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Can you help put me into labor? ...and other common questions about pregnancy massage.

Pregnancy and Postpartum Massage by Shelly Varelli, LMT

Shelly is a proud graduate of the Ann Arbor Institute of Massage Therapy. In 2001 she received advanced specialty certifications in Pregnancy and Postpartum Massage from the Chicago School of Massage. Shelly has been an active doula and midwife assistant since 2005 and is currently enrolled at the Midwives College of Utah pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Midwifery (soon to be a practicing midwife in 2022). With 19 years of experience and focused training Shelly is Toledo’s pregnancy and postpartum massage specialist. ️Click the link at the bottom of this article to book online and schedule your appointment:

“I often get asked several questions about pregnancy massage”

Here is an excerpt from a recent conversation----

“Hey Shelly, I wanted to know what your theory is with pregnancy massage in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.”

My answer, “Well, it depends on why they are seeking treatment… I may only feel comfortable to work on a specific focused area and avoid full-on circulatory massage. If the client is generally healthy, exercises, eats well, is well hydrated, and especially if they have been receiving massages consistently before becoming pregnant then I might work with them regardless of how many weeks pregnant they are. However, If it’s clear that they have a shitty lifestyle then I'd stay away from full body massage. It really all depends on their pre-pregnancy lifestyle”

---These determinations are made through asking some specific questions, learning about their daily habits, their values, and asking people to reveal some information about their lifestyle. If they're really interested in therapeutic massage they won’t have a problem with discussing their health and answering some questions. After the initial assessment and with their consent, I am okay with creating a plan that works for them.

What’s important to recognize is that massage increases maternal circulation and therefore also circulation to the baby. The pregnant person’s blood and lymph gets filtered through the placenta and then to their baby. If they do not already have a healthy lifestyle that could mean a lot of free-floating toxins getting activated and being pushed into their circulatory system. We must proceed with caution and with this awareness.

Another question that seems to come up, "Do I have to have my belly exposed during this massage? I don't think I'm comfortable with that."

Me: "Absolutely not!" Almost every image I see promoting pregnancy massage all have people lying on a table with their exposed bellies. This leads the consumer to believe this is standard for an entire massage. I find this super misleading and irritating.

That’s not how it goes in my practice. Your belly does not be exposed during massages with me. Belly massage is NOT part of a typical pregnancy massage. Sure, there are occasions where it may be appropriate to address tight uterine ligaments, the lower/lateral intercostal muscles, the symphysis pubis, etc... to treat dysfunctions, postural distortions, or misalignments but you will remain covered and NOT have belly exposed for your entire massage. So rest assured pregnant friends. This will not be you!

As a student midwife and Spinning Babies trained therapist I can do "belly mapping" and feel which direction your baby is facing -that is best done with an exposed belly but is not necessary. Disclaimer: I do not perform diagnostic fetal position screening or testing but I can help teach you how to feel for your baby's position and offer some information. You can be proactive in working with your body and with baby to be in a good position for labor and birth. I'd love to help you and support you in this empowering experience.

Another question I am often asked: “Can you help put me into labor?

My answer, “Speaking from experience there's absolutely NO WAY I can put someone into labor if their body is not already moving in that direction.” There are lots of natural and not so natural ways to help put you into labor.. none of those things are within scope of practice for a massage therapist. Wanna talk about those options from a Birth Doula or Midwifery perspective? We can, but that's another conversation. So what can I do as a massage therapist?


1. I can help someone to be in a better mental place to relax and release good hormones that facilitate physiological labor and the onset of natural labor.

2. I certainly can help musculoskeletal alignment in pregnancy to ease maternal discomforts and ensure that baby has plenty of room to be in an optimal position for an efficient, dare I say “faster” labor and birth.

3. I can also support a labor that is stalling or appears to “stop and start” to be more efficient by using acupuncture, relaxation, massage, essential oils, etc. and using Spinning Babies and Rebozo techniques "Let's talk more about that later!".

Do I need to see a massage therapist that is “certified” in prenatal massage?

I don't believe a therapist has to be certified in prenatal massage to perform it but I think they need to be acutely aware of all the factors related to being pregnant some people are better suited for pregnant bodies than others. I recommend someone, like myself, that has had some specific training, who confidently understand the benefits and the risks, and sees this as their specialty. “You’ll just get a lot more out of the overall experience.“


Shelly has worked closely with hundreds of pregnant people...

"This is my dream job, and I’m fortunate to have been doing this for close to 20 years now. Being in service to support pregnant people is truly my life’s work.”

To schedule an appointment or purchase a gift card for someone you know visit these links For online scheduling:

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