Spa Treatments You Can (and Can’t) Enjoy While Pregnant
Between your swollen feet, aching back and dry, itchy skin, there’s never a time you’ll need a spa day more than when you’re pregnant. But can you go to a spa when pregnant? The good news is yes—but timing is important, and so is knowing what treatments to avoid to ensure spa pregnancy safety.
“Going to a spa can be safe in pregnancy—it can be a good way to relieve stress and alleviate some of the normal discomforts of pregnancy,” says Sara Twogood, MD, an ob-gyn at the University of Southern California who blogs at LadyPartsBlog.com. “Some precautions should be taken, though.” It’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor before indulging in any spa treatments.
Once your doctor confirms that going to a spa is safe, work in that “me time” as much as you can. After all, spa treatments will be hard to come by once baby arrives. “Pregnancy is actually an ideal time to plan a spa day—it’s the calm before the storm of late nights, diapers and feeding schedules take over your waking hours,” says Samika Traboulay, a spa supervisor at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota and an American Hotel and Lodging ISPA-certified spa supervisor.
Wondering if sauna and pregnancy mix well? If having a massage while pregnant is okay? Or if you can safely get manicures and pedicures while pregnant? Relax. We’ve put together expert-backed guidelines for some of the most common offerings on the spa menu so you can feel good about your feel-good treatments.
Stay away! The same goes for other heat treatments when you’re expecting, including hot tubs, steam rooms and body wraps.
The problem: Enjoying a sauna during pregnancy or other heat treatments can raise your body temperature too high, Traboulay says. “And that can have adverse effects on baby. ” In fact, increasing your core temp to over 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher can put baby at risk for brain and spinal cord defects.
The perks: None whatsoever.
Go for it! They’re a nice way to stimulate circulation all over your body. “When your circulation is increased by a body scrub or massage, your blood is pumping through your entire body, carrying with it vital oxygen and nutrients used to create the building blocks of your cellular makeup,” Traboulay says. “When pregnant, keeping a constant flow of steady oxygen and nutrients throughout your body is key to supporting your health and your baby’s.”
The precautions: Remember, skin tends to be sensitive when you’re pregnant. So choose gentler, more hydrating ingredients, such as sugar-based scrubs over salt-based ones, which tend to be more aggressive. And make sure that heat isn’t incorporated into any part of the treatment, and that any oils used on the skin are scent-free, Traboulay says. Certain plants—including sage, tarragon, wintergreen, rosemary and especially mugwort—can have a detoxing effect that may promote menstrual bleeding. While pure essential oils from these plants may not carry the same risk, most experts agree it’s not worth the risk during pregnancy.
The perks: The gentle stimulation might even spark more collagen and elastin production in your skin, which can help ward off stretch marks.
Go for it! Experts say that when performed properly, prenatal massage can be safe to get at any point in pregnancy, even early on. Some spas will decline to perform prenatal massage in the first trimester, not because there’s a higher risk at this point in pregnancy, but because there are liability concerns in case a client goes on to experience a miscarriage, which is statistically more likely to happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, the American Pregnancy Association explains. If you’re in your second or third trimester, getting a massage while pregnant isn’t just safe, it’s downright awesome—as long as you follow a few guidelines.
The precautions: To be safe, choose a massage treatment that’s designed specifically for soon-to-be moms (aka prenatal massages), and ask for a licensed therapist who’s experienced with pregnant clients. Prenatal massages make use of supportive body pillows and specially designed beds for baby bumps to best position a pregnant woman’s body. “Standard massages are usually done lying flat on your stomach or flat on your back,” Twogood says. “Prenatal massages are usually performed while the woman lies on her left side or on her back with an incline. These positions optimize blood flow back to the uterus and placenta.” If you have a high-risk pregnancy, hypertension, preeclampsia or some other condition, make sure you consult your ob-gyn before making an appointment.
As is the case with body scrubs, use scent-free oils on the skin. If you’re into aromatherapy during pregnancy, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy recommends considering inhalation therapy, as it can carry lower risks than letting the oils penetrate your skin. Just make sure any essential oil you’re inhaling is heavily diluted (down to 1 percent or less) in a carrier oil such as coconut or sunflower oil. Last but not least: Avoid massage and reflexology on your hands and feet—both contain areas that, when manipulated, can stimulate contractions.
The perks: At the hands of a trained prenatal masseuse, getting a massage while pregnant can increase circulation (for you and baby!), ease swelling in your legs and feet, relieve back pain and headaches, improve digestion and even boost your mood.
It depends. It’s generally safe to get a facial while pregnant—as long as you avoid harsh treatments like microdermabrasion and certain kinds of chemical peels, which can do more harm than good. Because your skin is extra-sensitive now that you’re pregnant, “microdermabrasion can lead to irritation, breakouts and uneven results,” says Renée Rouleau, celebrity aesthetician and founder of Renée Rouleau Skincare. But gentle exfoliating facial scrubs, like crushed apricot kernels or bamboo beads, followed by a deep-moisturizing mask (think avocado or yogurt) are a safe and soothing option.
The precautions: Double check that the products being used in your facial treatments are toxin-free and are safe for you and baby. Beta hydroxy acid (BHA), such as salicylic acid, is one ingredient you don’t want in your facial peels, says Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologic surgeon at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York City and mom of two. High doses of the acid in oral form has been shown to be harmful for baby, so doctors recommend avoiding chemical peels that contain BHA. But good news: Facial treatments that use alpha hydroxy acid, like glycolic and lactic acid, are derived from sugarcane and are considered pregnancy-safe. Bottom line: Consult with your doctor before getting any peels.
The perks: Some women’s skin light up in a pregnancy glow—others, not so much. When faced with common pregnancy problems like acne, dryness and redness, a calming, hydrating facial can be just the thing.
Go for it! We hear it all the time: “Can I get my nails done if I’m pregnant?” Thankfully, the answer is yes—with some safety stipulations, of course. As long as they don’t entail massaging your feet and hands (which may stimulate contractions) and are done in a sanitary salon, getting manicures and pedicures while pregnant is a safe and fun way to pamper yourself during pregnancy, Twogood says.
The precautions: There’s no evidence that acrylics cause any harm to baby, but you may want to err on the side of caution and skip the tips until after delivery, since they contain harsh chemicals, such as resin and formaldehyde, which are likely to cause cancer with long-term exposure. The safest nail polish for a manicure and pedicure while pregnant are brands that are “five-free”—meaning they don’t contain dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, and camphor, which are toxic chemicals. These include toxin-free polishes, such as Zoya, Butter London and Essie. Gels are OK too, as long as the salon is well ventilated.
The perks: “Gel polish is a fantastic way to ensure you have great-looking nails in the ‘on the hospital bed, holding baby for the first time’ picture,” Traboulay says.
Go for it! You might be discovering that your hair grows like crazy when you’re pregnant—everywhere (thanks, hormones). Luckily, waxing and threading are likely safe temporary solutions during pregnancy (always check with your provider first!). While the permanent effects of laser hair removal may be tempting, Engelman suggests putting it off until after baby arrives. Hair can sprout up in unexpected places when you’re expecting, all those hormonal changes raging through your body can affect your response to treatment. “You’ll find that stunting or stopping the growth of hair is a waste of time, because it comes right back,” Engelman says. Plus, little is known about how laser hair removal during pregnancy may affect baby.
The precautions: Let the spa know you’re sporting a baby bump, so your waxing aesthetician can pose you in different positions to help the product go on smoothly. And be mindful of the fact that your skin may be more sensitive during pregnancy. A day before your wax, prep your skin with a gentle exfoliant and moisturizer, which helps the wax peel off the skin more easily. And be ready with post-wax soothers, like a simple cold compress, aloe vera gel or unrefined coconut oil, which can soothe any redness and inflammation. You may even opt for an antiseptic lotion to decrease any small chances of infection.
The perks: While it’s totally not necessary, that smooth, clean feeling is hard to beat—and if waxing makes you feel even a little sexier, we say more power to you.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
Dendy Engelman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologic surgeon at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York City. She earned her medical degree from the Medical University of South Carolina.
Renee Rouleau is an aesthetician with 35 years of experience and her own skincare line offering targeted support for nine different skin types.
Sarah Twogood, MD, is a board-certified OB-GYN at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, CA. She writes the LadyParts blog and co-founded FemEd, an educational platform focused on health education for women.
Samika Traboulay is a Spa Director sat The Ocean House in Westerly, RI and a former Director of Spa at the Waldorf Astoria in Atlanta, GA.
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