It’s not unusual for me to receive a phone call from a heavily pregnant mum-to-be who is desperate to get baby out – and who can blame her!
It’s probably been a long 40 weeks and after six months of focusing on her due date (I wish we could have a due month instead of a specific date – much less pressure!), baby has decided that he/she isn’t ready that day and decides to stay put for a little longer.
And then, occasionally, the ‘I’ word is mentioned. Yep, induction.
Usually at 42 weeks but sometimes at between 37 and 40 weeks if your midwife or consultant feels that baby needs to arrive a little earlier.
That mum may have heard from somebody that reflexology can be great for ‘inducing’ labour so turns to their nearest reflexologist (hopefully pregnancy-trained!) to get that baby out. And maybe this is the first reflexology treatment they’ve had during their pregnancy.
I probably now need to apologise in advance for shattering these illusions but…
Reflexology does not ‘induce’ labour. Inductions are medical procedures, always carried out in hospitals by medical professionals where syntocin is administered and/or your waters are broken.
Very often for an extremely valid, medical reason.
What reflexology DOES do is prime for the birth.
And in a relaxed and gentle way, working with you, your body and most importantly your baby.
That little baby who actually doesn’t know when their ‘due date’ is supposed to be so are sometimes are a little off it. If only there was a button we could press that went “Ding! Your time is up, it’s 40 weeks today so out you pop!” But there isn’t.
Some women also have naturally longer pregnancies, especially if your normal menstrual cycle is a little longer than the 28 days that is deemed ‘normal’.
There are many benefits to enjoying reflexology treatments during pregnancy and just a couple of them are the focus on hormone-balancing and on keeping you calm, and as hormones are shared via the placenta and bloodstream your baby feels the benefits too.
The more anxious and stressed we get, the greater likelihood that our stress hormones, namely adrenaline and cortisol, will be a little elevated, almost in the ‘fight or flight’ stress response mode. And the higher our adrenaline levels are, the more they will inhibit the production of oxytocin, which is the hormone we need for the birthing process.
Sometimes baby is pretty ready, they just need a very gentle nudge and when that happens, often after a reflexology treatment, there are cries of “reflexology got my baby out!”. It helped, definitely. You could even say it ‘facilitated’ the process. It helped relax you and your body to the extent that it enabled the birthing process to begin.
The research behind Pregnancy and Reflexology
Dr Gowri Motha (The Gentle Birth Method, 1991) pioneered the use of Reflexology during pregnancy from 1987 and went onto found the Gentle Birth Method birthing programme and book. She set up a research study in 1992-3 to discover the effect reflexology had on birthing outcomes. Reflexology sessions were offered to 64 pregnant women from 20 weeks of pregnancy to full-term. 37 women completed the course of 10 treatments.
It was discovered that the effects of Reflexology on labour outcomes were outstanding.
“Some of the women had labour times of only 2 hours, some 3 hours. The 20 – 25 year olds had an average time of first stage labour of 5 or 6 hours, as did the first time mothers (text book average is 16-24 hours). Second time mothers, 26 – 30 year olds, seemed to have longer labours, (and may have fallen into the group experiencing more social stress). The second stage of labour lasted an average of 16 minutes, (compared to the text book expectancy of 1-2 hours). In this small study, it was found that there was very little difference between the labour times of 30 year olds and 40 year olds, even though many of the 40-year-olds were first time mothers, (who had 2 3 hour labours).”
The outcomes for mothers receiving Reflexology in the study were:
Normal Deliveries – 89.0%
Inductions – 5.4%
Forceps – 2.7%
Elective Caesarian Section – 2.7%
Emergency Caesarian Section – 5.4%
Immunological Stress – 8.1 % (13.0% in Newham District)
In a separate study in an antenatal clinic, Dr. Motha had found that weekly Reflexology treatments of between 30 to 45 minutes normalised hypertension, avoiding the usual hospital admittance for 48 hours’ rest and observation.
Birth Priming Techniques
If we view birth priming techniques as sessions not for inducing labour but instead gentle ‘add ins’ for preparation combined with appropriate techniques for alleviating stress, anxieties and physical discomforts, it gives our mums-to-be a much more realistic expectation in a supportive environment in which to prepare for baby’s arrival into the world.
The truth is that babies start the birthing process and when they feel safe to do so, feeling loved, safe and calm.
Let’s change the mindset from ‘fixing’ and inducing the birthing process to one of giving mum the time, safe and support she needs to journey into motherhood.
I’m afraid Reflexology isn’t a quick fix but is actually incredibly beneficial for the whole of your pregnancy – from day one of conception right up until baby’s arrival and beyond.
Reflexology is fantastic for supporting your body to do what is right for it, and that isn’t forcing something to happen that isn’t ready to happen naturally. And then when it doesn’t work, inaccurately believing that its failed or is ineffective.
Our intention is to support rather than to induce. And at the end of your pregnancy, when you are most in need of rest to prepare for what is to come, it is ideal.
The intention of a birth priming reflexology treatment is to relax, to ground mum-to-be, to balance hormones, to connect to the wonder of birth, to tonify the uterine muscles, to ease any tensions held in the pelvis and lower back, to encourage a clearing out of the digestive system, to gently work your lymphatic system, all in preparation for the birthing process to begin. It is a comprehensive but entirely pleasurable experience!