Are there risks?
Maternity massage isn't just a regular massage performed during pregnancy. In this specialty massage, which is most often based on the Swedish method, techniques are adapted to the specific needs and counter-indications of pregnancy. The goal is to relieve pregnancy-related symptoms while avoiding any potentially unsafe practices.
A lot of massage centers avoid it, though, and many more won't perform it in the first-trimester. Typically, the policy is attributed to a perceived connection between maternity massage and miscarriage, and sometimes a fear that abdominal work could result in placental detachment from the uterine wall during early pregnancy.
While a shortage of scientific evidence makes absolutes difficult, the commonly held belief among professional massage therapists and medical experts is that these concerns are unfounded in the case of a woman experiencing a normal, healthy pregnancy.
Neither placental detachment nor miscarriage has ever been linked to prenatal massage in any scientific research. Most experts believe the reason why some massage therapists stay away, especially during the first trimester, and some doctors don't recommend it has to do with liability fears. Miscarriages are so common in the first 12 weeks that people who could possibly be considered legally liable -- like someone who had her hands on the pregnant woman's belly before the miscarriage or someone who recommended that contact -- simply (and perhaps wisely) decide to avoid any possible perception of causal effect that could lead to a lawsuit.
Again, we're talking about normal, healthy pregnancies here. Complicated pregnancies can be a different story, but not because massage has been linked to increased risks in those cases. Complicated or high-risk pregnancies are simply that: complicated and high-risk. In cases of preeclampsia, history of miscarriage or pre-term labor, or pregnancy-induced hypertension, for instance, any under-studied therapy would probably be of concern. This includes acupuncture, herbal remedies and most other complementary and alternative medical therapies (CAM). Undertaking any one of them would be unwise without explicit clearance from a woman's obstetrician or midwife.
Pregnancy specifics are only part of the equation, though. In considering clearing any patient for prenatal massage, in high-risk and perfectly normal pregnancies alike, there's probably at least one question that every prenatal-care provider will ask ...