When Hildee Weiss, of Beachwood, Ohio, was expecting her first child, she was so concerned about harming her baby that she wouldn't go near a spa or salon for anything other than regular hair trims. Weiss' feelings aren't uncommon. Many women worry about the safety of procedures such as facials, highlights, and even massage during pregnancy.
Prenatal massage can be a terrific idea, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, an OB-GYN and clinical professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale University school of medicine, as well as the author of A Woman's Guide to Sexual Health. However, attention must be given to positioning during the massage. After around 18 weeks of pregnancy, you shouldn't lie flat on your back since the heavy uterus may compress a large blood vessel called the vena cava, causing a drop in blood pressure.
Most therapists trained in prenatal massage have special cut-out tables or pads that will allow a pregnant woman to lay belly-down. Others will prop you on your side with pillows. Either is fine, as long as you're comfortable, says Dr. Minkin. In addition, avoid any procedure that will raise your core body temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
"It basically comes down to making sure you're with [a massage therapist] who knows what they're doing," says Stacy Denny, owner of Barefoot and Pregnant, a day spa dedicated to expecting and new moms in Mill Valley, California. "Research where you're going and make sure they have therapists certified in prenatal massage."
There's no real research on the use of aromatherapy (or essential oils) during pregnancy, or on whether they are or are not contraindicated, says Denny. "Basically, it's a general rule that you want to go more with flower and herb oils, and that an essential oil should never be used directly on the skin."
If you do decide to try a procedure that involves aromatherapy, make sure the scent involved agrees with you. Denny advises her pregnant clients to smell the different essential oils offered beforehand, to see what—if anything—smells good to them. "A lot of times [it's best] to just use an oil that's altogether unscented," says Denny.