Reflexology for pregnancy and childbirth by Gemma Nelson
What is reflexology?
Reflexology is a pleasant, gentle and safe non - invasive therapy that helps to restore the body’s natural balance. It promotes natural healing and aids relaxation and a sense of wellbeing. It is particularly beneficial for pregnancy, the post natal period and even for those who are trying to conceive.
During a reflexology treatment pressure is applied to the reflex areas (or pressure points) found on the feet and hands, to help rebalance other areas of the body. The reflex areas on the feet correspond to areas within the body such as organs and hormone producing glands.
Reflexology during pregnancy
A 2010 study in the Iranian Journal of Midwifery Research stated that in the pregnancy, labour, postpartum and breastfeeding period reflexology can be used for treating many physiological conditions such as nausea, pregnancy vomiting, constipation, headache and low back pain.
· During pregnancy your body will go through emotional, hormonal and physiological changes. This will alter the balance of the body and can cause you discomfort and unease. Working directly on the feet can help reduce swollen feet and ankles and associated discomfort.
· With 70-85% of expectant mothers experiencing the nausea of ‘morning sickness’ and half experiencing actually vomiting at some stage, reflexology can be used to help reduce the nausea and vomiting.
· Almost half of women suffer constipation and heartburn especially after 12 weeks as the intestinal organs move and become squashed by the growing foetus. Reflexology can work on the digestive area points to relieve any discomfort and help with elimination.
· An overactive bladder and the constant urge to urinate can start in the early stages of pregnancy, due to the bladder sitting directly in front and eventually behind the uterus. Reflexology can bring some relief to this condition and can certainly help prevent cystitis or any bladder infections.
· Hypertension/high blood pressure can be an issue some women face in pregnancy and can be damaging to the baby. Reflexology, due to its relaxing nature and helping balance the body, has been shown to reduce blood pressure. If you continue to have problems with blood pressure you should seek medical attention.
· Painful breasts are common (even for many non pregnant women). Particular attention to the breast area reflex and all the lymphatic drainage points can help alleviate this unpleasant symptom.
· Pelvic arthropathy is a condition experienced in the later stages of pregnancy, where the bones of the pelvis normally held together by ligaments start to move due to the effect of the pregnancy hormone ‘relaxin’ being released to help the birthing canal widen. Walking and general motion can be very painful and Reflexology on the medial and lateral hip reflexes along with the spinal reflex can be very helpful.
· Aches and pains are common at this time, especially back ache due to your centre of gravity being pulled forward by all the increased weight, increased stress is put upon the spine and associated muscles. Ribs may also ache as the intercostals muscles will be taking an increasing role in breathing. Reflexology can work on these reflex areas to help provide some relief.
· Pregnancy Reflexology generally promotes deep relaxation to help stress relief and can help with sleep problems and insomnia.
· You body is changing rapidly during pregnancy and regular reflexology treatments are encouraged to help prevent pregnancy related conditions and symptoms.
· A series of regular treatments throughout your pregnancy can also help prepare for labour.
Labour and Reflexology Research and medical trials have shown that, with regular reflexology treatments labour time can be reduced and many women require less or no pain relief.
Some midwives also trained in reflexology perform the treatment during labour itself as it can be used for relaxation and pain relief. The Iranian Journal of Midwifery Research study in 2010 concluded in its summary that; “Reflexology can lead to decrease in the labour pain. Therefore, regarding to the safety of this technique, it can be replaced as an alternative for pharmacological methods.” The study goes on to explain that with the effect of touch reflexology can help to release the endorphins required to reduce anxiety and pain to bring about a more relaxed state of wellbeing. It found that for many women in the study a similar analgesia to pharmacological methods may be established by pressure on the specific reflex points as reflexology techniques would stop the neural transmission of the pain message to the brain and subsequently bringing about the feeling of pain relief.
Natural Induction Many women find it helpful to have Reflexology to help to encourage natural labour once they have reached their due date.
There are specific Oxytocin stimulating and energising points that can be used with firmer pressure if you reach your due date but your baby hasn’t yet arrived.
It is advised to obtain your midwife’s or doctor’s consent and to let them know your intentions. However it must be said that if the baby is not ready to be born then Reflexology cannot perform miracles. Reflexology acts when something is not quite right to restore balance, not to unnaturally force things happen.
If you are finding contractions hard to cope with, ask your birth partner to squeeze your heels several times during a contraction. Your heels represent the reflex zone for the pelvis. Squeezing your heels is a way of "hugging" the part of your body that is doing all the work during labour.
If your contractions slow down, your partner could massage the back of your big toes where the pituitary gland reflex is located. This can help stimulate labour hormones.
Your reflexologist can also show you some additional points to be massage during this time.
Enjoying continued reflexology treatments after your bundle of joy arrives can encourage a speedy recovery from the birth and also give you a bit of time out to rest, relax and reenergise. This is so important especially if you are juggling coping with your new born, family commitments and other young children.
This is particularly relevant in modern society as 75% of illnesses are said to be stress related from our busy lifestyles. Working on the endocrine system and reproductive reflex points during postnatal treatments can also support you as your menstrual cycle returns to normal.
There is also significant research that has shown that reflexology is helpful for maintaining or increasing milk supply as well as helping with postnatal depression and general anxiety reduction.
It is important to make sure your Reflexologist has undergone specific maternity reflexology training as the protocol can differ to that of a general reflexology treatment.
Safety of treatment in Pregnancy
According to the Association of Reflexologists (AOR) “Nearly everyone can benefit from having reflexology during pregnancy.” It is generally safe to have pregnancy reflexology from a suitably qualified pregnancy Reflexologist during pregnancy, but some ladies like to wait until after the first trimester just to be sure.
Some reflexologists will not however treat a pregnant woman during the first trimester. The Association of Reflexologists (AOR) suggest that this is due to a misplaced patient fear that reflexology may cause a miscarriage. “There is no evidence to even suggest that this may be the case,” the AOR says. “However, as miscarriages are more common in the first term of pregnancy, some reflexologists are not prepared to take the risk that the client may blame them should a miscarriage occur.”
Your Reflexologist should be happy to discuss this and there are some main contra indications where treatment would not be recommended or carried out.
Contraindications to Pregnancy Reflexology:
In the first trimester of pregnancy, if there is a history of miscarriage or unstable pregnancies
Sub placenta haematoma
Deep vein thrombosis or a risk of developing DVT
Hydroamnios (too much amniotic fluid around the baby after 32 weeks gestation)
Caution to treatment Caution with treatment must be taken if the mother-to-be is diabetic. Blood sugar levels should be checked before and after treatments, as reflexology helps to balance the endocrine system and insulin production. It is advisable to obtain written consent from you medical consultant in this instance prior to reflexology treatment.
Your Reflexologist may be able to feel the baby growing on the inner side of your foot. You, yourself may see a growing bulge on the inner side of you foot, just above the heel, it may be larger on one side than the other which is said to reflect the baby growing in the uterus!