Natural therapies for ‘priming for labour’, with a particular focus on reflexology

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maternity reflexology

These days the pressure from hospitals for healthy mothers and babies to give birth around the “Due Date”, or not much later than 9 or 10 days “post due” (or else a medical induction will be required) has increased dramatically.

Strangely, not so long ago, the patience of obstetric caregivers extended to 14 days, then it went down to 12 and now 10 when it isn’t much earlier, even before the EDD. Quite apart from the approximate nature of how the EDD is calculated, this narrowing down of the window cannot be due to mutations in Homo Sapiens!

The pressure “to be on the safe side” is such that pregnant women and their partners get more and more apprehensive, and their trust in the natural processes wanes as the medical voices get louder.


Photo credit: Marcia May

A medical induction may simply consist of inserting vaginal pessaries of prostaglandin, and that might be enough; however in many cases, this doesn’t really provoke labour, so an escalation to more powerful ways are then introduced, involving synthetic oxytocin, ongoing monitoring, epidural anaesthesia and the likely corollaries, such as artificial rupture of membranes, episiotomy, ventouse or forceps…not an enticing prospect for the average woman who would like to give birth naturally.

And all this doesn’t support an easy start to breastfeeding… Women who have had a healthy pregnancy, prepared well for giving birth and who enjoy the weeks of maternity leave while nesting, suddenly find themselves confronted with this insidious time pressure.

It causes anxiety, and detracts from the wholesome instincts in trusting the ways of “Mother Nature”. I witness this all too often!

What can be done to encourage the natural processes, in a non violent way, and respectful way? A way to affirm the natural physiological processes, not override them?

Since the hormone oxytocin is not at all helped by stress, the essential key is to relax… and what better way to chill out than on a reflexology couch?

Before going into more detail about reflexology “priming for labour’ I must mention other therapies that encourage the natural processes leading to giving birth:

All of these are on offer at the Active Birth Centre Therapy Clinic : our team is second to none.

Combining different approaches is sometimes indicated, although usually 48 hours in between is advisable. Often just one session (of any of these therapies) at the eleventh hour does indeed make a significant difference, but I suggest 2 or 3 sessions would be ideal, thus creating a momentum.

For instance, one session between weeks 37 and 40, then another one around the EDD, and booking a final one around a week overdue or more, which can be cancelled at short notice should the baby decide to arrive beforehand…but the strategy in place definitely helps to reduce anxiety about hospital induction.


Photo credit: Marcia May

However, as these are natural therapies, there is no cast iron guarantee that labour will be triggered within 48 hours, since the baby’s ‘ripeness and readiness’ is what determines the start of labour.

“ I just wanted to thank you so much for the wonderful sessions I did have with you. I feel they really prepared me for what was a really beautiful birth. Of course, I’ll have to cancel Friday’s appointment now!” Lucia

These therapy sessions offer precious me-time and often help with various discomforts, whether back pain, pubic pain, digestive issues, swollen legs and feet, etc. A holistic approach will enable the whole body to self regulate to a more optimum state of being, which as labour time approaches, is tantamount to a ‘maintenance and fine tuning’ of all systems!

What does the reflexology ‘priming for labour’ session consist of?

It is completely attuned to the individual woman’s situation and her baby, hence a calm and thorough overview of her present experience is sought: general health, last midwife/ medical check (baby’s position etc), birth preferences, any previous history of labour…gently rooted talking.

Then the pregnant woman will be settled as comfortably as possible on the couch, sitting up with back supported and resting on cushions, and the reflexology session begins in earnest.

It can be described as the orchestrating of different routines and methods and modes of pressure, which have been mostly devised by the pioneering midwife and reflex zone therapist Susanne Enzer, with utmost respect for the inner timing of the Incoming Soul, ie: the baby.

It is not about forcing anything. It is about dissolving any possible blockages that might be in the way, sometimes releasing patterns from previous births. The deepest possible relaxation is the aim.


Photo credit: Marcia May

The pleasure experienced via the feet fosters a state of blissful sleep-like, yet semi alert consciousness, which is profoundly nourishing, and is truly amazing.

The baby will be experiencing the session too, as hormones are shared via the placenta and bloodstream. Obviously, as a net effect, there will be a lowering of adrenaline levels and increasing of natural oxytocin, and a deep sense of ‘being present’ to the pregnancy experience as a whole.

In an effortless way, Mother Nature is reawakened and further to the fore. I will describe one particular style of ‘reflexology priming for labour’ session, but there are many variations, all with the same goal in mind: to relax, to earth the woman, to harmonise hormones, to reconnect more deeply with the overall ripening process toward labour, safely to tonify the uterine muscles, in preparation for labour. It is a comprehensive yet surprisingly pleasurable experience!

A lymphatic drainage routine is usually the first sequence adopted, with effleurage movements using calendula baby oil or Bee Balm (olive oil, beeswax, propolis and Vitamin E) with jasmine and clary sage essential oils.

An endocrine (hormonal) balancing method follows at some point, as well as the classical reflexology treatment via both feet and ankles and lower calves.

Last but not least, a concentrated series of repeat ‘reminders’, stimulating the reflexions on the feet for the hypothalamus and pituitary glands on the pads of the big toes, the whole uterus mirror on the soles of the feet, plus some acupressure points when appropriate (Spleen 6, Bladder 60 and 67), and some good fun “ankle jigging’ which loosens tensions in the pelvis!


Photo credit: Marcia May

If the overdue pregnant woman has had prior sessions, I might then use colour puncture, which is a form of colour therapy adapted to this purpose, shining a colour torch with amber, red and yellow in the inner ankle areas…babies are particularly receptive to this approach, which is quite a mystery! I have observed that babies seem to engage further.

Sessions are usually just under 90 minutes long, and ideally the pregnant woman should be driven home rather than negotiating traffic driving herself or straining with public transport.

This ensures that the full benefits of the session are retained, and listening to her needs for food, rest, peace and quiet is paramount.

Sometimes it happens that the baby simply isn’t ready despite one or even two priming for labour reflexology sessions, and this may mean that parents decide to go along with hospital induction rather than wait; I have noticed that often in these cases the procedure is not quite as inhibiting, often only the pessaries will be needed.

This was the case of a recent client:

“Thanks so much for a really relaxing session on Friday. We were induced at 3am and the surges built the following afternoon thanks no doubt to your priming (and also having sidestepped up and down UCH’s 8 storeys several times over). When the surges were frequent and strong enough we were transferred to the labour ward and had a waterbirth with only gas and air. Our little girl arrived early on Mother’s Day. Thanks so much for your enriching and special work.”

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Photo credit: Marcia May

Sophia Smith is a  reflexologist, spiritual healer and doula, practising Maternity and Fertility Reflexology at the Active Birth Centre Therapy Clinic. She works with ‘Mother Nature’, helping couples with preconception preparation and with support through pregnancy, during birth, and postnatally. Find out more or contact her via her Reflexology page at the ABC Clinic.

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