by Sarah Das
After the excitement of discovering that you’re pregnant, you’ll want start thinking about creating a healthy plan for yourself throughout your pregnancy. Reflexology is a great therapy to include in your plan as it is a safe and natural treatment that can achieve amazing results with some of the more tedious, but normal side effects, of being pregnant that most women experience.
How does it work?
Reflexology activates the healing powers of the body through manipulation of the feet. The theory is that reflexology helps the body to restore its balance naturally.
And it does this very effectively particularly with the endocrine or hormone system – this system is important in becoming pregnant in the first place, and then for maintaining the pregnancy and preparing the body to give birth.
Reflexology is a non-intrusive complementary health therapy, based on the theory that different points on the feet, lower leg, hands, face or ears correspond with different areas of the body. Thus applying pressure to these areas can help heal and balance an affected body part or system. Generally the feet are used as they respond very well to treatment.
Is Reflexology a safe treatment to have in pregnancy?
Reflexology is very safe in pregnancy but should be performed by a therapist experienced in pregnancy reflexology.
During the first trimester, when the placenta is forming, I generally advise women to have a gentle treatment concentrating on light drainage of fluid retention and to help with the nausea and sickness that is frequently experienced at this stage of pregnancy. After the first trimester, when the baby is almost fully developed, and in its growth phase, treatment can be more focused and a little more pressure can be applied to the feet.
What kind of things can Reflexology be good for in pregnancy?
Many of the niggling problems in pregnancy may be assisted through regular Reflexology treatments. Reflexology treatment focuses on relaxation, which is ideal when working towards a straightforward labour and birth.
In the early months it can help reduce the nausea, which many women experience due to being bombarded with pregnancy hormones. What’s more, by reducing nausea you are less likely to reach for carb laden foods and make healthy diet choices, helping you to keep your weight down.
Fluid retention in the body generally and especially in the feet and legs can be reduced and this makes getting around so much more pleasant and may mean you are able to stay lighter, fitter and exercise for longer into your pregnancy.
Reflexology can also help the quality of your sleep and so you find your mood and sense of wellbeing improving, enabling you to maintain a fairly normal life, despite being pregnant.
It can reduce the sometimes quite intense pain of heart burn and indigestion that is quite a common pregnancy side effect. Again – enabling you to stick to more healthy food choices.
It can help with headaches and migraines as well as normalise low blood pressure and the light headiness that accompanies this
The development of varicose veins can be reduced in severity and the aching legs they cause can be relieved.
It can relieve backache that may have been there before pregnancy or becomes worse as your pregnancy body increases in size and weight as well as the constipation and uncomfortable haemorrhoids that can crop up as a result of constipation
By helping to maintain balance in the body, especially balance of your pregnancy hormones, reflexology can help you to carry your baby to term.
Is reflexology suitable for everyone in pregnancy?
Reflexology is a very individual treatment which works with you holistically, so it’s not possible to know in advance how you will react to a treatment, but its true to say that few women experience negative side effects from reflexology.
If your pregnancy is particularly high risk for some reason it may be that only gentle treatment is given. In such circumstance your reflexologist will work holistically with you and aim to work alongside your other healthcare providers or solely on their recommendation.
If you develop any kind of infection in pregnancy (typically a urine infection) treatment would not be given until you are well again.
What happens during a treatment?
You will recline or sit up with your legs raised, depending on how heavily pregnancy you are, on a couch or comfortable chair. The great thing is that you need only remove your socks and shoes for treatment.
The therapist will then use their hands to apply pressure to the feet. You may feel a little discomfort during the treatment, but generally the experience should be relaxing. Typically the therapist will use powder on your feet during treatment as this helps with moisture. Often foot balm or cream is massaged into the feet at the end of the treatment.
A typical reflexology session will last for 50-60 minutes. Your reflexologist will then recommend how often treatment is required.
Can Reflexology be used to induce labour and how?
Yes reflexology can encourage the body to be in the optimum relaxed and balanced state creating an ideal emotional and physical way to start labour. In other words, if you do not feel ‘ready’ to labour due to insomnia in late pregnancy, anxiety about labour or when it will start, you may not ‘allow’ your body to labour. Sometimes you just have to stop all the domestic preparation and plump for relaxation. Working on your body is easier than working on your mind, as you generally need lots of time to work on your mind and it can be a challenge preparing mentally for the unknown territory of birth. Keeping your body strong and relaxed is great armour for labour.
As already discussed, reflexology can be used throughout pregnancy but in the last few weeks before birth, treatment is more about priming the body for labour. During treatment both feet are worked on, but, in particular, the pelvic lymphatic system, the uterus, kidneys and adrenal glands are targeted to encourage optimum pelvic drainage, thus allowing you to remain active right up to and most importantly during labour and birth. Your energy levels will be maintained enabling you to build up stamina for the big day, when you really need it.
If you are feeling relaxed and fitter and you are sleeping better, you will find it easier to walk or swim or continue doing yoga to encourage the baby into an optimum position to encourage birth to start.
The pituitary gland is also stimulated to encourage the trigger for the body to release oxytocin, oxytocin is the hormone that initiates labour.
Reflexology is now being offered in some NHS hospitals before medical induction of labour is prescribed for women with low risk pregnancies. This has to be good!
From a practitioner’s point of view weekly treatments from 37 weeks until labour starts is the ideal schedule for treatment. This works on the principle that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. At 37 weeks women are usually feeling very positive about their ability to go into labour naturally and respond very well to the deep relaxation that can be achieved by reflexology. Treatment can be given after the due date is reached, but its really hard to know if reflexology worked to start labour or not, as your body was already ready. It’s never really too late though, as with most things in life ‘relaxation is everything’.