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

check_icon Research-backed

Image: Shutterstock

IN THIS ARTICLE

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 neonatal 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.

Can You Get A Foot Massage When Pregnant?

Getting a foot massage helps reduce the physiological edema in the lower leg (swelling), which is a common occurrence in most pregnancies, especially in the third trimester. A foot massage is also useful in relieving anxiety and depression, and other pregnancy-related pains. 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 toxemic should also avoid a foot massage and check with their doctor before planning one (5).

What Are The Benefits Of Foot Massage During Pregnancy?

The possible benefits of foot massage during pregnancy are as follows:

  1. Reduces depression and anxiety: During pregnancy, massage therapy, including foot massage, has been shown to reduce depression-related hormones, including cortisol and norepinephrine, and increase 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).
  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 been useful in reducing pain and anxiety, improving comfort, and reducing the use of medicine during the postpartum period (10).

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. Steps that make a soothing and relaxing foot massage 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 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.

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 during pregnancy. These risks include (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): Pregnant women have a higher risk of thromboembolism due to their physiologic hypercoagulability. If a pregnant woman has an undiscovered or subtle DVT, a foot or leg massage can release thrombi, resulting in pulmonary embolism, which could be fatal (14).
  • Certain medical conditions: Pregnant women with high blood pressure, high-risk pregnancy complications (such as preeclampsia), 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).
  • 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).

During pregnancy, getting a foot massage could effectively reduce anxiety and depression, relieve pains, and improve labor outcomes and newborn health. However, prenatal foot massage can sometimes be contraindicated during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester and high-risk pregnancy. Nevertheless, following some safety tips could help you feel comfortable and relaxed.

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.

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.
  1. Prenatal massage therapy.
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/is-it-safe/prenatal-massage/
  2. Coban A, Sirin A. Effect of foot massage to decrease physiological lower leg oedema in late pregnancy: A randomized controlled trial in Turkey.
    http://www.reflexologiainfantil.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/efectes-de-reflexo-en-edema-fisiologic-dembarassades.pdf
  3. Prenatal Massage Benefits and Techniques – Popular Questions and Concerns.
    https://www.estellemedical.edu/prenatal-massage-benefits-and-techniques/
  4. Complementary therapy during pregnancy.
    https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/complementary-therapy-during-pregnancy
  5. Contraindication for Massage Therapy.
    https://www.sitcm.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/vet/V2.%20Learning%20Materials/SPE-1/Contraindications%20for%20Massage%20Therapy.pdf
  6. Field T Diego MA et al. Massage therapy effects on depressed pregnant women.
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8018197_Massage_therapy_effects_on_depressed_pregnant_women
  7. Reflexology for supporting the maternal journey.
    https://www.ifwip.org/reflexology-pregnancy/
  8. Dolatian1 M Hasanpour A et al. The effect of reflexology on pain intensity and duration of labor on primiparas.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3371987/
  9. Field T. Pregnancy and labor massage.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2870995/
  10. Icke S Genc R. Effect of Foot Massages on Postpartum Comfort and Pain Level of Mothers After Vaginal Delivery.
    https://journals.lww.com/hnpjournal/Abstract/2021/05000/Effect_of_Foot_Massages_on_Postpartum_Comfort_and.6.aspx
  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?
    https://utswmed.org/medblog/massage-pregnancy-guidelines/
  14. Sutham K Na-Nan S et al. Leg massage during pregnancy with unrecognized deep vein thrombosis could be life threatening: a case report.
    https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-020-02924-w
  15. Atlas Of Acupuncture Points-Point Locations.
    https://www.chiro.org/acupuncture/ABSTRACTS/Acupuncture_Points.pdf
  16. Park Y Cho J et al. The effect of San-Yin-Jiao (SP-6) acupressure on labor progression.
    https://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(03)01769-1/fulltext
  17. Top 10 Health Benefits of Foot Massage and Reflexology.
    https://renaissancecollege.edu/top-10-health-benefits-foot-massage/
The following two tabs change content below.

Dr. Annal Vaidya

(MS)
Dr. Annal Vaidya is a former assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the prestigious Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital, Mumbai. He currently works as a consultant in various hospitals in the city. Dr. Vaidya specializes in managing high-risk pregnancies, infertility, and complicated pregnancies. He has a special interest in Cosmetic Gynecology and Endoscopy.

Reshmi Das

Reshmi Das has over three years of experience as a clinical coordinator, medical content writer and medical conference coordinator. Her continuous interest in medical journals and writing makes her write well-researched articles for MomJunction. She writes health and wellness articles for children and pregnant and lactating women. Reshmi has completed her Master’s degree in Biotechnology. She is currently pursuing an Executive... more