Complementary therapies in pregnancy and childbirth
Surveys suggest that almost 90% of pregnant mums use complementary therapies for relaxation and to ease symptoms such as “morning sickness” or backache. Complementary therapies facilitate normal birth, ease pain and aid progress and may reduce the need for induction of labour or Caesarean.
However, complementary therapies can be very powerful and are not safe for everyone. If you have any medical condition or pregnancy complication requiring medication or regular medical check-ups, it is wise to check with your midwife or doctor before using any complementary therapies or natural remedies.
If you wish to consult a private therapist during pregnancy, it’s important to find someone who is experienced in maternity work. Therapists should have specific insurance to treat expectant mothers and also Criminal Records Bureau clearance (CRB check). If you want a private therapist, or a doula who uses complementary therapies, to be with you during your labour, talk to your midwife at the antenatal clinic.
Always inform your midwife or doctor if you’re receiving complementary therapies during pregnancy or breastfeeding, or if you are using aromatherapy oils, herbs, homeopathic or Bach flower remedies at home during pregnancy or want to use them in labour.
Acupuncture is based on the principle that energy channels (meridians) transport your internal energy, or life force, throughout your body. At times when your health is compromised – for example, by pregnancy – this energy becomes blocked, or too strong or too weak at certain points. Fine disposable needles (acupuncture), or finger or thumb pressure (acupressure), are used to unblock, stimulate or sedate the energy flow.Acupuncture is good for “morning sickness”, backache, headache and pelvic pain during pregnancy, natural induction and pain relief in labour.
Aromatherapy uses concentrated plant l oils which contain chemicals with various effects on your body and your emotions. The oils are commonly administered via massage and are absorbed through the skin into the circulation, crossing over the placenta to your baby. They are also inhaled into the lungs and carried into your circulation when you smell them. For more information on the Safety of Aromatherapy and Herbal Medicines in Pregnancy, click here.
Bach flower remedies comprise 38 liquid plant remedies used to treat emotional and psychological aspects of health and wellbeing. They are generally safe in pregnancy although, as they are preserved in alcohol, you should avoid them if you have any alcohol-related conditions. The most popular is Rescue remedy, a useful anti-stress remedy.
Herbal medicines are remedies derived from plants and taken as tablets or teas, or used as lotions and creams. All herbal medicines work in exactly the same way as drugs and should be used with extreme care during pregnancy and childbirth. For more information on the Safety of Aromatherapy and Herbal Remedies in Pregnancy, click here.
Homeopathy works on the principle of “treating like with like”. Very dilute amounts of plant, mineral or even animal substances are used which, if given in larger amounts, would actually cause the symptoms which the remedy intends to treat. The most popular remedy for new mums is arnica, often taken to ease bruising, especially if you have stitches. Arnica should be taken 3 – 4 times daily for about 3 – 4 days; exceeding the dose can create more bruising. Other homeopathic remedies need to be prescribed according to your precise symptoms.
Hypnosis involves deep relaxation and verbal “triggers” to help you change behaviour. It is useful for anxiety, pain and stressful situations such as infertility or stopping smoking. Hypnotherapy is particularly helpful in preparing for your baby’s birth. Research has shown that practising hypnosis in pregnancy can result in shorter labours and less postnatal depression. There are many styles of “hypnosis” for birth preparation, but some focus more on general deep relaxation techniques. Some women may need a more specific approach, and Expectancy midwives aretrained to use clinical hypnosis in ways which meet your individual needs.
Massage is a touch therapy, which relaxes muscles, stimulates circulation, lowers blood pressure, aids digestion and helps with excretion of toxins and other waste products. Touch relieves pain by releasing pain-relieving “feel good” chemicals. It also reduces stress hormones, which helps your body to work more efficiently in pregnancy and especially in labour.
Osteopathy and chiropractic are based on the idea that your skeleton is the main supporting framework of your body. Pregnancy places extra pressure on your skeleton and can cause misalignments and tensions, resulting in physical symptoms and complications. Treatments involve manipulation of joints, ligaments and bones to restore and maintain balance between nerves, muscles and the skeleton. Both osteopathy and chiropractic are helpful for pregnancy backache, sciatica, pelvic girdle pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and other problems.
Reflexology is a specific massage to pressure points on the feet, thought to represent a map of, and linking to, the whole body. Regular reflexology in pregnancy is relaxing and contributes to spontaneous onset and good progress in labour. Reflex zone therapyis a more clinical form of reflexology used by Expectancy’s midwives to treat specific conditions such as “morning sickness”, backache, constipation, for natural induction, retained placenta or for breastfeeding problems.
Shiatsu is a modern Japanese therapy similar to ancient Chinese acupressure. Simple thumb, finger, elbow and even heel or knee pressure is applied over various points on the body, combined with holding techniques and gentle stretching exercises. Shiatsu is relaxing and safe in pregnancy, and can ease stress, relieve tiredness, backache, swollen ankles, cramp, breathlessness, insomnia, constipation, haemorrhoids and heartburn.
Aromatherapy uses concentrated plant oils containing chemicals which have various effects on your body and emotions. The oils are absorbed through the skin into the circulation carried to all your organs, even crossing the placenta to your baby. The oils are also inhaled into the lungs when you smell them.
Safe oils for pregnancy include, bergamot, black pepper, chamomile, cypress, frankincense, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, lime, mandarin, neroli, peppermint, spearmint, orange, tangerine, tea tree and ylang ylang. Rose can be used in the last few weeks of pregnancy. Use no more than 1 drop in a teaspoon of carrier oil such as grapeseed.
Aromatherapy for labour: Check with your midwife to avoid complications or possible interactions of the oils with any drugs you may need. Your partner could massage your feet, shoulders, abdomen; use oils in a footbath, or make a compress to put on the small of your back. Use 2 drops of essential oil to a teaspoon of grapeseed carrier oil. Black pepper, bergamot, grapefruit, chamomile, neroli, rose and ylang ylang are relaxing and uplifting. Spearmint or peppermint ease nausea – put one drop on a tissue and inhale. Frankincense is excellent for panic, especially towards the end of the first stage: put one drop, neat, onto your palm and inhale the vapours.
Precautions: Many aromatherapy oils should not be used prior to or during pregnancy, labour or breastfeeding, or whilst receiving infertility treatment. Avoid using aromatherapy oils in the first 3 months of pregnancy, unless advised by an expert. Oils to avoid completely during pregnancy include rosemary, basil, sage, juniper berry and nutmeg, but most others should be used with caution.
Clary sage and jasmine should NOT be used at all until you have passed your due date. Clary sage can be useful for stimulating contractions, and some midwives now use it to induce labour if you are overdue. However, it is not safe for you to use clary sage at home because it can cause premature labour before 37 weeks, excessive labour contractions and fetal distress.
Lavender is good for pain relief in labour, but don’t use it with an epidural, as both can lower your blood pressure, possibly reducing oxygen supply to your baby. Don’t add oils to the bath or birthing pool if your waters have broken, to avoid risks to your baby.
Never use aromatherapy oils if you suffer from epilepsy or have a heart problem. If you have any major medical condition, are taking prescribed drugs or develop a pregnancy complication, stop using aromatherapy. Use them with caution if you have asthma, kidney or thyroid conditions.
Vaporisers and diffusers: These cannot be used in a hospital labour room. If you are having a home birth, never leave them on for longer than 10 - 15 min in each hour as you, your partner or your midwife may feel nauseous, sleepy or develop a headache.
Always inform your midwife if you are using aromatherapy during pregnancy or during labour.
Herbal remedies should not be used at all during pregnancy or breast feeding unless you have been advised by a qualified herbal practitioner or a midwife specialising in complementary therapies. It is wise to stop taking any herbal medicines before trying to conceive and in the first three months of pregnancy when your baby’s major organs are developing.
NEVER take herbal remedies if you have any major medical condition or pregnancy complication. Many herbal remedies contain chemicals which may affect your baby’s development, or could cause blood thinning, leading to bleeding in pregnancy or labour.
Stop taking all herbal remedies at least two weeks before a planned Caesarean section, as many cause blood thinning which can lead to excessive bleeding during the operation.
Always inform your midwife if you use any herbal remedies or teas, such as raspberry leaf, Echinacea or ginger in pregnancy.
Raspberry leaf is thought to tone the uterus in preparation for labour, possibly helping to avoid induction of labour, although recent research suggests it may actually prolong pregnancy and labour. It is not really necessary to take raspberry leaf in pregnancy, but if you think you would like to do so, please consider the following precautions.
Avoid raspberry leaf if you have a history of premature labour or a very rapid labour in a previous pregnancy, or have threatened to go into premature labour in this pregnancy. Also avoid raspberry leaf if you are taking antidepressants as it may interfere with their effectiveness.
Do not take raspberry leaf if you have had a previous Caesarean section, if your placenta is lying low down in your uterus (placenta praevia), if you have had any pregnancy bleeding, or if you are expecting more than one baby. If you are due to have a planned Caesarean section for a medical reason or pregnancy complication, it is important that you avoid doing anything which may trigger contractions inappropriately and raspberry leaf may interfere with other drugs you may need.
Raspberry leaf is NOT a suitable means of getting you into labour if you go overdue – and it may cause excessive contractions and fetal distress.
If you decide to take raspberry leaf, start with just one cup / tablet daily at about 32 weeks of pregnancy – it needs time to take effect so don’t leave it until the end of pregnancy. Allow your body time to get used to the effects for a few days, then increase the dose gradually every few days up to a maximum of 3 – 4 cups / tablets, spread throughout the day.
If you experience strong, painful Braxton Hicks contractions when you first start taking it, reduce the amount of raspberry leaf to a level at which you feel more comfortable, or stop it altogether. If you are admitted to hospital during pregnancy for any reason, inform your doctor that you have been taking raspberry leaf and discontinue it straight away.
Please inform your midwife if you take raspberry leaf during pregnancy.
Ginger is a well-known remedy for “morning sickness” and many research studies have shown that it may be effective, but it is not always appropriate or safe in pregnancy. Research from Finland (2009) suggests that you should use no more than one gram of grated fresh or dry root ginger per day.
Avoid ginger completelyif you are taking any prescribed medications, particularly blood thinning (anticoagulant) drugs, including aspirin, or tablets for high blood pressure or gall bladder problems. If you are due for planned surgery (including Caesarean section) stop taking ginger (and any other herbal medicines) at least 2 weeks beforehand, to reduce risks of excessive bleeding. If you need to take ginger for more than 3 weeks, inform your doctor: prolonged use affects blood clotting so your doctor may take a blood sample to check for adverse effects.
In Chinese medicine, ginger is a “hot” remedy, used to warm people whose internal energies are sluggish and cold. If you are already too “hot”, ginger will make you feel worse – avoid it if you are hot, irritable, red-faced and constantly wanting cold drinks. It may also cause heartburn, so if your sickness is accompanied by heartburn and indigestion, ginger is not appropriate for you.
If ginger is appropriate for you, use grated raw root ginger in a tea, and then sip through the day. You can buy ginger capsules, chewing gum or syrup in some health food stores. Ginger biscuits are NOT the answer - there is too much sugar (which will make the nausea worse) and not enough ginger to be effective – any temporary relief is due to the sugar. Ginger beer should also be avoided because of the sugar and alcohol content
Always inform your midwife if you are taking ginger for “morning sickness”.