As a practice that specializes in prenatal and postpartum massage, I get asked frequently if we use the “belly pillow”, which allows pregnant clients to lie face down during massage by using a pillow with cutouts for belly and breasts. We don’t use this massage prop. We perform our prenatal massage during the second and third trimesters only in supported side-lying and semi-reclined positions, and I’d like to explain why.
First a disclaimer: pregnant women (and women in general, frankly) receive a lot of should and should nots, many of them completely unsolicited. What they should or shouldn’t eat or drink, what sort of exercise to do, how they should or shouldn’t sleep. It’s often filled with judgment, fear, and worry. I certainly don’t want to add to this. Our belief at Noe Valley Integrative Bodywork is that you know your body best. We’re here to help facilitate that as much as possible, without judgment or “shoulds”.
While it may seem like nothing short of a miracle to be able to lie on your stomach later on during your pregnancy, “belly pillows” or specialized equipment that is marketed for pregnant clients may actually cause injury to you. During pregnancy, the body’s lumbar, pelvic, and uterine ligaments become strained. Massage props, or tables with cutouts for belly and breasts, can either (1) further strain your lumbar spine, sacrum, and the taxed uterine ligaments, or (2) create increased intrauterine pressure, particularly when pressure is applied.
The side-lying positioning we use at NVIB, utilizing 4-8 pillows of various sizes and shapes, supports the healthy alignment of your spine and pelvis, while also taking pressure of the hips and SI joints. This position allows us to safely work your lower back and hips without applying uterine pressure. During longer sessions, we may also place you semi-reclined at a 45 degree angle, avoiding compression of the vena cava which can cause dizziness, anxiety, and reduced blood flow to baby.
Most pregnant clients report feeling more relaxed and comfortable than ever using our positioning, and will often incorporate elements in their sleep set-up. Your body changes during pregnancy (and indeed after too!). Receiving bodywork that’s customized to your prenatal and postpartum needs includes choosing a practitioner who is knowledgeable about all the physiological and emotional changes you are experiencing during this powerful time.