Mom's the Word

Pregnancy can be a euphoric experience for moms-to-be. It is a time when pregnant women and new moms deserve to have attention lavished upon them. Where better to do that than a spa? Massage techniques for expectant and new mothers can make all the difference through the emotional and physical complexities of pregnancy and childbirth and can help your spa become a mecca for moms.

"Prenatal and postnatal massage have gained in popularity as women have become more spa-savvy," says Denise Haug, sales consultant for SpaEquip (Calistoga, CA) and a former spa director. "Before the baby is born, pregnancy massage provides support for moms-to-be by easing the effects of physical and emotional strain on their bodies. It also increases circulation, reduces the stress on weight-bearing joints, and improves the overall experience of labor. After the delivery, postnatal massage helps the body to recover from the stress of childbirth and also helps tissues to constrict more quickly."

Massage during pregnancy also helps relieve muscle aches and pains, increases circulation and reduces stress, which is great for moms and their unborn babies. "A thorough massage with special attention to the neck, shoulders, and lumbar is effective in reducing the muscle tension associated with pregnancy and childbirth," adds Peggy Francis, a Napa, CA-based spa consultant.

Fitness-oriented offerings, such as yoga, are ideal for expectant clients.
Fitness-oriented offerings, such as yoga, are ideal for expectant clients.

The popularity of prenatal and postnatal massage is on the rise. Due to increased spa accessibility and affordability, women view the spa experience as less exotic and more just a normal part of their self-care, especially when their bodies and their lives are going through this momentous change. Luciana LoPresto, a licensed massage therapist and spa consultant for SpaCasa (Palm Springs, CA), is a living example of how beneficial prenatal massage can be. "Throughout my pregnancy, my ob-gyn was constantly surprised by my lack of discomfort," she says. "I attributed it to regular prenatal massage and daily yoga practice."

A Word of Caution

While there are many benefits to offering pregnancy massage, there are some special considerations to keep in mind. The liability of an error justifiably limits many spas from even considering services for pregnant guests. As LoPresto explains, "Prenatal and postnatal spa treatments require that the massage therapist is well-versed in side-lying massage techniques and ideally certified in prenatal massage." Most massage schools have a short course in this modality. If you decide to feature such services, it is important to review and offer specific technique training to your staff. Strict training should always be verifiable. Should a problem or any issue arise later, it will be important to show you have carefully prepared your staff for pregnant guests.

Pillows are important to ensure clients in their second and third trimesters remain comfortable throughout prenatal massage.
Pillows are important to ensure clients in their second and third trimesters remain comfortable throughout prenatal massage.

Your training should show exact protocols for each service. Also, be sure to get a signature from each therapist on the training materials. The therapist should be trained in pregnancy massage and know the contraindications for both prenatal and postnatal massage. He or she should also ask about any special conditions and what the client's goals are for the session. If products are being used, it is very important to check for contraindications.

Saunas, mud baths, wraps, and other treatments that raise the body's temperature should never be performed on a pregnant woman—they can be very dangerous to both mother and baby. Laser hair removal and electrolysis should also be avoided, as it is not clear what effect electrical currents used in these procedures have on the baby.

Maybe Baby?
Maybe Baby?

Support for the body is essential for the comfort and safety of the client, as well. "It is important to explain to moms-to-be and nursing mothers that they will be more comfortable (and it is safer for their babies) to be side-lying," says LoPresto. "Being nestled in pillows makes them feel nurtured and pampered, and most moms-to-be are grateful to be off their feet and getting some attention of their own. Also, nursing moms may feel uncomfortable or leak from compression in a prone position."

Treatments by Trimester

There are contraindications for certain types of treatments at different periods in the pregnancy. The first, second, and third trimesters have different side effects, and what may be comforting and relaxing in one may make the client downright sick in another. Here is an overview of what you should consider:

First Trimester

The early weeks of pregnancy are not always rosy, and this is when morning sickness and anxiety over what is to come are most prevalent. Your staff should be careful to avoid strongly scented treatments that could trigger upset stomachs. Any chemical-based treatments must not be applied during this critical period of the baby's development. Be sure to ask about any allergies or sensitivities to certain substances, herbal or not, and be sure to introduce any products slowly with a small sample on the skin. It is not unusual for a woman to experience new reactions while pregnant.

Second Trimester

The second trimester is often when the glowing starts, and the expectant mom is riding the happy Progesterone Wave. Even though the belly hasn't quite reached the size of Jupiter yet, a side-lying position for massage is still essential to the safety and comfort of the client. Massage strokes should be kept lighter and more gentle than usual to avoid possible complications with varicose veins, and there are particular pressure points that are associated with contractions, so it is crucial that the technician knows to avoid these points during the massage. Also, remember that during facials, the client should avoid lying on her back. "After the first trimester, moms-to-be should not be supine (lying on their spine) as their superior vena cava can become compressed, which supplies blood to the baby," says LoPresto. "Consider using tilt tables and a wedge pillow to elevate the head, keeping it higher than the waist and breastbone."

Any products used for services are absorbed through the skin, and they do enter the bloodstream, which can affect the baby. Particularly at this stage, prenatal treatment products should be safe and organic with no heavy chemical content.

Third Trimester

Being able to see the lower regions of the body is now a distant memory for most pregnant clients. The feet and the belly are swollen, and they are these regions that need the most help at this point. Spa pedicures and reflexology are safe and popular services, and a gentle body scrub can lessen the itching and discomfort that goes along with all that expansion.

Beyond Pregnancy Massage

There is much room for luxury that goes beyond a massage for the jangled nerves of a new mom or an expectant future mom. A soothing application of balm gently applied over the belly helps reduce stretch marks, as well. Postnatal massage is when true pampering is required and will be greatly appreciated. Sleep-deprived new mothers need the rest, relaxation, and caring attention massage provides. Apply warm compresses to the back and feet, place an eye pillow over the eyes, use the body support system to protect sensitive areas, and all these little details will encourage and guide moms to relax and let go. Also, consider adding fitness-oriented pregnancy services, such as yoga and Pilates, to your offerings. Both are excellent for expectant and new moms.

Don't forget that stress-free mothering is a gift for the entire family—everyone benefits. "Prenatal and postnatal periods in a woman's life are tender times that require support from others," adds Francis. "Suggest gift certificates for spa services for the mom-to-be. Help clients organize a group spa day to celebrate the coming event or the birth of a friend. It's a great way for loved ones to share in the celebration, and new fathers need to relax, too."

Motherhood is the most archetypal experience a woman can have, and it is at this time that a woman's self-care should be a priority. Most spas strive to be a place of sanctuary for their guests. By offering this type of care to those whose lives are about to become all about nurturing others, you and your staff can help make the trek towards motherhood a more cherished and joyful journey.

Polly Johnson is CEO of corporate accounts for SpaEquip, a full-service provider of spa equipment and supplies to resort, destination, and day spas across the country. Visit for more information or email [email protected].