Finding out you are pregnant can be an exciting and challenging time in a woman’s life. Now that you have another little person to take care of it is even more important to consider your health and wellbeing. Along with nutritional support, extra sleep and gentle exercise, it is important to look after your physical body. Having a massage during this joyous time will help in many ways, even if it’s as simple as just relaxing during a stressful time.

Massage, depression & better birth outcomes

Evidence shows that massage received during pregnancy can reduce anxiety, decrease symptoms of depression, relieve muscle aches and joint pains, and improve labour outcomes and newborn health. For instance, a 2004 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, of 84 depressed pregnant women who received 20 minutes of massage therapy, twice a week, from a partner, for 16 weeks of their pregnancy, reported lower levels of anxiety and depressed mood and less leg and back pain. By the end of the study the group had higher dopamine and serotonin levels (neurotransmitters involved in depression) and lower levels of cortisol and noradrenaline (stress hormones). The authors believe that these changes may have translated into better neonatal outcomes (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! Many other studies demonstrate similar effects.

Potential benefits of massage during pregnancy include:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Decreased leg, back and shoulder pain
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduction in fluid retention
  • Hormone regulation reduced levels of cortisol ( stress hormone) and increased levels of serotonin and dopamine ( happy hormones) to achieve an overall emotional balance
  • Reduced depression
  • Better birth outcomes

As with all treatments there are contraindications, so working in conjunction with the primary health care provider and ensuring your massage therapist is qualified and experienced in the field is essential and is guaranteed to enhance that special and sometimes challenging time in a woman’s life.


Field T, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C. Massage therapy effects on depressed pregnant women. J. Psychosom. Obstet. Gynaecol. 2004;25:115–122.


Field T, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M, Deeds O, Fiqueiredo B. Pregnancy massage reduces prematurity, low birthweight and postpartum depression. Infant Behav. Dev. 2009;32:454–460. [PubMed] (In this study, the massage therapy group women versus the control group women not only had reduced depression by the end of the therapy period, but also had reduced depression and cortisol levels during the postpartum period. Their newborns were also less likely to be born prematurely and with low birthweight, and they had lower cortisol levels and performed better on the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment habituation, orientation and motor scales).

Field T. Pregnancy and labor massage. Expert review of obstetrics & gynecology. 2010;5(2):177-181. [Link to Article]. This journal article is well worth reading!