Reflexology during Pregnancy and Labour: Labour Trigger Points Explained
Reflexology text books and courses are usually somewhat vague on the subject of pregnancy, deeming that only ‘experienced’ Reflexologists should treat pregnant ladies; they stress the issue of possible miscarriage and the fact that a treatment could have unexpected effects. It’s true that it’s safer to treat after the twelfth week and only if there is no history of miscarriage or bleeding; this is because there are specific points on the sole of the foot that when pressed may trigger labour. It is therefore unsafe to stimulate such points in early pregnancy, as they could cause miscarriage.
On other hand, reflexology is the ideal therapy during pregnancy, not only because it’s completely relaxing and has a balancing effect on body and emotions; also from a practical point of view, as the mother-to-be will not need to lie down as in a massage (she can sit up if needed), and reflexology is easily performed, almost everywhere. The reason why accessing energy and stimulating certain areas is effective as an overall balancer is that the soles are an ‘energetic map’ of the body: in acupuncture ‘speak’, each and every meridian in the body ‘ends’ on the sole, so stimulating a point on the sole, will automatically - energetically speaking - access a myriad of other energy points, and reach several organs. Reflexology is also ideal for ‘mixing and blending’ with other therapies, such as Reiki healing, massage, acupressure and aromatherapy, and that is something I would thoroughly recommend during pregnancy.
Sole: labour trigger points pituitary, thyroid, bladder; solar plexus
Reflexologists say it’s possible to see the baby’s head on the foot of the mother-to-be: namely corresponding to the area of the bladder (this is also one of the areas that will need rubbing to kick-start labour). Personally I believe that, realistically, reflexology as a diagnostic tool is at best approximate, although you can indeed spot possible problems according to texture of the skin, colour, tender points, puffiness, location of hard skin etc. Reflexology though is phenomenal as a complement and as a tool to energetically access the body/mind imbalances, in a subtle and completely holistic way; but allopathic medicine does have the edge when it comes to diagnostics. It is therefore very important to check with the GP and the ‘pregnancy team’ to make sure there are no underlying problems that may be made worse through the use of reflexology.
Side of foot: labour trigger points
There are indeed points one should avoid before reaching full term (definitely not before the 38th week), as these points may trigger labour. Reflexology ‘opens channels’: it has an energetic effect as it strengthens the body’s ability to cope with labour, but also a grounding effect as the mother-to-be is made aware that her body is ready to go through this important milestone.
The onset of labour (parturition is the medical term) is brought on by a complex interaction of placental and foetal hormones: oestrogen, ACTH, oxytocin, relaxin all ‘dance’ in a complicated yet perfect formation, which will cause the cervix to gradually dilate and finally ‘expel’ the baby. If you think of it, it’s quite a miracle: the intelligence of nature never ceases to fascinate me. This process happens without our conscious intervention, like most of processes in our body: yet one of the biggest obstacles to a swift birth (if there are no obvious physical problems) is subconscious fear, which alone can block the regular release of the right hormones, as the body gets into a ‘fight-or-flight’ tense mode, hence taking away energy from the process of labour and childbirth.
It’s not a coincidence that hypnotherapy birthing courses have had a surge in popularity: mothers-to-be have become aware of the fact that in modern society we have become removed from ‘feeling’ our bodies, through culture and conditioning - hence the difficulty with engaging with something as natural as birth, breastfeeding and the general ‘messiness’ of this all. I am not going to tell you that giving birth is easy. Drawing from my personal experience, I remember that the first time I was, well, terrified. I just could not understand how a head the size of a small melon could come out of ‘there’ without causing unbearable disruption. That very thought only hit me fully at the seventh month, when I realized that this baby had indeed to come out, somehow - you do feel scared, and it’s normal.
But we live in times and in a country where giving birth has never been safer in the history of mankind, so that is to me a comforting thought to start with; if there are any complications, we have the technology to deal with the problem swiftly. Secondly, the body knows how to do it, so if one instinctively follows where the body is leading to, the process is going to be swifter. Reflexology can help with putting the mother-to-be in touch with her body: and as I said before, it can open energetic channels, to prepare the body for the complex process of birth. I will illustrate now a few labour trigger points that may help you understand what your Reflexologist is doing when s/he presses those rather painful spots.
Key reflexology points are all the ones linked to hormonal release, the pituitary and thyroid gland being chief culprits; these points will need to be pressed very firmly. Labour is regulated by the hormone oxytocin produced by the neurohypophysis (posterior pituitary). The pituitary is located on the big toe. Hormones necessary for the production of breast milk include: insulin, cortisol, thyroid hormone, parathyroid hormone, parathyroid hormone-related protein, and human growth hormone, so it’s a good idea to stimulate the thyroid/parathyroid area, to give the body a further boost in preparation for the arrival of the baby: the point is located between the big toe and the following toe. According to some charts (charts differ: there are slightly different interpretations of the ‘body map’ on the feet) that point corresponds to the cerebellum, whose function is prevalently regulatory for the motor-skeletal system: there are indication though that the cerebellum has other functions, more ‘mental’ in essence, learning being one. This makes sense to me, as there is a direct link between the ability to absorb information and the individual’s emotional state: to complete a task we must have the ability to focus.
The area corresponding to the bladder will need to be rubbed firmly to ignite the ‘fire’ of labour. The solar plexus area is the ‘power’ area and addressing this point has an overall balancing and relaxing effect: it is also said, in the holistic camp, that the ‘emotional’ brain lies in this area. If you were an athlete, you wouldn’t enter a competition feeling ungrounded, and this is exactly the point of grounding: the mother-to-be is an ‘athlete’ who is going to perform a physical task.
Key areas are also the ones corresponding to the ovaries and uterus, in particular a spot in the proximity that lies in the indentation near the malleolus. This area is very tender at this stage and will need to be pressed firmly and repeatedly, but it works wonders. I can testify on that as in my pre-reflexology days a beautician unknowingly stimulated this point when I was heavily pregnant, and this kick started labour, although it was a false start. Again the reason why one should stimulate these areas is hormone-related. Last but not least acupressure advises to press firmly on the small toe, at the side: this is a point on the bladder meridian.
The body will start labour when everything is ready, so pressing the above points will only be a ‘helping’ hand and further boost: but they are incredibly effective and do help with the hormonal release hence the whole process. Hand reflexology can also be applied and is as effective as foot reflexology. All the points described above can be found in corresponding locations: the pituitary, uterus, bladder etc. Hand reflexology is even more practical as it requires very little preparation and can be applied at almost any time. Also, pay attention to the shoulders: there is a point between the neck and the shoulder, that if pressed very hard- with the tip of the elbow, for example - has labour-triggering effects! One can still perform a massage during pregnancy in that area but gently.
So hopefully the above has shed some light on the ‘secrets’ of Reflexologists and why reflexology can indeed be a very good support therapy during pregnancy. Reflexology is indeed a ‘touch therapy’ but it accesses the body system on the energetic level, rather than purely on a physical level. Stimulating reflexology/acupressure points has the effect of energetically ‘clearing’ channels that get ‘clogged’ by the effect of emotions, mental attitude or simply circumstances: this in turn has a domino effect on the body.
Applying reflexology is like sweeping a floor of dust and dirt, so that the beautiful clean floor can be seen: when the energetic channels are clear, there is more ease and increased vitality and the body can function much better. The process of labour is orchestrated by the hormonal glands, however how swift this will be depends a lot on the mother’s awareness and attitude towards the pain experienced: contractions are ‘good’ pain (although, I assure you, it might be difficult to think so when you experience that intense pain), and each one will bring the baby towards birth. May I stress again that the points suggested are not to be tried before full term, and that you should seek the advice of your GP and a qualified practitioner if you wish to try these techniques - there might be contraindications that apply to your specific case, so it’s vital to seek the opinion of a specialist. I also hope that this knowledge will put you in the driving seat when receiving a treatment. Whatever you decide, it’s important that your experience of labour and childbirth is tailored to your needs and personality in order to feel as comfortable and beautiful as possible: there is definitely beauty in the way nature orchestrates things!
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Nana Nina said..
Wow, I was my daughter's birth coach, a medical person by trade, and just decided on a whim to take some ginger body cream and my hands with me to labor, and & did about 30 minutes of foot massage on my daughter, she had a relatively SHORT and NOT too BAD labor for her first...Wish I had known about this before and could've done it for my 3 other grandchildren and had someone do it for me!