Be safe when pampering yourself during pregnancy

Finding ways to relax during pregnancy is good for you. But an obstetrician at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas offers advice on how to make sure the pampering is safe for you and your baby.
Finding ways to relax during pregnancy is good for you. Make sure the pampering is safe for you and your baby.

Pregnancy can be a long 40 weeks in a woman’s life. It’s stressful – physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s good to occasionally pamper yourself with a “spa day.”

But is it safe to have a massage or a manicure when you’re pregnant? How about coloring your hair or having hair removed by laser?

Let’s look at each one and see what you need to know to make sure your “me time” is safe for both you and your baby.

Massages

A prenatal massage can help with the aches and pains of pregnancy and can actually decrease the swelling around joints that comes from carrying around a growing baby. Massage has been shown to ease nerve pain, especially sciatica, a shooting pain or numbness down the leg caused when the uterus compresses the sciatic nerve.

Massage also reduces back pain, stress, and anxiety. This, in turn, can decrease headaches, such as tension headaches. It can help you sleep better and it can even decrease the symptoms of depression.

Tips to consider:

  • Timing – Most massage therapists prefer to see you in your second and third trimester of pregnancy rather than the first trimester, when the risk of miscarriage is higher. It’s not that massage increases your risk of miscarrying. But should your pregnancy be among the one-third of all pregnancies that end in miscarriage, it will keep you from wondering if the massage had anything to do with it. Another consideration: If you’re suffering from nausea or vomiting, which are more common in the first trimester, can you sit through a massage?
  • Position – During a massage, lie on your right side or your left side, with your weight on your hip. Don’t lie on your back where the weight of the uterus presses on your inferior vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from your lower body back to your heart. That compression can cause you to be dizzy or lightheaded. Some massage therapists have tables with a hole cut out in the middle allowing you to lie on your “stomach,” while accommodating an enlarged abdomen; it’s a safe option.
  • Duration – Massages last from 30 minutes to 2 hours. How long are you comfortable lying in a certain position?
  • Pressure points – Pressure points along your body’s nerve pathways can elicit pain or alleviate pain. Talk with your massage therapist. You want to make sure the therapist doesn’t vigorously or repetitively massage the pressure points that cause discomfort. Alternatively, does the therapist know the pressure points that may alleviate nausea? Some therapists are certified in prenatal massage.

Manicures and pedicures

None of the chemicals in nail polish, nail polish remover, or a nail salon is harmful to your baby. However not much is known regarding gel manicures so it may be best to avoid those during pregnancy. In general, though, we seek to limit exposure to chemicals when you are pregnant, so I encourage you to make fewer trips to the nail salon than may have been your habit.

Tips to consider:

  • Ventilation  Pick a salon that is well-ventilated. Sit near a window or a door where there are fewer fumes rather than in the back of the room. If you’re suffering from nausea, can you handle the smells in a nail salon?
  • Pedicures – Make sure the tubs where you soak your feet are sanitized after every use or have disposable linings. You don’t want to end up with a bacterial infection and be in the hospital on antibiotics!
  • Massages – Know the pressure point triggers for labor (such as the web between your thumb and pointer finger) and have your manicurist avoid them. Or just skip the massage altogether.  

Hair color

We don’t have a lot of data about fetal exposure and hair treatments, but the majority of obstetricians believe hair coloring is safe during pregnancy. The amount of hair dye absorbed through your scalp that would reach your baby is minimal.

Tips to consider:

  • Timing – Time your hair coloring so you only need two or three treatments during the course of your pregnancy rather than four to six. Try waiting on coloring until your second or third trimester, just to avoid any unnecessary exposure during your first trimester when your baby’s organs are forming.
  • Highlights – Consider getting highlights rather than changing your hair color.
  • Scalp – If you have breaks in your scalp or notice any bleeding, avoid hair treatments. That break provides an entry point for chemicals.
  • Bonus tip – Time your last hair treatment so your hair will look good for the pictures with your newborn!

Laser hair removal

This last bit of pampering concerns fairly new treatments that destroy hair at its roots, either by thermal or mechanical means. Some women use the treatments to remove hair from their legs, underarms, bikini lines, and faces.

We don’t have much information on what such treatments do to pregnancy or to babies. But, in general, avoid any laser hair removal during pregnancy—especially the type (galvanic) that uses an electric current to reach the hair’s root. The amniotic fluid that surrounds your baby will conduct that current.

Tips to consider:

  • Safe options – Shaving and waxing are safe ways to remove hair when you are pregnant.

If you have other questions about activities while you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor. Or request an appointment online.

Wondering about the safety of hot tubs and saunas while pregnant? Visit the Your Pregnancy Matters blog next week for our recommendations.

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