View our "Sleeping While Pregnant" guide.

Research on Pregnancy Massage

Here’s a snapshot of some of the more documented benefits that our moms experience.

Reduced Anxiety & Stress levels

Massage elicits a parasympathetic response in our bodies. In a 1999, study by the Touch Research Institute in 1999, subjects receiving massage over a period of several weeks during pregnancy showed a sustained decrease in urinary stress hormone levels, decreased levels of reported anxiety, elevated moods, better sleep and reports of less back pain. A larger 2004 study of depressed pregnant women also found the massage therapy group had decreased levels of depression and anxiety (including increased serotonin and dopamine levels, and decreased cortisol levels). In both of these studies, there was less incidence of prematurity for infants, and the 2004 study lower incidence of low birthweight.

Say Bye-Bye to Mama’s Aching Back!

Massage can be immensely helpful to women experiencing non pathological pain with a soft tissue origins. Women regularly receive relief from:

  • posterior pelvic pain
  • sciatica or piriformis syndrome
  • hip pain
  • chronic leg cramps
  • neck and shoulder pain
  • headaches
  • back pain

We not only know this anecdotally from hundreds of women, but studies show that pregnant women receiving regular massages report a significant decrease in back and leg pain over control groups.

TLC for those Puffy Feet!

Women find relief from achy, swollen feet and legs; hand numbness and reduced function. A 2010 study found that foot massage has a positive effect on decreasing the normal physiological edema of late pregnancy. The study group had a 20 min foot massage daily for 5 days whereas the control group did not receive any intervention beyond standard prenatal care. Compared with the control group, women in the experimental group had a significantly smaller lower leg circumference (right and left, ankle, instep and metatarsal–phalanges joint) after 5 days of massage; the control group tended toward increased circumferences.

Studies from the Touch Research Institute (University of Miami) | www6.miami.edu/touch-research/

Twenty-six pregnant women were assigned to a massage therapy or a relaxation therapy group for 5 weeks. Both groups reported feeling less anxious after the first session and less leg pain after the first and last session. Only the massage therapy group, however, reported reduced anxiety, improved mood, better sleep and less back pain by the last day of the study.

Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Hart, S., Theakston, H., Schanberg, S., Kuhn, C. & Burman, I. (1999). Pregnant women benefit from massage therapy. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 20, 31-38.

Fathers learned to massage their pregnant wives conducted progressive muscle relaxation. Massage therapy lowered the fathers’ anxiety and improved marital adjustment.

Latifses, V., Bendell Estroff, D., Field, T., & Bush, J. (2005). Father massaging and relaxing their pregnant wives lowered anxiety and facilitated marital adjustment. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 9, 277-82.

One hundred and twelve pregnant women who were diagnosed depressed were randomly assigned to a group who received group Interpersonal Psychotherapy or to a group who received both group Interpersonal Psychotherapy and massage therapy. The data suggested that the group who received psychotherapy plus massage attended more sessions on average, and a greater percentage of that group completed the 6-week program. The group who received both therapies also showed a greater decrease in depression, depressed affect and somatic-vegetative symptom scores on the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scal , a greater decrease in anxiety scale scores and a greater decrease in cortisol levels. The group therapy process appeared to be effective for both groups as suggested by the increased expression of both positive and negative affect and relatedness during the group therapy sessions.

Field, T., Deed, O., Diego, M., Gualer, A., Sullivan, S., Wilson, D. & Nearing, G. (2009). Benefits of combining massage therapy with group interpersonal psychotherapy in prenatally depressed women. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 13, 297-303.

One hundred and twelve pregnant women who were diagnosed depressed were randomly assigned to a group who received group Interpersonal Psychotherapy or to a group who received both group Interpersonal Psychotherapy and massage therapy. The data suggested that the group who received psychotherapy plus massage attended more sessions on average, and a greater percentage of that group completed the 6-week program. The group who received both therapies also showed a greater decrease in depression, depressed affect and somatic-vegetative symptom scores on the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale, a greater decrease in anxiety scale scores and a greater decrease in cortisol levels. The group therapy process appeared to be effective for both groups as suggested by the increased expression of both positive and negative affect and relatedness during the group therapy sessions.

Field, T., Diego, M., Hernandez-Reif, M., Deeds, O. & Figueiredo, B. (2009). Pregnancy massage reduces prematurity, low birthweight and postpartum depression. Infant Behavior & Development, 32, 454-460.

Eighty-four depressed pregnant women were recruited during the second trimester of pregnancy and randomly assigned to a massage therapy group, a progressive muscle relaxation group or a control group that received standard prenatal care alone. These groups were compared to each other and to a non-depressed group at the end of pregnancy. The massage therapy group participants received two 20 min therapy sessions by their significant others each week for 16 weeks of pregnancy, starting during the second trimester. The relaxation group provided themselves with progressive muscle relaxation sessions on the same time schedule. Immediately after the massage therapy sessions on the first and last days of the 16-week period the women reported lower levels of anxiety and depressed mood and less leg and back pain. By the end of the study the massage group had higher dopamine and serotonin levels and lower levels of cortisol and norepinephrine. These changes may have contributed to the reduced fetal activity and the better neonatal outcome for the massage group (i.e. lesser incidence of prematurity and low birthweight), as well as their better performance on the Brazelton Neonatal Behavior Assessment. The data suggest that depressed pregnant women and their offspring can benefit from massage therapy.

Field, T. (2004). Massage Therapy Effects on Depressed Pregnant Women. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Jun;25(2):115-22.