Using Maternity Reflexology During Pregnancy

By:    Published: February 23, 2012

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Reflexology is a complementary alternative therapy that has gained popularity in the United States in recent years. Proponents of reflexology claim that it is effective at treating or relieving a number of conditions, including many of the discomforts that are common in pregnancy.

What Is Reflexology

Reflexology is an alternative medicine practice that applies pressure to certain "reflex zones" on the feet, hands and ears to relieve pain and aid in a number of different conditions. While evidence varies as to the effectiveness of reflexology, evidence does point to it being particularly helpful in managing many of the less than pleasant symptoms associated with pregnancy.

Reflexology generates a signal in the peripheral nervous system, the nerves found in the extremities of the body. This signal then travels through the nervous system, to the brain and then to the various organ systems in the body. According to the principles of reflexology, these signals then force the body's systems to adjust their functions to achieve the desired result.

How Maternity Reflexology Helps With Pregnancy

A woman's body is an amazing machine that is equipped with a number of different systems that allow the body to tolerate the tremendous strain that child bearing puts on her body, but often some of these systems fail to work to their full potential because of a variety of factors. Everything from environmental influences and stress to poor diet and pre-existing medical conditions can block the vital energy pathways in the body and make something that would ordinarily be unpleasant, unbearable.

Proponents of reflexology maintain that reflexology used during pregnancy (maternity reflexology) is effective for treating everything from breech positioning to backaches. Scientific evidence demonstrates that reflexology is effective at treating some symptoms associated with pregnancy, but not all of them.

Pregnancy Swelling

One of the most common and uncomfortable side effects of pregnancy is edema, or swelling, particularly in the legs and feet. Luckily, reflexology and massage has been found to be effective at relieving this. A study of 80 women out of Turkey found that women who had a 20 minute foot rub every day for five days had significantly less lower leg and foot swelling than those in the study who did not. (1) Another study out of Australia and published in Complimentary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery found similar results in their single-blind trial when using the lymphatic reflexology technique. (2)

Pain Relief

Pain relief is another well known benefit associated with reflexology. The reason for this is that reflexology, along with other types of massage, signal the body's "feel good" chemicals, called endorphins, to be released into the body.

Maternity Reflexology For Other Pregnancy Symptoms

According to the book Maternity Reflexology Manual, the Association of Reflexologists in London, England and the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), reflexology is effective at treating many other symptoms associated with pregnancy including:

  • Fatigue
  • Morning Sickness
  • Heartburn
  • Backache
  • Cramps
  • Incontinence

Uses In Labor

Maternity reflexology has been shown to be very helpful once a woman has gone into labor. According to the study by the Association of Reflexologists, reflexology treatment is an effective alternative to labor stimulating drugs. By stimulating the appropriate points in the feet, labor can be stimulated. For this reason, reflexologists are very careful when working on pregnant women to keep from sending mom into premature labor.

The same study by the Association of Reflexologists, found that women who had reflexology during labor had significantly shorter labors. The study looked at first-time mothers between 20 and 25 years old. The average labor time was between five and six hours, significantly shorter than the statistical average of 12 hours. Some labors lasted just two to three hours. In addition, many of the women in the study required no anesthesia and the release of the placenta occurred much faster in 70 percent of the women.

Reflexology can be used in any stage of labor, and is often favored by women who are overdue to kick start their labor. Effects of reflexology can be felt after as little as two minutes but at least 15 minutes of treatment is required for the full effect.

While each session can vary, especially during labor, a session will typically last 45 minutes to an hour. The mother will be helped into a comfortable position and the reflexologist will then begin to apply pressure to the reflex zones in the hands and feet that are known to stimulate the hormone production needed to move labor along and provide pain relief. The treatment can continue into full, active labor and be done at 15 minute intervals. A husband or partner can learn the techniques so that they can take an active role in the labor.

Safety Precautions

Maternity reflexology is generally considered safe, even for pregnant women, but there are some safety precautions that should be taken.

  • If a pregnant woman has been diagnosed with high blood pressure or preeclampsia, she should not get reflexology.  Likewise, those with diabetes should discuss reflexology with their doctor because it can affect insulin levels. If given the ok, the mother's blood sugar should be checked before and after the treatment.
  • Anyone who has an active foot infection like athlete's foot, those with recent injuries or open wounds to the feet or hands or those with arthritic conditions should avoid reflexology as well.

Reflexology definitely has its place in pregnancy and childbirth. It provides a non-pharmaceutical way to manage pain and move labor along, which is allows the mother to enjoy the birth process more. This is a great thing for both the mother and her new baby.

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