vein thrombosis could be life threatening: a case report.
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  15. Atlas Of Acupuncture Points-Point Locations.
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  16. Park Y Cho J et al. The effect of San-Yin-Jiao (SP-6) acupressure on labor progression.
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  17. Top 10 Health Benefits of Foot Massage and Reflexology.
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  18. VISITING SPA DURING PREGNANCY: A SIMPLE GUIDE.
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  19. Enjoy Pregnancy Without Foot Pain
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  20. Yasemin Şanli and İlkay Güngör Satilmiş; (2022); Effect of Foot Massage on Labor Pain in Parturient Women.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35325870/
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