Reflexology for Pregnancy and LaborDebbie Legare, Certified Reflexologist
Our bodies are equipped with wonderful self-healing facilities, but these often fail to work properly because vital energy pathways are blocked due to the stresses and strains of life. Reflexology, an ancient form of healing, teaches that specific regions of the body called reflex zones (points in the feet, hands, and ears) are associated with particular organs, glands, and other parts of the body.
A reflexology treatment comes in the form of applied pressure, stretching, and movement. A reflexologist is able to find these deposits and blockages and break up patterns of stress, restoring balance and relieving tension. Reflexology treatments can also improve a patient’s circulation and elimination—two very important factors in maintaining good health and well-being.
The physical, emotional, and mental changes of pregnancy can be overwhelming for some women. According to the National Center for Complimentary & Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and Suzanne Ezner, author of the Maternity Reflexology Manual, maternity reflexology has been effective in treating the following common ailments many women face during various stages of pregnancy:
- Morning sickness
- Lack of energy
- Pain and discomfort
- Digestive disorders
- Swollen extremities
- Sore swollen breasts
- Inducing labor
- Aiding in infertility
Sound too good to be true? Maybe, but the fact is that many homeopathic and holistic practices are only now being studied for their effectiveness. Reflexology, along with acupuncture, has been readily accepted in European countries for some time, and many patients are now also finding success with it in the United States as well.
Is Reflexology Safe?
Reflexology is very safe, but most practitioners will not perform procedures on a pregnant woman during the first 13 weeks of her pregnancy. During this time there is a normal risk of miscarriage, and even though the treatment hasn’t been associated with miscarriage, most practitioners agree to stay away from it.
How Does It Work?
The most common area for reflexology treatment is the foot. Pressure is applied to specific zones; for example, to treat the pituitary gland, a practitioner would massage and work on the patient’s big toe. Reflexology generates a signal through the peripheral nervous system, which then enters the central nervous system, where signals are sent to various parts of the brain. The signals continue to travel on to various organs, encouraging adjustments in oxygen and finally sending a response to the body’s motor systems. Circulation is vital to every organ and transports nutrients (anabolic substances), oxygen, hormones, antibodies, and wastes (catabolic substances).
During the first three months of pregnancy a hormone called Human Chronic Gonadotrophin (hCG), is produced by the fetus and can make an expectant mother feel less than wonderful. The mother-to-be’s body reacts to the growing baby by producing relaxin, an ovarian hormone that works to soften pelvic ligaments in preparation for birth. These changes can be overwhelming and extremely uncomfortable for many women. This is another area where reflexology can help; treatments adjust hormonal output and can also treat common pregnancy aches and pains, helping women feel more comfortable.
Reflexology During Labor
A study conducted by the Association of Reflexologists in London, England, showed that continual treatment during pregnancy reduced heartburn, hypertension, irritable uterus, and edema by 50 percent. In the study, reflexology was also used as an alternative to labor-stimulating drugs.
Many women undergo reflexology treatments to encourage labor, especially if they are overdue. Treatment can be used during any stage of labor, and reflexology’s effects are felt as early as just two minutes into the therapy (with the full effect kicking in after just 15 minutes).
During a typical labor reflexology session, pressure is applied to specific points on a woman’s feet and hands to stimulate the pituitary gland and to induce the hormones known to speed labor and ease pain. The birthing woman is eased into a comfortable chair, fully clothed (except for her feet), and her feet rubbed with witch hazel. The labor reflexology session can last from 45 minutes to an hour. For hospitals that support reflexology treatment, these sessions can continue into full labor, with treatments occurring in 15 minutes intervals. (Husbands and partners can even be taught this treatment and perform it on their spouses during labor and postpartum.)
In another British study, first-time mothers between the ages of 20 and 25 who received reflexology had an average labor time of just five to six hours (with some labors only lasting two to three hours). Many women also didn’t need anesthesia, and the placenta release was accelerated in 70 percent of women giving birth.
Infertility and Reflexology
Infertility is generally defined by the medical profession as the inability to conceive or carry a baby to term after one year of sexual intercourse without the use of contraception.
Sometimes infertility can be attributed to psychological influences like stress and anxiety. Prolonged stress can adversely affect a woman’s body, resulting in physical and mental illness. Complementary therapies like reflexology take a holistic approach to infertility, treating both the mind and the body. Both men and women can benefit from these treatments—the stimulation of a reflex area in the feet encourages the reproductive and hormonal system to function more effectively, regulating menstrual periods, and stimulating egg and sperm production.
Still, you should always consult a physician if you are experiencing problems getting pregnant since several medical conditions can cause infertility. It is also very important that people using both complementary therapies and conventional treatments inform their doctor about the kind of complementary treatment they are receiving. A treatment schedule should be consistent for any treatment to be fully effective.
A Danish study showed promising results in reflexology treatment for infertility. To determine the effect of reflexology on infertility, 61 women under the age of 35 were given sixteen 45-minute reflexology treatments over a seven- to eight-month period. Treatments were given twice a week for four weeks; then two more treatments were administered before ovulation. Nine women (15 percent) became pregnant within six months after starting the treatment. Of two-thirds of the women who had menstruation problems, 77 percent experienced an appreciable improvement—with the majority seeing complete alleviation of their problems. Three-quarters of all the women reported improvements in other ailments, such as muscle tensions, psychic imbalances, indigestion, poor circulation, and general imbalance.
If you are interested in exploring reflexology, be sure to check with your insurance company, since some companies may include alternative health coverage. Costs for treatment vary, but the average reflexology session is usually between $50 to $100 and can last anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes.
Are There Disadvantages?
As with any health treatment, it is important to be treated or taught by a licensed or certified practitioner. There are also some instances when a woman should not use reflexology. Please consider the following contraindications before seeking treatment:
- If you are taking fertility drugs, such as Clomid, you should avoid this treatment completely.
- If you have deep vein thrombosis.
- If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure and risk for preeclampsia.
- If you are diabetic, blood sugar should be checked prior to and after treatments (reflexology treatment can effect insulin production).
- If you have recent or healing fractures, unhealed wounds, or active gout affecting the foot.
And an important note: some US states have instituted laws requiring reflexology practitioners to have a license or certification through oral, written, and practical testing.
If reflexology sounds like something you’d like to try, be sure to research doctors online or ask your primary care physician if he or she can help you find a practitioner who specializes in maternity reflexology. Then sit back and enjoy a foot massage—you now have an excuse for wanting your feet rubbed!