Pregnant pause?

Pregnancy can be a stressful time; full of bodily aches and pains, so a bit of pampering for the mum-to-be goes down a treat, but safety is a big concern. Here’s what you need to know before treating pregnant clients in your spa 


Spa treatments are a great way for pregnant women to relax and prepare themselves for the tough times and sleepless nights ahead.

However, if you’re going to treat women during pregnancy, your treatments must be modified to be safe.

So, what's different about the spa experience during pregnancy? Well for starters, overheating must be avoided in pregnancy as it’s been shown that it can cause birth defects. Therefore, hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms must not be used. But swimming is encouraged and sitting on the edge of the whirlpool with my swollen legs dangling in front of the jets felt great.

Certain pressure points in the body can trigger contractions and bring on labour – which could be catastrophic before the baby is full term. So it's important to modify the treatment routine and avoid these points, which means therapists must be pregnancy trained and hold appropriate certification.

Corinna Yap, spa director at COMO Shambhala Urban Escape at The Metropolitan London on Park Lane, explains that the spa’s therapists all have to be trained on how to work with pregnant clients, before they are allowed to carry out treatments on them. 

“Our therapists have either been trained on an advance pregnancy massage course or have advanced pregnancy massage qualifications through their studies,” she says. “For example, our shiatsu and acupuncture therapists all go through a very thorough training within their specialist field and part of their course, they are trained on treating pregnant clients.” 

pregnancy featureSafety first 
During a pregnancy massage, the abdomen should only be massaged very lightly, and many mothers-to-be will prefer it to be avoided altogether. Because the risk of miscarriage is so much higher in the first trimester of pregnancy, most spas will not treat women during this period. No one wants to be blamed when the worst happens.

There is still some debate as to how safe essential oils are to use on pregnant women. However, most experts agree that certain essentials oils are perfectly fine to use, provided the expectant mother is healthy, the pregnancy is progressing as it should and the oils have been diluted. 

Essential oils that are considered safe to use on pregnant clients, from the second trimester onwards, include frankincense, German chamomile, bergamot, ginger, neroli, patchouli, petitgrain and ylang ylang. 

Among the essential oils that should not be used on pregnant clients are birch, basil, camphor, hyssop, pennyroyal, wintergreen and wormwood. If you are uncertain as to which essential oils are and are not safe to use on pregnant clients, it is, however, always advisable to thoroughly research the topic before treating an expectant mother. 

Confidence and reassurance
Women who are more than 16 weeks pregnant can't lie flat on their backs as the weight of the baby will press on the vein that supplies the baby with nutrients, and they obviously can't lie on their fronts either, so the massage couch needs to be adapted to reflect this. 

Electric beds that elevate the shoulders to maintain the blood flow to the bump can be used, and some spas purchase specially designed cushions that allow pregnant clients to lie face down with their bump dropping down into a gap between the cushions. 

Massage beds with holes cut into them to accommodate the bump are also an option. The least costly alternative is to get the women to lie on their side, though if the bed is too hard, this could be uncomfortable. 

There are so many things to avoid in pregnancy that it can be a constant worry; you frequently wonder what is ok and if you should be doing this or that. Women may feel guilty about having a massage or even swimming too vigorously, if they think it might harm the baby. So it is important for the therapist to make them feel that they are in good hands. 

If a pregnant clients turns up at your spa and is invited to try out the sauna or have a deep tissue massage whilst lying on her back, she will be concerned that your staff don't know how to adapt treatments to ensure they are pregnancy safe. 

Therapists should reassure mothers-to-be, firstly by not offering them inappropriate treatments and secondly by explaining how and why they are adapting the treatment with the pregnancy in mind. 

As Susana Goncalves, spa manager at the Spa in Dolphin Square in Pimlico, west London, explains, “confidence is key". She says that therapists themselves are nervous when they first start to treat pregnant women, “because they know how serious it is. But with practice comes confidence, and when they are confident, that puts the client at ease because she thinks 'ok she knows what she's doing'.”

pregnancy 2Pregnancy care 
With so much to take onboard, many smaller spas avoid treating pregnant women altogether.  However, for a good-sized spa, where the staff has been well trained in working with expectant mothers, offering this service shouldn't be a problem, and it’s a good way to demonstrate the competence of your staff and your business. 

It’s also worth considering the kind of message you’re sending out by saying that you are not confident treating pregnant women in your spa, turning these clients away. Additionally, by offering a service that not every spa provides, you can attract new customers.Yap says that when regular clients become pregnant they are always offered continued treatment. “Because we need to be there for them when they need us.”

Davina Patel, treatments manager at Espa Life at Corinthia in central London, feels the same way about The Corinthia hotel’s pregnant spa clients. “It’s important to our brand that everybody can have an Espa Life treatment,” she says. Patel also confirms that pregnancy treatments do attract new business: Corinthia offers a maternity package, popular with groups who visit the spa to celebrate a pregnancy.

The Spa in Dolphin Square offers a range of pregnancy and post-natal treatments and Goncalves says these bring both new and repeat customers to the spa. “Women do like it, once they feel like they've had a good treatment we find that they come back and have regular massages throughout their pregnancy,” she says. “And then it's always nice to see them with the little one a couple of months later. We've had quite a bit of repeat business.” 

One last thing…
If you are offering spa treatments to women in late stages of pregnancy, you will need to make extra large robes available. I have experienced cases where the robe supplied did not do up around my bump, which caused some embarrassment. You should also check the fit of the slippers, as women’s feet tend to swell during pregnancy.  


Above: The relaxation area at The Dorchester Spa in London 


The Dorchester Spa offers a 60-minute Nurturing Cocoon exfoliation, as well as a 55-minute pregnancy massage. In terms of adapting the treatment, they have opted for an electric adjustable bed that allows the therapist to raise the woman's shoulders to keep them above the baby bump. 

I tried out the exfoliation and when the therapist wanted to work on my back, she aske me to sit up on the bed and lean forward. However, although this was nice, it’s not quite as relaxing as lying face down. 

The exfoliation was gentle and very pleasant. After the scrub I used the shower in the corner of the room, and then it was back on the bed for a soft massage with moisturising lotion, before I was wrapped up tightly in hot towels and left in a darkened room for while to cocoon. Which was blissful.  

Above: COMO Shambhala Urban Escape at The Metropolitan London 


Como Shambala uses the Body Cushion pregnancy massage cushions from Body Support Systems. These cushions have a big hole in them, which allowed me to lie face down in the conventional massage position. I really enjoyed this setup, as it allowed the therapist to work on my back with me having to perch on my side or sit up. 

The cushions were a little bit troublesome to assemble – they come in lots of pieces so they can be positioned to accommodate various sizes of clients and bumps. But once they were in place, I got to stretch my back out fully for the first time in months, and that alone made it worth it.

The therapist also talked a lot about the adjustments she was making, lessening the pressure on my legs to avoid the risk of deep vein thrombosis, using different oils to the ones that would normally be incorporated into the treatment, and so o on – all of which made me feel I was in safe hands.

Abovee: The spa café at Espa Life at Corinthia  


The therapist at Espa Life at Corinthia used a set of wedges and bolsters to prop me up on my side and my back so she could work on my muscles without having me lying on my front. The electric and adjustable bed was also very comfortable and padded, and if you’re going to ask your pregnant clients to lie on their side, a super padded treatment bed is definitely the way to go. 

The 90-minute Pre Natal treatment kicked off with a back exfoliation. To carry this out, the therapist mixed Espa's Body Smoothing Shower Gel, which contains crushed rosehip seeds, with the brand’s Hydrating Cleansing Milk, which featured camomile and smelt divine. The exfoliation ended with the therapist removing any excess product with a warm mitten, and drying me off with a towel. 

The full body massage was gentle, and the room was dark, making me feel very relaxed. A mixture of body oils and body butter, containing calendula and vitamin E to nourish the skin and reduce stretch marks, were used during the massage. 

The finale was a gentle scalp massage that woke me up just enough to be able to stand up and make my way to the relaxation area. I had a dry scalp massage, but you are also given the option of having it with Espa’s Pink Hair and Scalp Mud, said to give the hair a glossy finish.

Above: A foot treatment at the Spa in Dolphin Square 


Women's feet take a real battering during pregnancy as they are carrying a lot of extra weight and studies have shown that they can grow as much as a whole shoe size. It's thought that the extra strain, combined with the loosening of ligaments in pregnancy, makes the arch drop, which causes the foot to increase in length. 

While all this is happening the poor mum-to-be is, however, still cramming her feet into her favourite shoes and wondering why they feel a bit sore. Reaching your own feet and being able to give them a scrub is a distant dream in late pregnancy, which means your feet can be a bit of a disaster when your pregnant. 

The Spa in Dolphin Square offers a luxurious foot soak and scrub, massage and foot masque that felt like heaven for my poor battered feet, and which the spa says is very popular. Called the Arabian Nights Pedicure, it starts with you resting on a heated stone bed.

After this, you’re off into the treatment room, where the therapist carries out a cleansing ritual using black soap, before filing your nails and working on your cuticles. Hard skin on the feet is removed with a foot file and a honey mask is applied to one foot, while the other is massaged. It feels great and, afterwards, my feet felt and looked better than they had done in weeks. 

As with all other treatments at the spa, you are offered complimentary tea after the Arabian Nights Pedicure.