Pregnancy and Reflexology

Pregnancy is one of the most special times in a woman’s life; it is, undoubtedly, a beautiful and humbling experience. Yet, I will never forget how a friend of mine, Nia, holding her 6-month-old son in her arms explained how she had really felt during her pregnancy.

When Nia and her husband had starting trying for a baby they had done so with that relaxed, “well, if it happens, it happens” attitude, a few months later this was replaced by disillusionment at the arrival of her period every month and finally by elation when it did not.  Sadly she had a miscarriage with her first pregnancy and, after recovering, had to go through that waiting again, except this time with added fear of a miscarriage. She said she had been just plain scared since then. When she became pregnant a second time they were clearly ecstatic, but it was tinged with fear and no one really talks about how terrifying this is: the fear something will go wrong with the pregnancy, the fear the baby will be okay, the fear of actually having to give birth…

It is something that we rarely acknowledge; pregnancy is something that is supposed to be innate in us after all, yet it leaves women to go through these emotions alone. Pregnancy places an incredible strain on our bodies and minds: the guilt of doing too much of this and too little of that, the hormones, the morning sickness, back and pelvic pain, the birth to name but a few… and that is without any additional health problems to consider.

So, how can reflexology help during pregnancy?

As we know, our bodies undergo numerous changes during pregnancy that impact our emotional, hormonal and physical balance. Reflexology can help to restore homeostasis, helping to bring the body into a state of balance so that all of its systems work to their optimum.

  1. Balances hormonal changes: significant hormonal changes take place during pregnancy and these can lead to mood swings making us high one minute and low the next. Reflexology can help to balance the endocrine system and create a safe environment for women to relax and get some of the vital rest needed.
  2. Improves insomnia, sleep and energy levels and decreases stress and anxiety: when we are stressed and anxious our body produces more cortisone and adrenaline initiating our body’s fight or flight response. Reflexology helps to release oxytocin and endorphins, the body’s hormones for relaxation. Thereby counteracting the effects of stress and improving sleep.
  3. Relieves muscular-skeletal lower back and pelvic pain: during pregnancy the physical shape of the body has to change to accommodate the growing baby. Levels of the hormone relaxin increase to help prepare the body for birth, softening the ligaments that hold the pelvis together and this can result in pelvic girdle, lower back pain and symphysis pubis pain. Reflexology not only works these areas, but the entire skeletal system, including the neck and shoulders helping to balance the entire system and the body to adapt to the additional weight being carried.
  4. Relieves nausea and vomiting: the exact cause of morning sickness is not known; however, it is often thought to be caused by the rapid increase of the HCG hormone in early pregnancy. Reflexology not only helps the body balance the endocrine system helping to adapt to changing hormones, but also stimulating the pancreas area can help to balance blood sugar levels and working directly on the stomach areas can help alleviate digestive discomfort.
  5. Alleviates digestive problems (indigestion, heartburn and constipation): the alimentary system also has to adapt and work harder during pregnancy, in addition to the morning sickness and cravings, heartburn and IBS are also common. Reflexology can help to sedate the stomach and alleviate pain in the oesophagus helping to reduce heartburn. Working the small and large intestine can encourage regular bowel movements.
  6. Reduces oedema / water retention (e.g. in feet and ankles): reflexology can help in two ways, firstly through the direct acupressure massage on the feet and ankles and secondly it can help to stimulate the lymphatic system so that it can carry the excess fluid away from the feet and lower legs to the kidneys and out of the body.
  7. Maintains the immune system and reducing risk of sinusitis, colds and headaches: reflexology helps to modulate the autonomic nervous system, which controls the body systems such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure: tension eases and the body’s innate healing ability is given space to work. Reflexology has a detoxifying effect on the body, flushing out toxins which are then not able to take hold in the body and cause illness.

Is reflexology safe?

As a general rule, yes, reflexology is safe to use during pregnancy, although it is advisable to speak to your doctor or midwife before starting treatment and to inform your reflexologist of any health conditions or medical history.

There are also some conditions where reflexology is contraindicated and you should inform your reflexologist if you have a history of:

  • pre-term labour (before 37 weeks)
  • placenta previa (Grade II or III after 32 weeks)
  • hydroamnios after 32 weeks

Women with an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pre-eclampsia are also advised to seek medical advice before having reflexology.

Women with diabetes should check their blood sugar levels before and after treatments as reflexology helps to balance the endocrine system and hence could affect insulin production.[i]

Reflexology during the first trimester…?

The Association of Reflexologists says that there is no evidence to suggest that there is any risk of miscarriage from receiving reflexology during the first trimester of pregnancy. In fact, a miscarriage is normally a sign that there has been a problem with the development of the baby or the mother’s health and it cannot be caused by reflexology. Nonetheless, because the risk of miscarriage is higher in the first trimester some reflexologists and clients prefer to wait until after 12 weeks before commencing treatment.