Pregnancy stages collage of young caucasian woman isolated on white

As a student in massage school, you studied anatomy and physiology, massage techniques, products and positioning and were introduced to a lexicon of new words. In time, terms like friction, glide, neuromuscular tension, myofascial release, parasympathetic stimulation, shiatsu, reflexology and a host of other terms became second nature.

When you enter the world of pregnancy massage, some of this information will also apply. However, you’ll need to gain understanding of some additional terms that will enhance your ability to offer optimal services to your expectant clients.

Before and After: The Time Frame

First of all, pregnancy massage refers to the art of massage during any stage of pregnancy, i.e., while your client is pregnant and after she delivers. The average pregnancy lasts 40 weeks, although that time frame can be shorter or longer, depending on certain conditions, and is divided into three trimesters.

Melissa Conrad Stöppler, M.D., a member of the medical editorial board of and chief medical editor of, explains that during the first trimester (weeks one to 12) a woman may experience weight gain; tender, swollen breasts; nausea; extreme fatigue; mood swings; headaches; constipation; cravings or distaste for certain foods; and heartburn. It’s important to ask questions prior to every massage session, so you’ll be prepared to accommodate any discomfort your client may be experiencing.

The next 12 weeks or so, the second trimester, may provide some relief from the initial uncomfortable signs of pregnancy. But, new symptoms may appear, such as the appearance of stretch marks as your client’s belly grows; body aches; swollen ankles; a mask of pregnancy, i.e., darkening skin around the eyes, cheeks, forehead, nose or upper lip; and itching on the abdomen, palms or soles of the feet.

During this time, you may have to use special equipment to make your client more comfortable. Positioning and products you use will also impact the massage experience, so be sure to ask about your client’s comfort and preferences throughout the session.

Weeks 29 to 40-–or when your client delivers–represent the third trimester. With the end in sight, your client may be excited, but she may also be anxious about her labor and delivery and what that might entail. In addition to a fragile frame of mind, she may still experience heartburn as well as shortness of breath, due to the size of the fetus. Your client’s ankles could still be swollen and she may have developed hemorrhoids and sleeping difficulties.

Your client’s changing shape and shifting emotions may pose a challenge when it comes to massage. You’ll have to be flexible and alter your technique to suit her condition at the time of her appointment.

Understanding the many changes she is undergoing will give you some perspective and insight into how to best pamper your pregnant client. After all, massage has been proven to help relieve many pregnancy-related symptoms. Your massage may be the welcome relief your pregnant client needs.